Reviewed the Record 15 January 2004.


Harps in the Mulga: A Bibliographical Guide to the Irish in Western Australia, 1829-2003

By Anne Partlon

Published by the Centre for Irish Studies

                                                                                                                                              Murdoch University.

Four years in the making, this comprehensive and handsomely presented bibliographical guide to the Irish in Western Australia is a must for scholars, students and cultural enthusiasts alike.

Compiled from records in the state reference library and those of the five main universities—UWA, Curtin, Murdoch, Notre Dame and Edith Cowan—it is primarily a list of publications by, and about, the Irish in Western Australia, but includes selected archival material, as well as entries from a range of newspapers and historical journals.

The result is the first centralised index of Irish sources in the state and, possibly, the country. Features include brief biographical notes on major figures such as John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-1890) and his Fenian compatriots; goldfields poets Edwin Greenslade 'Dryblower' Murphy (1866-1939) and John Philip 'Bluebush' Bourke (1857-1914); pioneer pastoralist, Patrick 'Patsy' Durack (1834-1898); and early Catholic prelates like Bishop John Brady (?1800-1871), WA's first Catholic Vicar-General, Archbishops Gibney (1835-1925) and Clune (1864-1935); and Mother Ursula Frayne (1816-1885), foundress of the Perth chapter of the Sisters of Mercy.

There are also a number of surprises in store. Contrary to popular mythology, the typical Irish colonist of the Swan River Settlement was not an illiterate agricultural rebel, but an educated middle-class or upwardly mobile pragmatist. Few Irish arrived in WA as convicts, and those who did were relative latecomers. The first convict transport did not arrive until 1850.

Nonetheless, the Irish, while outwardly conforming, found a way to leave their mark, as the poet, 'Dryblower' Murphy, shrewdly observed. Rejecting the inherited Anglicised literary forms which held sway in the new country, Murphy argued for a more 'Australian' mode of expression, but the symbol he used to articulate his vision was drawn from an Irish cultural tradition:

Our harps are hung in the towering trees, And the mulga low and grey.

Celebrating the Irish contribution from colonial times to the present day, Harps in the Mulga: A Bibliographical Guide to the Irish in Western Australia, 1829-2003 sheds a fascinating new light on the social, political and religious history of the state. It is available from the Centre for Irish Studies, Murdoch University (Contact: Dr Ian Chambers, tel: 9360 2366) and selected bookshops: Serendipity Books (Leederville), Dymocks (Fremantle), Angus & Robertson (Fremantle), Rellims (Perth), the Uniting Church Bookshop (Wesley Arcade, Perth), and the Royal Western Australian Historical Society (Nedlands).