Tuesday, March 17, 2009

T-Shirt Message of the Day: "Made in Australia from Irish Stock"

I’m always very happy to see visitors to this blog from Australia/the exotic sounding continent of Oceania.

Western Australia—Higbury
Victoria City—Epping, Diamond Creek
South Australia City—Adelaide

It’s a combination of the place Australia has in the imagination of the whole world, and its ties to the history of Ireland and a childhood raised on the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. What was the rousing song “Wild Colonial Boy” about, my brother and I wondered.

Surrender now, Jack Duggan,
for you see we're three to one
Surrender in the Queen's high name,
you are a plundering son
Jack drew two pistols from his belt,
he proudly waved them high
“I'll fight, but not surrender,”
said the wild colonial boy

“Around 40,000 Irish convicts were transported to Australia between 1791 and 1867, many for political activity, including those who had participated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the 1803 Rising of Robert Emmett and the 1848 skirmishes in the midst of the Famine.”

Robert Hughes confronted this unique aspect of its history in his impassioned opus The Fatal Shore:

“I grew up with a skimpy sense of colonial Australia. Convict history was ignored in schools and little taught in universities--indeed, the idea that the convicts might have a history worth telling was foreign to Australians in the 1950s and 1960s. Even in the mid-1970s only one general history of the System (as transportation, assignment and secondary punishment in colonial Australia were loosely called) was in print: A.G.L. Shaw's pioneering study Convicts and the Colonies. An unstated bias rooted deep in Australian life seemed to wish that "real" Australian history had begun with Australian respectability---with the flood of money from gold and wool, the opening of the continent, the creation of an Australian middle class. Behind the diorama of Australia Felix lurked the convicts, some 160,000 of them, clanking their fetters in the penumbral darkness. But on the feelings and experiences of these men and women, little was written. They were statistics, absences and finally embarrassments.”

The Irish and the English played out their same power struggles on this continent that they did on the British Isles.

One difference is that those whom the “transportation” system didn’t kill outright, or by starvation or disease, grew strong and free and helped to create a new national character that was neither English nor Irish.

The Irish roots of Australia’s population are not much in focus these days. Nicole Kidman’s film didn’t have any allusions to that past (and showed more of a generic Hollywood sensibility than what the world saw in Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave.)

But St. Patrick’s Day is a time to listen to a telling of the story of outlaw/bushranger Jack Donoghue, and look at great photos from last year’s parade in Sydney.

Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem on the Michael Douglas Show