The Not Just Ned exhibition developed by the National Museum of Australia features objects which help to tell a story of Irish settlement in Australia.
To the Irish, Australia offered regular work, good food and, above all, opportunity. Historians argue over how quickly the Irish were able to rise through the different social and economic levels of colonial society, In Australia they could own land and the Irish settled across the colony. Some helped to open up and develop remote pastoral and mining regions.
Featured here are the stories of writer Mary Durack and her pioneering family, pastoralist Samuel Pratt Winter, explorer Robert O'Hara Burke, rebel turned politician Charles Gavan Duffy, the Sisters of St John of God, settler brothers John and Robert William von Stieglitz, colonial governor the Earl of Belmore and anthropologist Daisy Bates.
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The Duracks, about 1930
Mary Durack (left) with her father, Michael Patrick (MP) Durack and her sister Elizabeth, about 1930 at Ivanhoe station, Western Australia. Battye Library, State Library of Western Australia.
Agriculture and pastoralism: Kings in Grass Castles
Kings in Grass Castles (1959) and Sons in the Saddle (1983) were the books in which Mary Durack captured the saga of pastoral Australia. The Duracks and their relatives from the Tully, Costello and Kilfoyle families, were mostly poor Irish immigrants who arrived in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Their drive, initiative and family cohesiveness took them from small settlements around Goulburn to the Kimberleys in the far north-west of the continent, where they founded a pastoral empire.
The most prominent Duracks were Patrick ('Patsy'), who came to Australia in 1853, and his son, Michael Patrick or 'MP' (pictured above). Patsy made a fortune and lost it in the great depression of the 1890s. MP, born in Australia, went into partnership with two Irishmen, Francis Connor and Dennis Doherty, and until his retirement in 1950, managed the vast Connor, Doherty and Durack properties that stretched across the Western Australian and Northern Territory borders in the Kimberley.
Horses, cattle, river crossings, long stock drives, endless night camps under the stars and many wearisome hours in the saddle – this was the life of those Irish pastoral settlers and their European and Aboriginal drovers. Patsy Durack died in 1898, still mourning the death of his wife, Mary. At the end, he called out for her and his Aboriginal employee and friend, Pumpkin: 'Tell Pumpkin to fetch up the horses, Mary. I am ready now'.
In the 1860s the Duracks and their relatives, the Tullys and Costellos, established themselves in south-east Queensland. They displaced the traditional owners, but soon relied on Aboriginal labour to help work the land. This shield was a gift from Aboriginal workers on Ray station to the boss' son and his wife. It was given to Francis and Anne Tully in 1911.
Newry station saddle, 1930–50
Stamped on the leather of this saddle from Newry station, Northern Territory, is 'CD2' — Connor and Doherty — a reminder of the vast pastoral empire set up in the late 1890s. Newry was a Connor, Doherty and Durack property. Their vast empire stretched across the Western Australian and Northern Territory borders in the Kimberley.
Antlers of extinct Irish elk
Antlers of extinct Irish elk. Private collection.
Agriculture and pastoralism: Crate full of air
In his poem 'Bogland', Seamus Heaney paints a picture of a noble but extinct creature:
They've taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up,
An astounding crate full of air.
Irish settler Samuel Pratt Winter brought the enormous antlers of one of these extinct animals from Ireland back to his homestead, Murndal, in the Western District of Victoria. More than 1.6 metres wide, they still delight and surprise visitors.
Megaloceros giganteus was the largest deer ever known; often known as the Irish elk, its range actually extended from Ireland to central Russia. The antlers would have reminded Pratt Winter of the great bogland spaces of the 'old country', where such remains were being found in the nineteenth century.
In the new world of Australia, Pratt Winter surrounded himself with visible echoes of the old world of Ireland and Europe. Well educated, this avid amateur collector was always looking for things to adorn his Australian domain. Still flourishing at Murndal is a great oak, sprung from an acorn of a tree listed in the 'Domesday Book', the famous survey of England begun by William the Conqueror in 1085. Pratt Winter also sent home to his sister, Arabella, seeds from an old cypress tree in Rome that had been planted by Michelangelo. He hoped this would allow him to establish at Murndal 'a grove in honour of a most extraordinary genius, architect, poet and sculptor'.
By the early 1860s Pratt Winter had made a considerable success of his property at Murndal, raising fine wool for export and sheep and cattle for meat. Pratt Winter's distinctive 'SPW' mark became a familiar sight for wool buyers.
Burke leads the Victorian Exploring Expedition, 1860
Memorandum of the Start of the Exploring Expedition 1860 by Nicholas Chevalier. Art Gallery of South Australia.
Exploration and rural settlement: Tried in the desert
There was a carnival atmosphere at Royal Park, Melbourne, on 20 August 1860. A crowd, estimated at between 10 and 15 thousand, had come to watch the men of the Victorian Exploring Expedition, with their piles of equipment, wagons, camels and horses, make their departure. Their aim was to be the first European explorers to cross the Australian continent from south to north. There was much confusion as the expedition got underway: a camel bolted; a horse, frightened by the camels, threw its rider, breaking her leg; and artists and photographers jostled to record the historic scene.
One of the artists making sketches for a bigger canvas was Swiss-born Nicholas Chevalier. In his Memorandum of the Start of the Exploring Expedition, Chevalier places the Irish leader of the expedition, Robert O'Hara Burke, centre-stage, perched on his horse in a heroic pose at the head of the column and waving goodbye to another Irishman, Mayor Richard Eades of Melbourne.
Burke, and his eventual co-leader, Englishman William John Wills, made a very different entry into Melbourne, in their coffins, on 28 December 1861. Both had crossed the continent, but they died at Cooper's Creek in South Australia on their epic return trek. As historian Manning Clark wrote, 'The English and the Irish had been tried in the desert and found wanting'.
Charles Gavan Duffy's map of Victoria, 1862
Map created for the Parliament of Victoria to show land available for selection 1862. Public Record Office, Victoria.
Exploration and rural settlement: Duffy's big map
This map, made for the Victorian Lands Act 1862 and signed by Charles Gavan Duffy, measures 6 x 4.5 metres. Put on public display in the Victorian parliament between 1862 and 1865, it shows the 4 million hectares of Crown land (in blue) that would ultimately be available for 'selection', and those lands (in red) already owned by individuals. It remains Victoria's and possibly Australia's biggest map.
The Act immediately opened up over 600,000 hectares of land for selection in 250-hectare blocks, to be paid off in small amounts over eight years. In the rich Western Districts the squatters got around the Act and purchased the best land.
Duffy, a former Irish rebel who was knighted in 1873 for his services to the Crown, was ridiculed in the press for not having understood the reality of land use in the colony. His map survives as evidence of one Irishman's dream of a new country for small farmers, far from the oppressions of the old world, enjoying personal prosperity and freedom.