2007 Durack Lecture

The following is the text of the 2007 Durack Lecture which was presented by Mr Peter Sharkey, retired President of the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission, at Notre Dame University of Australia on Sunday 22 July 2007.

The Irish in Australia: A Descendant’s Perspective.



Thank you Mr Coughlan for your kind introductory remarks. I am much honoured to have been asked to deliver the 2007 Durack Memorial Lecture in honour of a great Australian family of Irish descent. I note too that the first permanent President of the Western Australian Arbitration Court, Sir Walter Dwyer, and my predecessor, was an Irishman from Tipperary.

I have chosen to speak to you today about the Irish in Australia from my own perspective as a descendant of Irish settlers. It is an immensely broad topic, but I have not approached this paper as a learned paper. It is not. I am not learned in history. Hence my perspective is somewhat narrow. I speak, however, as someone who knew and learnt from the sons and daughters of Irish pioneers and their children, my parents, as well as my own experiences.

I want to briefly mention my great grandparents all of whom came to Australia from Ireland because what they did and experienced was done and experienced by hundreds of Irish families who came to this country in the nineteenth century. By way of shorthand I will refer often to Australians of Celtic Irish descent and Celtic Irish born people as ‘The Irish’.

My great grandparents came to South Australia in 1848, to Burra Burra. They were Philip and Margaret Reilly (née Ferris) from Glendalough in Wicklow. Philip mined copper with Cornish miners in Burra. Two children had died on the ship. In 1851, having heard of the huge gold finds in Victoria, they came overland to Bendigo where they lived in a tent on the goldfields. Margaret had a .36 calibre Colt to help her greet visitors to the tent.

Having made a nest egg from prospecting, they selected land along the Bendigo creek which land was farmed by the family until 1988. My grandfather, Peter, was their son, born in Australia in 1860.

Patrick Kelly and Eliza (née Stapleton) came to Romsey forty miles north of Melbourne in Victoria in 1848, from Borrisalee in North Tipperary, and founded the Shamrock Hotel which remained in the family until about 1960. My grandmother, Norah Mary Cecilia Reilly (née Kelly) born in Australia, was their second daughter.

Thomas and Honora Mary Cashen (née McCarthy) came to Australia from Clare in the 1860s and selected land on the Five Mile Creek, about 16 miles north of Bendigo. That land remained in the family until the 1970s. My grandmother Jane Sharkey (née Cashen) born in Australia, was one of their children.

Thomas and Mary Sharkey (née McKeown) came from the Elfin-Croghan district of Roscommon. Thomas came out in 1865 with his brothers-in-law John Harrington and Pat McKeown (whilst camped in the bush one night they entertained a stranger at their camp fire, later identified as the bushranger Dan Morgan). They worked for five years and made enough money to select land on the Campaspe River, and to bring their families out in 1870 including my 12 year old grandfather, John, and my great great grandmother, Mary McKeown. My brother still farms the land which Thomas selected.

The districts where my family selected land contained many Irish and English, Scots, Scots-Irish, Welsh, Cornish, as well as Chinese, and some French Canadians, Manx, Germans, Norwegians, Swiss and Italians, a microcosm of Australia as it developed, all drawn by gold and land. Many of their descendants remain in the area today.

A member of one prominent Scotch-Irish family and a colleague on the local council of my grandfather and great uncles would often visit our home when I was little and always announce his plan to us for peace in Ireland and the world to us. ‘Football in Hyde Park, Bells in Trafalgar Square, an English Pope and an Irish King and there will be peace on earth and goodwill amongst men’. (My father described a solid blow with an axe, or from a kicking horse as a ‘real home ruler’).

There were, apart from the Irish who came to Australia, two other strands of people from Ireland, there were the Scotch-Irish from Northern Ireland, who came out as small farmers, tradesmen and policemen amongst other things. They were not excluded or mistrusted.

Another strand was that of the Anglo-Irish who came out to become major landholders, administrators, cabinet ministers, judges, lawyers and leaders in public life. Robert Torrens, the great South Australian administrator, was one. Sir Redmond Barry, who sentenced Ned Kelly to death and despised the poor Irish, was another. He, however, was also a major force in the establishment of Melbourne University and the National Art Gallery in Victoria. In this state the Lefroys and Lee Steeres were amongst their number. They were not excluded or mistrusted.


The first Irish came to Australia as convicts, first of all in 1788 with the first fleet. Fifty thousand came to Australia in all from 1788 to 1854 in the Eastern States, and from 1854 to 1868 in Western Australia.

From small beginnings the Irish empire is represented today in Australia by between one third to one quarter of the population who are of Irish descent to a greater or lesser extent.

The first large numbers of Irish convicts arrived between 1800-02 after the 1798 Rising as persons convicted of offences relating to that calamity in which about 30,000 men women and children were killed. heir arrival brought the Irish up to 33% of the population (Michael Dwyer ‘the Wicklow Chief’ arrived in 1805).

The Irish were immensely resentful of the oppression of Ireland. They were mistrusted by authorities and free English settlers and were regarded as separate. They spoke a different language; they espoused the religion of England’s enemies, France and Spain; they were ethnically different; they were different in culture and were, as they had shown, capable of mounting serious armed revolt.

Robert Hughes, in his book The Fatal Shore, says this: ‘Australia was the official Siberia for the Irish dissidents at the turn of the century…The Irish in Australia were treated as a special class, as bearers of Jacobin contagion, as ideologically and physically dangerous traitors, they were oppressed with special vigilence and unusually hard punishments. They formed Australia’s first minority. From the outset, the Irish saw themselves as a doubly colonised people’.

This state of affairs continued but diminishing over the years and particularly towards the end in the last few decades until about 1960 to 1970, when to be Irish became socially acceptable, a period of about 180 years. Notwithstanding this the country was built by people of different origins working together over generations from small communities to nationally. Nevertheless, since they were there at the beginning, the Irish were a founding people of Australia and in that capacity participated in the claiming and settling of a continent and the building of a nation. They contributed to the welfare of the country to no lesser extent than the British whose culture was the host and pre-eminent, the first generation of all origins born in this country, the sons and daughters of ex convicts among them, the currency lads and lasses were noted for their independence and their pride at being born here. (Governor Richard Bourke, a liberal Irishman, laid the grounds for the enfranchisement of ex-convicts when he pushed the view that former convicts should sit on juries).

(Daniel Deniehy, a young Australian barrister and journalist, contributed to the defeat of hierarchical notions when he assisted the defeat of a measure to create a House of Review filled with hereditary members)

By the 1850s, most of the Irish coming to Australia were freeborn. There were increasing numbers of Irish coming out by chain migration i.e. brought out by others, as Thomas Sharkey brought out his family. Many Irish arrived because of assisted passage schemes which aimed at either removing tenants from overcrowded estates or orphaned children and young women from workhouses under the guise of providing settlers with wives. (They came as labourers and domestics mostly. Also many Scotch Irish came under these schemes.)

Gold Rushes

Two events occurred in 1849 and 1850-1 which changed Australia and Ireland. The first was the Great Famine of 1848-1856, with subsequent local famines in the 1860s. It was the greatest European disaster since the Plague, 75,000 Irish came to Australia directly because of it (all of my ancestors amongst them).

From 1830 to 1900, 1.5 million people migrated to Australia of whom over one quarter were Irish. This coincided with the discovery of gold in Australia and the great goldrushes to Bathurst and other places in New South Wales and the greater finds at Bendigo, Ballarat and Castlemaine and elsewhere.

Thousands of diggers arrived from within Australia, from Britain, Ireland, America, China, Italy, Germany and many other countries. The gold provided the economy to build Australia, and to keep settlers within Australia, so Australia and its population, its towns, cities, railways and ports grew. The Irish were more committed to the country than most because most Irish could never afford to return.

One effect of the goldfields’ aggregations was that people from all over the world joined together in many ways, and managed their joint affairs by agreement. The fields were administered by the imperial authorities through the police and the magistrates.

Out of the goldfields at Ballarat came one of the most significant assertions of freedom, peoples’ rights and nationalism in Australia, ever. On 3 November 1854, under their own flag, the diggers revolted and built a stockade at Eureka, at Ballarat. They were attacked by soldiers and a battle ensued in which 22 diggers were killed and others wounded, and six soldiers were killed.

The majority of the diggers killed or wounded were Irish. The revolt was led by Peter Lalor, a 35 year old Irish engineer, supported by numbers of Irish diggers, and by Californians, Scots, Canadians, Germans, Italians, Australians, English and others. They objected to the imposition of a licence, for which they had to pay a fee and without which the diggers were not allowed to dig for gold. They wanted to be treated as citizens not as part of the Governor’s colonial fiefdom. There protests over two years had simply been ignored including an armed protest by thousands of diggers at Chewton and Bendigo.

Lalor and thirteen others were tried by a jury in a court presided over by Sir Redmond Barry and were acquitted. Lalor later became a member of Parliament.

Eureka demonstrated to us that their fellow Australians by birth or residenence trusted the Irish to lead them in an important matter of principle and to lead them in opposing the imperial government in a matter of right and freedom, asserting the rights of Australians. Eureka led to suffrage, responsible government, election by secret ballot, land selection and a Royal Commission which was critical of Governor Hotham. Without Irish leadership and participation the great advance of Eureka would not have occurred.

Another effect of Eureka and the influx of populations which included numbers of radicals to the goldfields was the opening up of land including land for miners under the Selection Acts in Victoria and New South Wales, in particular.

Irish Settlement

A major campaigner for land reform was Charles Gavan Duffy, an advocate for the Irish in Northern Ireland, who came to Victoria as a lawyer and became a member of Parliament and later Premier of Victoria. (His son Frank became Chief Justice of the High Court in the 1920s.)

The Irish and many others selected the land and became farmers. The Irish had a hunger for land and could now own it, not rent it. Ownership gave dignity to Irish men, who no longer had to be labourers, and women who no longer had to be domestics. Prosperity came to many but not to all. (There were numbers of poor selectors) The squatters opposed these land grants vehemently, settling for small selections was tough (See Henry Lawson’s poems and stories and Steele Rudd’s stories, for example).

They had to build their own bark or slab huts, cart water, eke out meagre rations, clear the land with saws, axes and fire and a horse if they could afford it. Men, women and children all worked to do this. They were hit by drought, fire and floods, crop disease and death of stock. They suffered death, illness and injury. They lacked education, facilities, and available doctors until they built their own schools, halls, towns etc. They learnt to rely on their neighbours and themselves. They were often lonely and often harried by the squatters, who were the law as justices of the peace, in many of these areas.

The Bushrangers

Out of these sorts of treatment, the resentment of their exclusion and colonisation and their oppression at home bubbled up. Some of this was embodied in the bushrangers born in Ireland or born of the Irish in Australia, the most famous of whom were Bold Jack Donohoe, the Kelly gang and the Irish members of the Weddin Mountain Gang consisting mainly of currency lads of English descent and led by the formidable Frank Gardiner and then Ben Hall, in the 1860s (Daly O’Meally and John Dunn were Irish).

The Irish sense of grievance could not be formally expressed, but it was expressed in the Irish oral tradition by songs and poems eulogising these fighters against oppression; the symbols of their defiance of their own exclusion and colonisation.

The most famous outbreak of bushranging was that by the Kelly gang, Ned Kelly, Steve Hart, Joe Byrne in North Eastern Victoria and Southern New South Wales from 1877 to 1880.

The Kellys ‘turned out’ because Ned’s mother Ellen was accused of shooting Fitzpatrick, a policeman, later characterised by his superior as a liar who allegedly indecently assaulted Ned’s sister Kate. The Kellys were pursued by armed policemen and shot three, Scanlan, Kennedy, and Lonergan at Stringybark Creek. The Kellys were declared to be outlaws and a price was put on their heads. They went about raiding banks, stations and holding up coaches, seemingly with impunity, for about two years.

Ned saw himself as a rapparee and the legitimate voice of small selectors fighting imperial oppressors and squatters. He was seen in Irish Victoria, as some of my forebears made clear to me, as a hero driven to outlawing by police persecution on behalf of squatters and the imperial authority.

His famous Jerilderie Letter and his letter to Donald Cameron, the local member and a friend of my great grandfather, which explained why he was fighting is couched in these terms and in marvellously colourful invective. It was suppressed by the authorities until 1950.

After the police besieged the gang at the Glenrowan Pub and set fire to it, Ned was captured fighting in home-made armour. Dan, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne were all killed.

(Bishop Matthew Gibney of Perth went into the burning hotel to anoint them.)

Ned was convicted in a trial which modern authorities say was seriously flawed. Ned told Sir Redmond Barry, the Judge who sentenced him to death, that he would see the judge where he, Ned, was going. Barry died ten days after Ned. The Irish small selectors of North Eastern Victoria had supported him with food, information, water, horses and equipment. (Some of my cousins provided horses). He was executed on 11 November 1880 in the old Melbourne jail.

In the meantime, the Irish continued to settle in the country and in the growing cities and towns with a cement of their faith, applied and maintained by Irish priests and religious.

Some Irish settled large tracks of country, the Costellos, the Duracks, and Tullys in Queensland, and the Duracks and Quiltys and others in the Kimberley, and the Kellys in Southern New South Wales.

Resentment against the Irish continued throughout the century fuelled by events such as the activities of the Young Irelanders and later, the Fenians, in Ireland. John Mitchel and other young Irelanders were transported to Tasmania. The Fenians were transported to Western Australia from where six escaped in the famous Catalpa episode. John Boyle O’Reilly escaped separately.

The Irish in Australia supported Home Rule enthusiastically but not, generally, Fenianism.

The Irish, as the century wore on, were, as Catholics, led by Irish Bishops who replaced the English Benedictine Bishops after the goldrushes. These men were energetic, hard headed organisers and builders, sympathetic to working people. Irish priests on horseback ministered to the country Irish. Churches and orphanages, hospitals and schools were built, and Irish nuns, brothers and priests came to serve the people. Hospitals and other institutions served people generally and such institutions formed a national network for Australian people which exists to this day.

The work of nuns in every facet of the churches, charitable and educational operations was an example of what women if allowed to could do in public life in those times.

It was the Irish Bishops supported by the people who, despite huge difficulties and the sectarianism whose flames it fanned, established and maintained by their own efforts and finance an independent school system in Australia. It has remained and grows to this day, and since 1964, has been funded by the Federal Government. The Irish Bishops and priests did develop an Australian church for Australian conditions. Unfortunately, Jansenism migrated to Australia, too.

Federation and Conscription

As the 19th century ended, there were many Irish on the land and some in business, particularly the liquor business. They were still generally mistrusted and excluded. They were still generally hewers of wood and drawers of water although many were farmers. However, they took a significant part in politics supported by a quarter to one sixth of the voting population, the Irish. They were prominent in the medical and legal professions. They were obstructed by lack of access to capital caused by penury or discrimination (although my grandfather and great uncles obtained enough finance to become construction contractors in the 1880s).

In the 1890s there was a great influx of people to the Eastern goldfields in this state, gold having been discovered at Kalgoorlie by three Irishmen, Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan, and Daniel O’Shea. This propelled the state economically as similar earlier finds had done in Tasmania and Queensland.

Charles Yelverton O’Connor, a Meath man and passionate Irishman, and a brilliant engineer, designed and built Fremantle harbour, the Mundaring Dam, and the 522 kilometre pipeline which carried water to the goldfields. This was a marvellous achievement which he did not see succeed because he took his own life.

In 1901, on the vote of a majority of Australians including no doubt the formidable Cardinal Patrick Moran of Sydney, who supported it along with the infant Labor party, Australia became a nation of six states.

Amongst the Irish fathers of federation were Richard O’Connor of New South Wales, Patrick McMahon Glynn of South Australia and Henry Bournes Higgins an Irish Methodist and supporter of Home Rule, from Victoria. Both O’Connor and Higgins became judges of the High Court, and Higgins, a man of principle and great intellect, a great judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, devising the principle of the basic wage.


In 1914, (August) Australia went to war as part of the British Empire against Germany and her allies. ‘For King and Country’ meant for King and Britain, not for Australia.

Not long before, one of the most influential Irish ever to come to Australia had become Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne. This was Daniel Mannix. (I met him when I was seven).

He insisted that the Irish should not only participate in religious organisations but in political organisations, too, and they continued as they had to join the Labor Party in great numbers. They began to provide for it large numbers of politicians and a major number of foot soldiers for many years, even to this day.

(Generally speaking, the Irish were not welcome in the more loyalist parties.)

The first AIF were all volunteers. Australia did not conscript its soldiers. However, because their numbers were being reduced by the mass slaughter of the Western Front, the Prime Minister, William Hughes, were under imperial pressure to provide more soldiers, and looked to conscription as a remedy. The proposals for conscription were put to referendum in 1916 and 1917 and were defeated. They caused bitter campaigns and great bitterness and division throughout the country.

The Irish with the brutal suppression of the 1916 Rising in the background and as Australians, were not generally prone to support the call to arms for Empire. The Country too was itself aware of hugely increasing casualties. Mannix led the anti-conscription campaign, emphasising that the war was a trade war. He also introduced the interests of Australia as a nation as a issue in a country where many saw themselves as British not Australian. He urged people to think of themselves as Australians first and foremost, saying, ‘Australia is your country and no other country is your country.’ Some Irish supported conscription. Most together with many socialists, pacifists and nationalists did not. The Irish stood for Australia as a nation and led that opinion and their vote was an indispensable component in the defeat of conscription (my father in law, as a small boy, was in a crowd of 100,000 at Croxton Park Racecourse in Melbourne to hear Mannix speak on conscription.)

Many young Irish joined the AIF, that great hearted body of soldiers who with the Canadians contributed so much to achieving victory, as volunteers. (these included my mother’s first cousin Phillip Patrick Murphy M.M.)

Lawrence Dominic McCarthy, a farmer from York, was one such. He was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918 for a feat of bravery accounted in the AIF as second only to the feat of the great Albert Jacka at Pozieres in 1916. The war, of course, united men of various faiths and races in the AIF because they had to rely on each other in the trenches and did so only as men, not by creed or race.

In 1918-21 came the Tan War and further Irish resentment of empire in Australia together with loyalist resentment of the Irish. (The Royal Navy arrested Mannix at sea and prevented his landing in Ireland).

Archbishop Joseph Clune of Perth acted as a go-between between the Irish leadership and British officials to arrange the first meeting between Lloyd George and De Valera, before a truce was agreed.

In the ‘20s and ‘30s, the Irish were still discriminated against and regarded as not socially acceptable. However, in many areas and workplaces they were regarded as Australian and played their parts, as they had for decades, in politics and local communities.

They were still predominant at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. In the cities, they formed strong communities based around their parishes. These were strong vehicles of Irishness, but Australian Irishness. They did not form ghettos. but they stuck together glued by Irishness, their faith, the Labor Party and Australian rules football.

In 1929 came the Great Depression which again gave people an increase in their sense of Australianness because England was putting pressure on Australia about its debt to her. In 1928, the first Australian Irish Prime Minister James Scullin with Frank Brennan as his Attorney General was elected. However, the depression and the coercion of the imperial bond holders put paid to his government. Joseph Lyons, one of his ministers, and of Irish descent deserted him to lead as Prime Minister a conservative government. Interestingly, too, secret armies were formed, led by ex officers of the army to defend Australia against Catholics and Communists.

In 1939 came the second world war and Australia again sent troops to the Middle East to fight for the Empire. She also sent them later to Singapore, where they were lost. Many Australian Irish joined the AIF, the RAN and the RAAF and the women’s services.

In 1941, John Curtin, a son of Irish parents became Prime Minister with Joseph Benedict Chifley the descendant of Tipperary Irish as his formidable deputy and Treasurer. Curtin, with his cabinet, set Australia on a firm war footing in the face of Japanese invasion of New Guinea and other islands to the North, and the bombing of Australia. Britain lost Singapore and Malaya and could not help.

Curtin spoke and acted as an Australian for Australia and against the pressure of Churchill aided by Roosevelt when he required our only seasoned troops to be returned from overseas to defend us. In the end he prevailed. He also invoked the aid of the United States and received it when Britain could not help us. He even invoked limited conscription. He thus acted for us as the sovereign country and not just a dominion of Empire.

Curtin died just before the end of the war. He was succeeded by Frank Forde one of the many Irish from Archbishop James Duhig’s extensive Irish empire in Queensland. After Forde’s caretakership, Ben Chifley became Prime Minister and, with his government, laid the framework for much of modern Australia.

Arthur Augustus Calwell from Melbourne, a descendant of Irish and self taught in Irish and Mandarin instituted a policy which changed the face of Australia. It increased the population greatly and brought to Australia not only many British and Irish as migrants as part of the mass migration policy but thousands annually from war torn Europe and the crowded and poorer areas of Greece, Italy and Malta. (This is a scheme which continues with migrants from Europe, Asia and elsewhere today). Many migrants were to follow the Irish as Australians of ethnicity which was not British.

The Split

I now turn to what is turned the Split. The Labor Party was, as I have said, the Irish Party. It was also the party of many other people. In the 1940s a great deal of trouble, some of which Chifley had to deal with, was caused by Stalinist Union Leaders many powerful ones being Irish such as Laurence Louis Sharkey, Jim Healy, and Ernie Thorton. At the behest of some Labor leaders, Daniel Mannix requested Bartholomew (Bob) Santa Maria to organise labor oriented industrial groups to combat communist influence in unions and workplaces. This was done in the 1940s and early 1950s with much success.

In the mid 1950s Dr Herbert V. Evatt, the leader of the Labor Party, took exception to the groups and obtained support from within the party to eradicate those connected to the groups. Many, but not all, were Irish. After a great deal of warfare, about 20 mainly Irish members of Parliament in Victoria were expelled from the party in early 1955. Some were Santa Maria supporters. Some did not like him. Some did not know him. Others left in solidarity with those expelled. Some who were expelled went on to form the Democratic Labor Party which prevented labor regaining government until 1972. People like Nick McKenna, Paddy Kennelly, and Arthur Calwell remained in the Labor Party. (Calwell was later its leader in opposition)

There was a division within the church between those who supported Labor and those who supported the DLP. (Arthur Calwell was driven away from his local parish church) In New South Wales under the leadership of Cardinal Gilroy no real split occurred.

The discrimination against the Irish and their widespread social exclusion was obvious and extant in my youth but it was to vanish fairly swiftly from approx. 1964 onwards.

There were a number of factors in that.

The Irish had played a major part in the community despite opposition and resistance and had shown themselves to be Australians first and foremost for many decades.

The second world war and the danger which the country was in and the inability of Britain to help gave us more of a sense of being Australian than being British, although we were British subjects by law.

The British Empire had faded and Britain joined the European Common Market in 1960. Australia had a defence pact with America and a trade pact with Japan. Australia was conscious of itself as its own nation.

Another cause was Vatican II which emphasised unity and similarities between Christians and struck a chord in this country. Another was the election of Jack Kennedy, the descendant of poor Irish immigrants, as the President of the United States and the most powerful man on earth. It was hard to regard overtly as unacceptable people of the same race as him.

Further, the mass grant of Commonwealth scholarships enabling the Irish from poorer catholic schools and pupils from high schools to attend universities and enter professions in numbers was another reason.

Since then the Irish for the most part with their achievements have been and are accepted as an important part of the community in all spheres of it. They are for the most part recognised too as a founding people of Australia. Their contribution has now taken place over 219 years. Irish immigrants since 1947 have been carried along and carried themselves along with the Irish in Australia and other Australians.

Australians of Irish descent, even my children’s generation, contain many who are conscious of their Irishness, which is Australian Irishness not Irish Irishness. They know stories handed down through six or seven generations. Many of them, however, have no knowledge of their Irishness and could not care less.

Irish friends of our children are of course the children of the Ireland in Europe and of the Celtic Tiger. What that means for their place amongst the Irish in Australia I am not yet sure.

That is the story I have sought to tell. There are one or two other comments which I would make.

The areas of Irish contribution have been and are multiple. However, like the litany of the Saints I do not seek to mention many of them.

Some are as follows.

In swimming, Fanny Durack in 1912. In boxing, Les Darcy. In football, Jock McHale, Kevin Sheedy, Jerry Dolan, Wayne Carey, and hundreds of others. Many players and coaches in rugby and rugby league. In cricket, Percy McDonnell, Warwick Armstrong, Bill O’Reilly, Stan McCabe, and Matt Hayden. In art, Sidney Nolan, Noel Counihan, and Elizabeth Durack. In poetry, the ex convict Frank McNamara (Frank the poet), Bernard O’Dowd, Victor Daley, Vin Buckley, Christopher Brennan, and John O’Brien, the bard of the Irish Settlers on whom we young Australians were brought up.

In prose, Mary Durack, Maurice West, Tom Keneally, Jon Cleary, Dymphna Cusack. As a playwright, Jack Hibberd.

There are gaggles of lawyers, judges, attorneys general and solicitors general with a big representation of Anglo Irish led by the Christ like Higinbotham of Victoria (so described by Manning Clark), and the A’Becketts and others in every state.

On the high court there have been four chief justices, Sir Frank Gavan Duffy, Sir Gerard Brennan, Sir Anthony Mason and Murray Gleeson. The first women, Mary Gaudron and Susan Crennan are of Irish descent. In this state, Sir John Dwyer, Sir John Lavan, Joan Des and Eric Heenan jnr with Henry Wallwork spring to mind. As governors general, Sir William Deane and Bill Hayden, militarily, Sir Thomas Daly and Peter Cosgrove.

In business, The Wrens and Codys and others.

In the commonwealth public service Sir Alan Carmody and Sir Peter Lawler among many.

There are some groups which I wish to mention in a little detail. One such is Irish women. In recent years Susan Ryan, Ros Kelly and Clare Martin have taken their places at the highest levels of politics. Mary Gaudron and Susan Crennan rose to the top as judges. In 1912 Fanny Durack was a pioneer in women’s sport. As religious, relying on their learning, talents, endurance and courage Irish women built and supervised and still do large hospitals, schools and organisations. They pioneered as nurses and teachers in isolated areas of Australia. They were and are models of achievement to all. Irish women ran and run businesses. (my grandmother and great aunt ran a pub for some years). They farmed with their husbands and sometimes did so deserted or widowed. They fell ill, died in childbirth, lost babies. They taught, nursed, practised piety, educated and nurtured their children. Some painted, some wrote, many sang and played musical instruments. They ran households, often on very little. They had a strong sense of right and justice. This country was partly built by strong Irish women.


I also mention the ancient people of this land whose land we the Irish played a part in taking. They are a people of great wisdom and knowledge. There were no doubt Irish people who mistreated them. However, people of Irish and indigenous blood have done much in their own and the wider community, Michael Long, the Dodson brothers, Loitja O’Donoghue and the O’Shanes among them.


In politics, the Irish, trained in the mass politics of Daniel O’Connell, knew how a democracy should work. They served in large numbers in every state and territory and still do as ministers and members in parliaments and also on local councils. The Prime Ministers whom I have identified as having, to a greater or lesser extent, Irish blood are James Scullin, Joseph Lyons, Artie Fadden, John Curtin, Ben Chifley, William McMahon, John Gorton, and Paul Keating.


What I say is the achievement and contribution of the Irish in Australia up to this time I hope is clear from what I have said earlier in this lecture. I therefore, do not propose to summarise it now. However, what the Irish have done and contributed has depended on their adopting as their motto what Dorothea MacKellar said in her immortal poem ‘the wide brown land for me’.



Further Reading


I commend to you the following books:

Keith Amos                     The Fenians in Australia, Uni NSW, 1988.

Patrick Bishop                 The Irish Empire, McMillans, 1999.

Tim Pat Coogan             Wherever Green is Worn, Palgrave, 2000.

Geoffrey Hocking            Bail Up, The Five Mile Press, 2002

Colm Kiernan (ed.)         Australia and Ireland: Bicentennial Essys, Gill and McMillan, 1988.

Christopher McConville  Croppies, Celts and Catholics: The Irish in Australia, E. Arnold Australia, 1987.

Patrick O’Farrell              The Irish in Australia, (3rd Edition) Uni NSW, 2000.