I am irish Australian. That allows me to feel special on St Patrick’s Day as I sip my green beer. It also means I can claim a sense of humour and a love of emerald fields but there is something about descending from the irish that came to Australia.
Their humour, ingenuity, faith would have surely been needed in the harsh Australian climate and in the pseudo- british culture. And its those ingredients, that persistence that I think made a massive contribution to modern Australia. Without the irish there would be no Ned Kelly, no Eureka, no Catholic Schools, no great pubs and dare I say it – a limited pool of ranga’s (Australian redheads). Apart from the notable and what has become part of our national mythology, every irish family in Australia has its own stories of triumph and tragedy.
I stumbled across my heritage a few years ago where the most extraordinary story of a man named William Russell had been pieced together. He was a wiry young lad of 17 when he stole silver plate and was sent to Australia for seven years hard labour. Its a story of drunkeness, commuted and lengthened sentences, of trying a hand at bush ranging, of ending up on Norfolk Island but escaping a life sentence for saving lives in a shipwreck, its one of skiving off and ending on the Victorian goldfields with a women who was already married but then bore him nine children. Its of his brother, George emigrating and of them both standing shoulder to shoulder at Eureka.
It is remarkable. Courageous, adventurous and all supported by the well documented British. As I read this story, it made me think of my brothers. Of their characters. A different century, another time, this could have easily have been their story. And the reason it could have, is not the red hair or the burly irishness that is still about them but because that irish humour, ingenuity, faith that everything will work out is still present within each of them.
William may be our families ‘Ned Kelly’ but he has made sure that a little bit of irish lives on in all of us. And Australia is all the better for that.