Tuesday, November 28, 2006

'Barefoot and Pregnant?': Aussie Prof Focuses on Irish Experience Down Under

Australian immigrant Trevor McClaughlin, a senior lecturer in history at Macquarie University in Sydney, graciously shared his knowledge of and enthusiasm for Sydney's Irish Famine Memorial with Hell's Kitchen readers in August. He has served as adviser to the Sydney-based Irish Famine Commemoration Committee, which spearheaded the monument construction. McClaughlin has edited and written numerous books and articles about the Irish experience in Australia, including "Irish Women in Colonial Australia," "From Shamrock to Wattle: Digging Up Your Irish Ancestors," and "Barefoot and Pregnant? Irish Famine Orphans in Australia." WGT's Gerry Regan e-mailed him some questions. They are below, along with Trevor's replies.

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."



Anonymous said...

Interesting comments by the Oz professor.

I met an Irish descended Aussie in Doolins Pub in Vancouver, Canada, a few months back.

He commented that he really knew nothing of his Irish heritage. He said in Oz they did not have Irish songs or traditions, etc.

By contrast, there is a continuing Irish subculture in Canada, from coast to coast, although more pronounced in eastern Canada.

Interestingly, back in the 1960's, I first heard the singing of "The Wild Colonial Boy" in an Irish area of New Brunswick, Canada. It is a beautiful ballad in memory of Ned Kelly one of the famous men in Irish / Australian history.

How that song migrated to New Brusnwick, Canada, I do not know, but it sure was popular.

Other Irish songs remain popular in the Irish subculture in Canada such as Whiskey in the Jar, The Fields of Athenrey, The Black Velvet Band, and many others.

Canada is fortunate to have incorporated into its territory in 1949 the Isle of Newfoundland which has a very predominant Irish culture. In fact, it is reported that Ireland has been importing Newfies to work in the tourist industry because they have a better Irish accent than many modern Paddies who have lost their culture.

However, it seems the Aussie Irish have yet not lost their love of good grog and a good fight so there is still some hope for threm yet.

Gerry Regan and Joe Gannon said...

Thanks for helping us understand the different ways Irish heritage has evolved in those two places. Hope you register for our site e-mail updates! Gerry Regan

Anonymous said...

Which would you prefer, a six month sail to Australia, in chains, or a 3 week sail to Canada, without food?

Any way you look at it, we left Ireland under threat from the English Government that was intent on killing our tribe either by taking away our food or hanging us for stealing it back.

trevor mcclaughlin said...

On the Irish in Oz, may I refer your readers to that excellent history by the late Patrick O'Farrell, "The Irish in Australia", UNSW Press, 3rd edition, 2000 (isbn 0-86840-635-x)?

Gerry Regan and Joe Gannon said...

RE: "Which would you prefer, a six month sail to Australia, in chains, or a 3 week sail to Canada, without food?

Any way you look at it, we left Ireland under threat from the English Government that was intent on killing our tribe either by taking away our food or hanging us for stealing it back."
Damn good comment. There was much disagreement in the academic community when it came to writing the Famine curriculum; should we examine it as genocide, or should we leave that out of the equation?

I actually asked my faculty advisor, who is a respected Holocaust scholar, for his opinion on the question; he replied that while it was horrific indeed, it was not systematic enough to be considered genocide.

Patricia Jameson-Sammartano
Culture Editor, www.thewildgeese.com

Anonymous said...

Not genocide, eh?

I suggest you look at the material posted on www.irisholocaust.com

More British soldiers in Ireland than India, soldiers guarding food, enough food to feed Ireland but shipped to England to feed English instead, the British navy destroying the Irish fishing fleets so they could not feed the Irish.

Come on, wake up and smell the coffee.

The truth is that the genocide in meted out agin my folk, when they lived in Ireland, commenced in 1200 and continued thereafter.

Not only did the English nearly exterminate the gaelic tribes in Ireland but they did their best to destroy the culture of those that survived by suppressing the language, the music, the religion, the laws, closing the bardic schools, denying catholics, basically the native Irish, the right to own property, to educate their children, to hold government office unless they forfeited their culture and "took the hairy bacon" as we used to say.

The genocide in Ireland was systematic and continuous and over a longer period of time that any other sustained warfare against a native group.

By contrast, the genocide waged against the natives of American started in 1492 and by that time the genocide against the natives of Ireland was in its third century and continued in the southern counties for another 500 years and 600 years in Ulster.

Thge spanish got to work in south america, central america and mexico slaughtering the natives, genocide, very quickly after Columbus arrived but many native tribes in north America were relatively undisturbed until l700 and many had their freedom and way of life until as late as the 1850's of thereabouts.

Anonymous said...

There is plenty of traditional irish music in Australia, you just need to look for it!!

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