ADDRESS BY SIR WILLIAM DEANE
GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
ON THE OCCASION OF THE UNVEILING OF
THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE MEMORIAL
SATURDAY, 28 AUGUST 1999
We are gathered, here at the Hyde Park Barracks, for the unveiling of the Australian monument to commemorate the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s. This is one of four such memorials. The others are in Boston, in Quebec and in Dublin. It is an occasion for remembrance, for gratitude, for pride, for joy and for sadness · for laughter and for tears. In other words, it is a truly Irish occasion.
As with the occasion itself, there is more than one aspect of my participation. Primarily, I am, as has been said, here as Governor-General of Australia. But, inevitably, my emotions are those of one whose Irish ancestry and heritage have been part of my consciousness from earliest days · indeed, as one whose great grandfather emigrated with his family in the immediate aftermath of the Great Famine. I shall refer to him in a little more detail not because he was unusual or outstanding. But rather because his story was in many respects a typical one.
It was in 1850 that Patrick Deane, with my great-grandmother, who was born Ellen Egan, and their eight children including my grandfather, also Patrick, who was eleven years old, left Lorrha in Tipperary to board a ship called the Harry Lorrequer in Plymouth to undertake the nightmare journey to a new land on the other side of the world. Their baby, Martin, died on the journey. Fortunately for me, young Patrick, made it. When the Harry Lorrequer berthed here in Sydney, my great grandfather got off and went looking for work. He was greeted by a sign which said 'No Irish'. Not surprisingly, he got back on the boat and went on to Melbourne and shortly after, with his two oldest boys, to the Ballarat goldfields. My grandfather, young Patrick, grew up to marry an Irish girl, Johanna Ford, whose family had also been driven out of Ireland by the Great Famine. My father was their eleventh child.
This memorial is not, of course, to the Famine itself, but rather to the more than one million Irish men, women and children who died in it; and to all the other human beings whose lives were so profoundly changed by it, including the million - perhaps one and a half million - who left their homes and their homeland to seek new lives in far off lands. In a more particular sense, it is a memorial to those of them who came to Australia. And to all that they brought with them and all that they were to achieve; to all that they sacrificed and all that they left behind; to the legacy that they and their descendants bequeathed to so many of us · and to our nation.
Also, this is a memorial to the approximately 4100 'Orphan Girls' and young women aged between 14 and 18 who were sent to the Australian colonies from the workhouses of Ireland, under the Earl Grey scheme between 1848 and 1850. Many of them were housed here, in what was then known as the Immigration Depot for single females. As in Adelaide and Melbourne, those young women at times faced conditions of great public prejudice and hostility, before generally being hired out as domestic servants. That was, one must add, the future that awaited the many thousands of other young single Irish women who emigrated under various schemes of assisted passage in the years after the famine. The names of some of those girls, engraved on the glass panels of the memorial itself, remind us of all of them. And all the names that are missing remind us of the transience of individual human lives and the impermanence of human memory.
But, in a wider sense, this is not just a memorial to those who died or were forced to leave their homeland during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the Great Famine. It is a memorial to all the Irish men, women and children who have come to this country. About 40,000 came in chains during the convict years. Like the orphan girls, many of them were housed in these barracks. Many, as I have said, came by force of circumstance during the Famine. But by far the great majority - well over 300,000 people - came from Ireland during the Gold Rushes and the second half of the 19th century, to the point where today no fewer than one in every three Australians - more than six million of us - claim some Irish ancestry. Which, as I observed at a State Dinner in Dublin Castle when Helen and I were visiting there in April of this year, is rather more than the total population of Ireland itself. And, as I went on to say on that occasion, which was hosted by President McAleese who inaugurated this Monument during her visit to Australia last September, 'one thing is clear. That is that, from earliest times, the contribution of the Irish - North and South, Catholic and Protestant - to the development of Australia at all levels of society and in all fields of endeavour - government, law, education, culture and agriculture -has been beyond measure. By 1900, first and second generation Irish people were by far the largest group in the population after the English. Their contribution to shaping the Australian character, Australian institutions, and our liberal, egalitarian Australian democracy was - and remains - immense'.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you will all agree with me that this memorial is a remarkably evocative and original achievement by the artists who designed and shaped it, Angela and Hossein Valamanesh and Paul Carter who devised the soundscape of women's voices singing from the courtyard tree. The tableau of the dislocated wall, rotated on its axis, with the cast bronze table and its simple reminders of both Irish and colonial domestic life, is powerful in its symbolism and moving in its imagery and force of expression. Viewed through the glass etched with fragments of names, it leads both into and out of the walled courtyard of the barracks: a place of arrival - but also, surely, a point of departure. Indeed this place has been described as the 'birthplace of the Irish' in Australia.
It is a wonderful concept, beautifully realised, and I congratulate all who have been associated with it: the artists themselves, Mr Tom Power and the members of the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Appeal Committee, Mrs Dianah Dysart and the members of the Sculpture Committee, the Government of New South Wales, the City of Sydney, the Historic Houses Trust, the Land Titles Office and all those who directly or indirectly contributed to the cost. From this day on this memorial will sing eloquently of Ireland and of Australia and of our shared heritage to all who pass it by.
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