What drew you to the effort to honor Australia's Famine immigrants in this way?
TM: They originally approached me as an academic who had published on the Irish Famine orphans.
How many Irish landed in Australia in those years?
TM: Depends what dates you set for the Famine. Most Irish were government assisted migrants. Some were sent to Van Diemen's land as convicts. The numbers are not large in absolute terms but in comparative terms they'd be c. one third or more of the immigrant population. They'd be in the tens of thousands for 1845-50 for example. But there is a strong continuing immigration of Irish through the 1850s, many also attracted by gold discoveries. Chain migration through convict links and the large influx of 'bounty migrants' 1839-42 (c.19,000 Irish) also played a significant role in bringing Irish people here.
Do you know where in Ireland your ancestors came from and the circumstances of their immigration to Australia?
TM: Yes. I was born in Ireland, in Holywood (County Down).
With the monument now more than a decade old, what is the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Trust up to these days?
TM: The monument was unveiled in 1999. We are in a long drawn out process of getting State govt approval to keep the monument 'alive' in a variety of different ways--annual celebrations at the monument, revising our website, awarding a prize for Macquarie University students who work on Famine-related matters for their honours thesis, and very importantly we are hoping to gain approval to help sponsor the education of an adolescent female refugee, perhaps from Darfur.
Do Australians today consider themselves more Irish than English, by and large? Is that distinction clear from the cultural environment there in Sydney and around the country?
TM: No. Most consider themselves to be Australian.
What is the state of Irish heritage and culture in Sydney today? The magazine Tain recently pleaded for a new generation of Australian Irish to take the helm? Do younger people there no longer identify with their Irish roots?
TM: There's been an influx of young, well-educated Irish in recent times. How long they stay is another matter. Many Australians have a big mix of English, Scots, Irish, Italian, Greek and others in their family trees. The number who are overwhelmingly Irish has fallen greatly since the 19th century. I've noticed a different Irish heritage from state to state. In Queensland, NSW (New South Wales), Western Australia and Victoria, it's still strong in many quarters.
Final question: Mel Gibson -- is he still a favorite son after his fall from grace here in the U.S.?
TM: No way. Though the answer will depend on who you ask. The kind of humour here -- different from most American humour -- would go something like "If he wins an Oscar he's ours, when he acts like he did recently he's yours."