Tag Archives: emigration

Irish Famine Monument, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney

DSC_4290My journey through the Blogging from A-Z Challenge continues today and as I approach the letter I, I am starting to understand why this thing is called a “challenge” and not a “walk in the park”. With the kids on school holidays and being at Palm Beach and wanting to experience more than just the inside of my laptop despite the blah weather, today I’ve taken the easy way out. I have cut and pasted most of this post from my other blog: Finding Bridget: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

After introducing you to my German heritage yesterday, today I’ll dip a very little toe into the Irish side. Although being a Curtin hailing back to the City of Cork, County Cork; I wanted to introduce you to Bridget Donovan, who I came across on a complicated goat’s trail off a goat’s trail even though she is my Great Great Great Grandmother. Bridget was little more than a name on her daughter’s birth certificate (her daughter Charlotte Merritt married James Curtin), which had turned up in the family safe many years ago. That was, until a Google search showed up a Bridget Donovan who was one of the Irish Famine Orphan Girls who went sent out to Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme on board the John Knox on the 29th April, 1850.

This was how I discovered the Irish Famine Monument at Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks. No doubt, I’ve walked past the Famine Memorial many times since its completion in 1999. Yet, I missed it. If you know me, that isn’t exactly surprising. With my head up in the clouds or my attention focused through a camera lens, I frequently miss even the blatantly obvious.

It’s a pity because this monument is so much more than a static reminder of the Famine. Rather, it has become something of a living, breathing focal point not just for people exploring their Irish roots like myself but also for the modern Australian-Irish community, especially at it’s annual commemorative event. You could say any excuse for a Guinness will do!

While you might be wondering why anyone would build a monument commemorating an Irish famine which took place over 150 years ago in Ireland in modern Sydney, it is worth remembering that many, many Irish emigrated to Australia particularly during or soon after the famine. This means that the Irish Famine is, in a sense, part of Australian history as well.

Moreover, the Irish Famine wrought such devastation that it must be remembered. We should never forget that an estimated 1 million people lost their lives and a further 1 million emigrated and what a loss of that magnitude meant for the Irish people…those who left and also those who stayed behind. The politics behind the Famine is also something we should keep in mind because unless we learn from the dire lessons of the past, history will repeat itself and many, many will endure perhaps preventable suffering.

While I grew up as an Australian understanding that my Dad’s Curtin family had emigrated due to the potato famine, that was a simplistic view. The causes of the Irish Famine were much more complex than the potato blight itself and certainly our family didn’t emigrate until the tail end of the famine, or even a few years after the famine had “ended”. This is interesting food for thought and I can’t help thinking the Australian Gold rushes also attracted its share of struggling Irish searching for their pot of gold at what must have seemed like the end of a very long rainbow.

While I recommend visiting the Memorial in person, the Irish Famine Memorial’s website also provides helpful background information about the Irish Orphan Girls and the Irish Famine Memorial. It includes a searchable database you can find out if you, like me, can claim an Irish Orphan girl. There are over 4,000 up for grabs and the good news is that you don’t even have to feed them.You have a better chance than winning Lotto!

You can click here to access the web site: Mmhttp://www.irishfaminememorial.org/en/

About the Monument

Although I have visited the monument a couple of times, I have learned so much more about it since deciding to write this post.

Bridget Donovan wasn't on the list... missing in action yet again!!

The Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) is located at the Hyde Park Barracks, on Macquarie Street, Sydney, Australia. It was designed by Angela & Hossein Valamanesh (artists) & Paul Carter (soundscape). I must admit that I didn’t notice the soundscape on my visits and I missed much of the detail and symbolism in the monument itself. My attention at the time was focused on the list of names etched into the glass and finding out that Bridget Donovan, as usual, was missing…lost, silent. The artists had selected 400 names to represent the over 4,000 Irish orphan girls so you had to be lucky for your girl to be chosen. However, the artists had chosen the girls above and below Bridget on the shipping list and had left Bridget out. I swear it is like Bridget has activated some kind of privacy block from the grave. “Leave me alone”. She really doesn’t want to be found.

The Plaque

The web site provides a detailed explanation of the monument:

“On the internal side of the wall, the long table represents the institutional side of things. There is a plate, a spoon and a place to sit on a three legged stool. There are also a couple of books including a Bible, and a little sewing basket. In contrast, on the other side, is the continuation of the same table, but much smaller in scale. There sits the bowl which is hollow and actually cannot hold anything, representing lack of food and lack of possibilities. There is also the potato digging shovel, called a loy, leaning against the wall near a shelf containing some potatoes. The selection of 400 names, some of which fade, also indicates some of the girls who are lost to history and memory.”

Anyway, even if you can’t claim Irish blood, the Irish famine Memorial is certainly worth a visit and you can check out the Hyde Park Barracks Museum while you are there.

Bridget would have worn something like this simple dress...Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

I have written about Bridget Donvon’s Journey more extensively in my other blog: Finding Bridget, which you can check out here: https://bridgetdonovansjourney.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/welcome-to-bridget-donovans-journey/

You can also read about our Irish night where we cooked up an Irish Stew, Irish Soda Bread and had it with Australian Pavlova to commemorate 160 years since John Curtin, an Irish Sailor who went on to become a Stove Maker in Sydney’s Surry Hills: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/irish-nightcelebrating-a-journey-from-cork-city-to-sydney-1854-2014/

xx Rowena

Going Home

While some might enjoy a spirit of adventure and exploration, for others, there is “no place like home” and they will do whatever it takes to get back…just think of Lassie!

No doubt, we all know someone who has attempted a sea or tree change. What starts out as some kind of glorious utopian vision, soon falls back down to earth…not unlike a pair of clapped out underpants with bung elastic.  For some, it doesn’t take long and they’ve soon sold up and moved back home finding happiness on those familiar, well-worn paths. After all, the grass isn’t always greener and in the case of Australian immigrants, the grass could well be brown.

ET Phone Home

ET Phone Home

If you traveled overseas in the days before email and Skype, then you’ll also know what it means to be homesick. Phoning was prohibitively expensive and you were pretty much dependent on the letter.

Due to the high costs of traveling to Europe, it has been a right of passage for many young Australians to do a stint in Europe, rather than a quick, fleeting visit. In 1992, after finishing uni, I also set off but rather than following the road well traveled to the UK, I lived in Germany instead.  Even though I’d traveled solo before, it was quite a different thing going for the long haul and being on the other side of the world. Humph, I admit to shedding more than a few tears in Heidelberg railways station and desperately feeding coins into a very greedy payphone just to say: “hello”. I was a wreck and if I hadn’t had such a big farewell party only a week before, I too could have found myself on a plane home.

So, I guess I could understand that being so far away from home isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. That home is where the heart is and sometimes that pull can be way too strong to stay away.

Rewinding the clock back to 1964, aspiring Australian athlete, Reg Spiers, was living and training in London. For me, I can’t think of much more exciting than being in London during the 1960s.  Being a huge John Lennon fan, The Beatles would have to top the list but the whole scene would have been incredible and I’ve provided a link through to this photo montage of 60s London to get you in the mood: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2013/08/snapshot-25-photos-of-1960s-london/

However, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is and for Reg Spiers, who desperately wanted to get back to Australia for his daughter’s birthday, London had become more of a prison. With no money to buy a plane ticket, he applied a bit of lateral thinking and decided to post himself home in a wooden crate. You can read about his incredible story here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31700049?post_id=770163024_10152981388113025#_=_

Inspired by Spiers’ story, Welshman Brian Robson who was living in Sydney at the time, attempted a copycat manoeuvre and decided to post himself back to Wales. Although The Beatles came to Australia in 1964, it wasn’t exactly Europe. Here’s a link to a movie showing life in Sydney two years later in 1966: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vR1CU8NjGW0

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”-Steve Jobs

Robson had emigrated to Australia as part of the “10 pound Pom” assisted immigration scheme. However, almost as soon as he arrived, he’d had something of an allergic reaction to the place and had to get out.

Leaving, on the other hand, wasn’t going to be easy. While Robson had enjoyed subsidized travel costs to get here, the catch was that he was obligated to stay in Australia for 2 years.  Only then, would he be issued with a passport, which would allow him to leave legally. Two years felt like a death sentence at the time and so inspired by Spier’s story, he decided to do the reverse journey. However, his trip was fraught with struggle and complications, including an extensive detour to America where he was discovered barely alive. Naturally, his story attracted media attention and rather than being charged, he was flown back to the UK First Class.

So you could say all’s well that ends well.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Muhammad Ali

As a serious Australian history affectionado, I am quite surprised that I’ve never come across these stories before and am not impressed that I found out about it via the BBC. We live in such a fabulous country and yet there is still that element of cultural cringe. So many Australians know so little about our own history and culture.

While these stories are funny and entertaining, it resonates that although life might be a thrilling adventure, there’s no place like home.

Well, actually, to be honest, I’m currently on holidays and couldn’t wait to get away from home but that’s another story…

There’s no place like home: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ6VT7ciR1o

"There's no place like home!"

“There’s no place like home!”

This is my contribution to the Blogging from A-Z Challenge.

xx Rowena