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About the exhibition

Not Just Ned: A true history of the Irish in Australia is a National Museum of Australia exhibition exploring the stories of Irish men and women who have helped create a uniquely Australian way of life.

Stained-glass window from temporary church 1836

A true history of the Irish in Australia

The Irish have been part of Australian history since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. Thousands of Irish emigrants settled in Australia and today it is the most Irish country in the world outside Ireland.

Who were the Irish? Most were ordinary men and women who sought a better life in a new country. Among the thousands who came were some whose stories have become legends, or whose efforts have helped make Australia what it is today.

Patrick O'Farrell, in his lifetime a leading authority on the Irish in Australia wrote: 'Where the action was in Australian history, there also were the Irish.'

Without the Irish there would be no Kelly gang, no Peter Lalor at Eureka, no boxer Les Darcy and no Archbishop Daniel Mannix in the conscription debate.

These are just a few of the events and personalities which give colour and movement to a complex story, the real history of the Irish in Australia.

To tell this story in Not Just Ned the National Museum has assembled more than 450 objects from public institutions and private collections across Australia, Ireland, the United State and New Zealand.

Right: A stained-glass window shipped to Adelaide for inclusion in a temporary church, 1836. Holy Trinity Church, Adelaide.

Exhibition highlights

Not Just Ned takes the visitor on a journey with the Irish, from the dawn of European settlement in Australia to the present day.

It challenges some of the clichés about the presence of the Irish. As O'Farrell suggests, the Irish were always in the thick of things in Australia, and the national story is now unimaginable without them.

These online slideshows of exhibition highlights present stories old and new, sometimes challenging conventional beliefs.

Charlotte' medal 1788, attributed to Thomas Barrett. Australian National Maritime Museum.

Arriving slideshow

A collection of fascinating stories and images related to the Irish convicts and political prisoners, administrators and earliest settlers who made the long sea voyage to Australia.

Includes the story of rebel exiles William Smith O'Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, and Australia's first colonial work of art, the Charlotte medal.

Mary Durack (left) with her father, Michael Patrick (MP) Durack and her sister Elizabeth, about 1930 at Ivanhoe station, Western Australia (detail). Battye Library, State Library of Western Australia.

Settling slideshow

The Irish settled across city, town and bush, with areas of immigrant concentration. Some helped to open up and develop remote pastoral and mining regions.

Learn more about explorer Robert O'Hara Burke, the pioneering Durack family and other Irish settlers who contributed to the development of the colonies.

 Eureka stockade about 1891 (detail). Commissioned by the Melbourne Cyclorama Company. State Library of Victoria.

Building a new life slideshow

Images and stories of Irish-Australians who made a mark in fields including politics, religion, education and the arts.

Features Eureka leader Peter Lalor, the Kelly gang, archbishops Robert William Spence and Daniel Mannix, and poet Vincent Buckley.

John Wayland, 1911 (detail). Dease Studio, Perth. Courtesy Ormonde Waters Jnr.

A continuing presence slideshow

Stories of sport, the arts and the lingering sense of Irishness in many Australians.

Includes boxer Les Darcy, footballers Jim Stynes and Tadhg Kennelly, Melbourne Cup winning racehorse Vintage Crop, Rose of Tralee winner Kathryn Feeney and Indigenous artist John Moriarty.

St Patrick's Day Parade, Sydney, 2010. Photo: Lannon Harley.

St Patrick's Day slideshow

St Patrick's Day is a great day for the Irish in Australia. On that day, some say, there are only two kinds of people — those who are Irish, and those who wish they were.

A pictorial look at the 2010 Sydney parade and St Patrick's Day celebrations in years gone by.

Ned Ryan's certificate of freedom 1830. St Clement's Retreat and Conference Centre, Galong, New South Wales.

Story circle slideshow

A collection of famous and lesser known personal stories of Irish men and women who have become legends, or whose efforts have helped to make Australia what it is today.

From controversial grazier Isabella Mary Kelly to dancer Lola Montez and would-be political assassin Henry O'Farrell.

Key objects

Not Just Ned brings together a fascinating collection of rare and precious objects, documents, paintings, drawings and photographs from across the globe.

For the first time, in a national exhibition, all four suits of the Kelly gang armour stand together, the best known symbols of that supposed anti-authoritarian wildness which characterised Irish Australians. But this exhibition, of course, is Not Just Ned. Visitors can also see the:

  • Rajah quilt, one of very few objects related to Australian convict women, hand-sewn on their journey to the colony
  • Cross of Cong replica, based on 12th century Irish processional cross and used by Australia's first Catholic cardinal
  • Catalpa ship's pennant, which flew above the American whaler when it was used to rescue six Irish republican convicts from Fremantle
  • Chair used by Ben Chifley at Catholic services after he married outside the church
  • Les Darcy mourning locket, worn by his sweetheart years after his death.
Armour worn by the Kelly gang. Left to right: Ned Kelly, 1879; Joseph Byrne, 1879; Dan Kelly, 1879; Steve Hart, 1879.
Left to right: Armour worn by Ned Kelly 1879, State Library of Victoria; armour worn by Joseph Byrne 1879, private collection; armour worn by Dan Kelly 1879, Victoria Police Museum; armour worn by Steve Hart 1879, Victoria Police Museum.

Exhibition launch

Mr Andrew Sayers AM, Director of the National Museum of Australia welcomed guests to the launch of Not Just Ned: A true history of the Irish in Australia, 16 March 2011.

Mr Daniel Gilbert AM, Chair of the Museum's Council; The Hon. Simon Crean MP, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts; Ms Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Children, Government of Ireland; and author Mr Thomas Keneally AO spoke at the launch.

Performance by the Alan Kelly Quartet.

The video duration is 37 minutes so it may take a minute or two to load.

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