Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Dear Friends, supporters and prospective attendees,

We will once again host at St Clement's Retreat and Conference Centre, Galong from Thursday 2 to Sunday 5 August.

The program

The speakers for the twentieth (who said it wouldn't last!) Shamrock in the Bush offer another varied and interesting program with an Irish-Australian theme that covers the Irish experience in Australia; and in the old country. Our keynote speaker is well known Irish-born oral historian, writer and documentary-maker Siobhan McHugh together with a great line up of presentations by some twenty speakers as well as verse and music to compliment the presentations.
Another highlight of the event will be the Shamrock Dinner in Galong House with guest speaker Ms Anne Plunkett, a former Australian Ambassador to Ireland. Full details are on the website www.shamrockinthebush.org.au .

The venue

Our weekend at St Clement's will give you the opportunity to experience Irish-Australian history in a unique setting. Galong was settled in the late 1820s as the home of transported Irish convict Edward 'Ned' Ryan. For many years Ned's holdings were 'beyond the limits of location'.
Accommodation and facilities at St Clement's have continued to improve with the Retreat House now fully refurbished. Fresh paintwork, new lighting, individual air conditioning, improved bathroom facilities, new bedding and furnishings have resulted in a whole new look for the 'Retro' building. A separate fully self-contained rustic hermitage (with open fireplace and air conditioning) can accommodate three people. The monastery is set in 800 acres of rolling rural landscape with extensive garden and walks. The Lourdes Grotto and a labyrinth modelled on the eleven circuit design of Chartres Cathedral in France are of special interest. A short walk from the monastery is 'God's Acre', Galong cemetery, set aside by Ned Ryan and where some of the earliest pioneers of the area are buried, including the Ryans and their extended family members. The ornate Rusconi memorials are a photographer's delight.


This year we are offering a prize with a difference – a package for two people to attend the Official Opening of St Clement's Museum with an exciting new exhibition in April 2013. The package includes attendance at the official opening, pre-dinner drinks, the three course celebratory dinner, twin ensuite accommodation, breakfast and hospitality basket.

Please see full details on the website above. If you decide to book, please mention this blog. Thank you.

I am not associated with this event, just like to help publicise anything Irish related.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Merry Month of May Music Meme

I'm always in awe of how much effort my friend and fellow blogger, Cassmob (Pauleen) puts into her blogs. At this stage, I have chosen a different path and haven't put a whole lot about my family research online. I do admire all those who have, as I've learnt so much from all of you that I follow. I don't usually respond to memes, as other commitments take so much of my time, but this one got to me... I was reading Cassmob's responses and laughing, agreeing, pulling faces so much, and thoroughly enjoying it all, so thought, why not... so here goes...

Please feel free to create your own list and let me know when you post.. time for a bit of simple fun.


1. Song(s) Music from your childhood: Dad playing guitar, or mouth organ, or accordion or ukelele or... Mum singing Danny Boy, Galway Bay, She Was Only Seven, A Letter Edged in Black, You are My Sunshine, Lipstick On Your Collar among many others, and my then favourites Tammy and Que Sera Sera... all of which she taught me, most of which I remember.

2. Song(s)/Musos from your teenage years: Elvis, Conway Twitty, Beach Boys, Judy Stone, Col Joye, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw (ok, I love Big Band music), Little Pattie, Peter, Paul and Mary, Delltones... and many more...

3. First live concert you attended: Col Joye and the Joye Boys with Judy Stone

4. Songs your parents sang along to: I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen; Old Man River, Danny Boy…(copied from Pauleen) but added were many Burl Ives songs, The Pub With No Beer, Connie Francis songs... and all above in 1. Mum sang, Dad never did...

5. Song(s)/Music your grandparents sang/played: I never heard my paternal grandparents sing or play music. It was only when I was an adult, that my Dad told me they both had great voices. My grandfather died when I was 5, so another thing I felt cheated of. My maternal grandfather only 'sang' of sorts if he was a 'bit too happy'. I never knew my maternal grandmother, as she died when my Mum was 11. I have heard that she had a beautiful voice.

6. Did your family have sing-a-longs at home or a neighbours: My Aunt and Uncle had a pianola and we enjoyed gathering around that at times. When Dad would play one of his instruments, we would all sing along. We also had lots of visitors to the home who played instruments, mainly guitars, so they were always fun times. One of my Uncles had an Edison gramophone, the type with cylinders, and a horn.. you wound it up to play. Later, he had heavy 78s... I loved hearing that and was totally intrigued.

7. Did you have a musical instrument at home: Yes, lots, but all Dad's. We didn't have a piano, but I practised on my Aunt's pianola... should have practised more, as I only learnt for a year.

8. What instruments do you play (if any): I'm a dab hand at the pianola and the radio...

9. What instruments do you wish you could play: Guitar, drums and piano.. and even more unlikely, saxophone

10. Do you/did you play in a band or orchestra: Does playing the tambourine in a church concert count?

11. Do you/did you sing in a choir: Yes, in high school, but not for long. I switched to extra art classes instead, much better option.

12. Music you fell in love to/with or were married to: I walked up the aisle to Hawaiian Wedding Song and danced the Bridal Waltz to Lara's Theme (Somewhere My Love)

13. Romantic music memories: Twelfth of Never, by Johnny Mathis... we dated for quite a while and that became our theme song if anyone asked when we were getting married.

14. Favourite music genre(s): Big Band, Irish, some Greek, Jazz, pop, instrumentals of many genres, classical, middle of the road.. just about all music...

15. Favourite classical music song(s)/album: Strauss, Vivaldi, Beethoven

16. Favourite opera/light opera song(s)/album: No real favourite, depends what I'm in the mood for, or more likely, what my husband is playing.

17. Favourite musical song(s)/album: No hesitation, Glenn Miller's In the Mood, from The Glenn Miller Story... not totally a musical...Though I think I could make that the answer for a few questions..

18. Favourite pop song(s)/album: Kate Ceberano's Nine Lime Avenue, Guy Sebastian's Angels Brought Me Here, Little River Band's Love is a Bridge, Travellin' Wilburys, Paul McCartney's Mull of Kintyre, George Harrison's Cloud Nine.

19. Favourite world/ethnic song(s)/album: Never on a Sunday, Yalo Yalo (both Greek versions), Celtic Thunder's Home From the Sea from the great album Heritage

20. Favourite jazz song(s)/album: most jazz, though some of the stranger improvisations aren't quite my style... love scat. I love saxophones, anything by James Morrison, some of Grace Knight, Kate Ceberano...

21. Favourite country or folk song(s)/album: like some, no particular favourites...

22. Favourite show/movie musical: My Fair Lady, Camelot, Fiddler On The Roof, Annie, Tap Dogs, Johnny Mathis, Herb Alpert (remember him?), but overall favourite ... Harry Belafonte... I was 12 and totally wrapped in his music and him.. as 12 year olds can be...

23. Favourite sounds tracks: any from 22.

24. What music do you like to dance to : Strauss, Jive, Big Band, swing, lots of different types, but rarely dance now...and of course, can't forget Greek music...

25. What dances did you do as a teenager: Everything from ballroom to jive, Latin to folk, whatever I could, whenever I could. We went to lots of balls and dances at Cloudland... so it was varied.

26. Do you use music for caller ID on your mobile: No, the normal ring is enough.

27. What songs do you use for caller ID: see above...

28. What songs do your children like or listen to: With a husband who is forever playing music, whatever is playing... I had better add that my son is a DJ, and radio announcer and music mad... don't know where he gets it really, but his tastes are eclectic, though his passion is rap, hip hop, and jazz... my daughter loves most music, minus what her brother likes re hip hop.

29. Favourite live music concerts as an adult: Tex Beneke's Big Band Tribute (notice a slight obsession here?)

30. Silly music memories from your family: Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavour ... Purple People Eater, How Much is That Doggie in the Window... followed by a chorus of Woof, Woof... and my brother and I used to chant "Coffs Harbour Houses" over and over again the moment we saw them come into view. We didn't get out much... it used to drive our parents mad. I still do it to annoy my family...

31. Silliest song you can think of: Yabba Dabba Honeymoon

32. Pet hate in music/singing: " Carmen", and to repeat from Cassmob...Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald, also Frank Sinatra... sorry to those who like him. I'd much prefer Tony Bennett.

33. A song that captures family history for you: Galway Bay, Bound For South Australia, http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/bound.htm

34. If you could only play 5 albums (assume no iPods or mp3) for the rest of your life, what would they be: Glenn Miller "In The Mood", Chris Rea's New Light Through Old Windows, Artie Shaw, Little River Band's Monsoon, Travellin' Wilburys

35. Favourite musicians: go ahead and list as many as you like: Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, James Morrison, Ian Moss, George Harrison, Chris Rea, Kate Ceberano, Guy Sebastian, Miss Brown, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett, Celtic Thunder, Celtic Women, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Mathis, Eric Clapton , Billy Joel.... and so many more...

Whew...are we still friends, Pauleen?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

ELIZABETH HARROWER... a choice of life

We sometimes make choices that we don't realise we have done... we get so wrapped up in who we are today, that sometimes we get lost on the way. Our dreams are bundled up, and put aside... for now... we are so busy being all things to all people or playing a role for others, that we neglect our soul...

The time is now, today belongs to each of us... let your wings free, for like the butterfly, our wings are for spreading...


'Other people have an interest in your not writing. I was self-destructive, no questions.'

Author Elizabeth Harrower

''It does seem like another person'' ... Elizabeth Harrower. Photo: Jon Reid

In the second part of The Sun-Herald's series on Australian literature, Gay Alcorn talks to Elizabeth Harrower, who was one of the country's most celebrated authors until she stopped writing 40 years ago.

On a wall in Elizabeth Harrower's apartment is a small drawing of a woman drowning. The woman is seen from behind, and she holds her arms in the air as if calling for help. From the corner of the drawing, comes what seems to be a lifeline, but there's a sting - at the end of the line is a large fish hook.

The writer Patrick White gave Harrower the drawing as a gift. She says they just looked at each other; there was no need for words. ''Isn't it cruel? Isn't it horrible?'' she says. She doesn't believe she needed rescuing, then or now.

Harrower is 84, tall and straight-backed. Her fourth and last novel, The Watch Tower, was published in 1966. This month it was republished as a Text Publishing Classic, one of 30 remarkable, and mostly out of print, Australian books. She is immensely pleased, having thought that nobody would talk about Elizabeth Harrower, novelist, again until she was dead.

The curious thing about Harrower is that for five years, ''the whole goal'' of her existence was to write this intense, very Australian psychological thriller. She worked at an office job during the day, and wrote from 7pm to 10pm and all weekend long - ''I didn't care how long it took, I just thought, I have to get it right.'' Writing was a ''reckless, foolish thing to do'' in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was all she wanted to do. When it was published, The Sydney Morning Herald described it as ''a dense, profoundly moral novel of our time''. She would never publish a book again.

Harrower reads voraciously, follows politics, goes to films, loves music, lunches with friends, learns Italian, but few people even know she was, or is, one of the country's finest writers.

In that other life, Harrower was close to White, in 1973 Australia's first winner of the Nobel prize for literature. She was friends with celebrated writers Christina Stead and Kylie Tennant and the writer and political adviser Richard Hall. She was a close friend, too, of the painter Sidney Nolan and his wife, Cynthia. Her friends urged her to write, and were cross when she did not.

''Patrick was always very angry with me for not writing, enraged. He was horrible. Only people who really care about you care about whether you are doing that or not.'' She brings out a book White inscribed for her in 1986. ''To Elizabeth, luncher and diner extraordinaire. Sad you don't also WRITE.''

Over three hours, first at her apartment overlooking Sydney Harbour, then at lunch, Harrower tries to explain what happened. She will talk about everything but she is reluctant to analyse her books and there are long pauses when she grapples with the question of why she stopped writing.

It's not as though she ran out of things to say - ''there were probably too many things to say''. It's not as though her work was poorly received - her second novel, The Long Prospect, was described as ranking ''second only to Voss as a postwar work of Australian literature''. It's not as though she was busy raising children - she never married and is childless. She doesn't dismiss the question as irrelevant, either. ''It's a very good question,'' she says.

''I feel almost guilty, it's something that had happened long ago … that had this impact … but it does seem like another person … I'm very glad I did [write the books]. It's really the main thing that justifies my existence.

''My friends thought I let other people waste my life. They would try to pressure me to keep writing, which should have been encouraging but I wasn't easy to save.''

Just before The Watch Tower was published, Harrower, then 38, described it to an interviewer as emotionally ''excruciating'', and in 2012, it still is. The book is set in 1940s Sydney and sisters Laura and Clare are deserted by their indifferent mother, who flees to England as soon as Laura is married off to a middle-aged small businessman, Felix Shaw. Shaw is mean-spirited, unhappy and one of the most superbly drawn evil characters in Australian literature.

In a lovely house in a leafy Sydney suburb, Shaw tyrannises the women with cruelty, violence, manipulation, and his economic power over them. The once talented and hopeful Laura is so desperate to please she gradually loses any sense of self beyond trying, futilely, to anticipate Felix's whims. At dinner, Felix ''chewed with his mouth open, sucked at his food, mused over his book''. Laura can ''barely swallow for fear of being overheard''. In the end, the story is about younger sister Clare, who finds a path to freedom.

There are feminist threads throughout. Felix loathes women, and there are homosexual undertones in his eagerness to impress men, but Harrower finds too much analysis of her books strange. Recently, she discovered dusty academic articles about her work, all of which explore similar themes of entrapment amid a searing indictment of Australian suburban culture. ''It was interesting and not interesting [to read them], a bit like pulling wings off a butterfly. A book just sits there; it waits for you to make what you want of it … as a writer you just notice everything, you're too noticing in a way and it's instinctive.''

She doesn't identify as a feminist: ''It doesn't suit me, this feeling of grievance. [Some feminists] have said, 'Why didn't the sisters leave, didn't get up and have a career?' It's irritating … you really have to put yourself in the time, not judge it from several decades on when you've been given untold opportunities. It was a different world altogether.''

The world into which Harrower was born in 1928 was ''confused''. An only child, her parents separated when she was small, and she lived in Newcastle until she was 12, sometimes with her mother, sometimes her grandmother. She remembers writing - long letters to school friends, pages and pages of diaries. During the war, she once saw a train full of soldiers in the country, throwing scraps of paper with their addresses written on them. She wrote long letters to these unknown soldiers. At 23, hopeful and naive, she left Australia for the first time, to visit family in Scotland and London. She thought she'd never come back.

''Leaving Australia then, it really was another planet, it was like visiting the moon to go away … It was unimaginably strange to leave this chunk of land that we were living on.''

At 25, she wrote her first novel, Down in the City, and in 1959, missing Australia and her mother in particular, she returned home.

When she thinks about The Watch Tower and why it was her last published novel - she did write another but didn't think it good enough to publish - Harrower speaks first of her mother Margaret's sudden death from a stroke in 1970.

''It took me a long time to recover … It was horrific, I thought nothing would be so terrible again. I think you only get shocked like that once … You realise something then and you don't really recover, you just change.''

Read more here....

Saturday, May 5, 2012


As a child, I knew a little of what Rebecca faced regards the name. My father's family were Greek born and our surname was 'different', so my brother and I became the token Greeks... despite the fact that my father, his siblings, and both of us, were Australian born. I guess in a way, many of today's immigrants face the same... may they, too, become accepted...

I have posted a little of my childhood back in July last year, 2011 ...

also in August...

Rebecca's story interested me greatly. I hope it does you also...

Secrets and her success

'It's one of those things you do when you're 18,'' Rebecca Huntley says. Twenty-one years ago, when she was applying to study law at the University of NSW, she decided to change her name so her lecturers would not know she was the daughter of the eminent legal academic James Crawford.

''I want your maiden name,'' she told her mother, Marisa Crawford nee Ballini. But her mother told her she would never be accepted in law or politics with an Italian name. So the daughter opened the A-K Sydney telephone book and when her eyes fell on ''Huntley'', marked that on her university application form and changed her name by deed poll.

Her mother, whose family swapped the island of Elba off the Tuscany coast for Queensland's cane farms, approved. ''She said, 'Oh, that sounds wonderfully neutral.' It sounds Australian, which to her is neutral,'' Huntley says.

The sense of stigma attached to the Italian name was one of the clues that led Huntley to seek out her family's secrets.

But she does not reveal these secrets until the end of lunch at The Boathouse on the harbour's edge at Blackwattle Bay, where she admires the industrial landscape of Sydney Fish Markets and its surrounds against the water, then launches into anecdotes about her soundings of the Aussie mindset.

It is only when she finally tells her family history that it becomes clear why she continues to plumb these strange depths over and over.
She orders mackerel and mineral water, and speaks of one of her earliest memories. When she was four or five, travelling past suburban brick houses, she would wonder who lived there. As director of the Ipsos Mackay report, she is now paid to walk through those doors across the continent to find out what the inhabitants think.

The idea is to map the ''mind and mood'' of the nation and in her fully fledged Oz twang, which has evicted all traces of her Oxford birthplace, Huntley shares strategy and snippets.

''I remember every group I have ever done and I've done it for six years. They're all in my head,'' she says. ''It's very important for you to just have a completely blank face because they are looking for a reaction to you … We dress down, so I tend to wear very plain clothes and I wear my glasses. We sit at the periphery of the group with a notepad and we let them talk.''

As a woman with dark, mobile eyebrows and strong opinions as manifested in her CV - which includes a PhD in gender studies and a stint as ALP Bondi branch secretary - she admits the poker face was at first difficult. However, she reckons she only ever ''lost it'' once.
That was when a group of men aged 40-something and living in Sydney's southern suburbs griped about gays taking over powerful positions - such as becoming dentists. They were moving beyond Darlinghurst too, with sightings in Marrickville. Huntley could not stop a guffaw.
Not quite so funny was the night-time group she conducted with bikie gang members in a corrugated iron shed at the bottom of a Wollongong backyard.

''There was this big conversation about the boat people, where one guy completely seriously said, 'What we need to do is blow one [boat] up and then they'll get the message','' she says. The tattooed men drank copiously and it scared Huntley enough to break with her usual practice and leave early. But more often she finds a warming humanitarian attitude to intimate relationships that gives her hope.
At the moment, people worry about how their children will be able to get into the housing market, how they can afford childcare, how to care for ageing parents and how to decide when to retire, she says.

''That whole question of how we manage health and wellbeing, care and living arrangements across three or four generations is the constant discussion. It's much more important in many ways than the carbon tax and any of those kind of issues that get a real [media] focus.''

She likes to talk about issues, rather than the personal. So it is time for the question: given her affinity for her Italian heritage, is she sometimes in turmoil when she hears racist comments and cannot speak out?

''In the third year of this research, I went through a very deep depression and I found going into groups quite difficult to do, and some of that was around the boat people stuff,'' she says. ''[I] started to see terrible things being said and it does challenge your feelings about what human beings can be like.''
Her company's founder, Hugh Mackay, advised her to switch off at night. He said he escaped into novels. For Huntley, the path to acceptance was more complicated than that. After her grandmother, Teresa Ballini, died, she dug into her family history and was shocked to find that this grandmother was not the happy wife and mother she had imagined and had been compelled into marriage with her own cousin.

''No one in my family - not one person - got to make the choices they really wanted to make in their lives. My great-grandfather was gay and couldn't lead an out gay life. He had to be married. That's what Italian men do. His wife was miserable, his son was estranged from him. None of the women in my family wanted to come to Australia, certainly not northern Queensland. It was a really harsh, harsh environment.''

During World War II, seven men from her family were incarcerated as ''enemy aliens''. Huntley combed through national security reports and found that a few had attended Fascist meetings, although it is questionable how strong their support was.

She has put it all in a book, The Italian Girl, to be published by University of Queensland Press this month. ''Writing this book about my grandmother, reading everything people thought about Italians in the 1930s and '40s, means all of it is the kind of things we say about Arabs, about Muslim Australians today, almost down to the phrases used,'' she says.

She realised that Australia has not shaken this intolerance of first-generation migrants. Her company's research shows that by the second and third generations, there is dramatic change and that is the case in her own family. ''My grandmother was educated to the age of eight and both of her grandchildren have PhDs. We are fully accepted members of the community. We say we're Italian and people think that's groovy and fantastic. That was probably inconceivable to my mother.''

Read on... there is a lot more to come....

Thursday, May 3, 2012



Here is your chance to share your ideas... 

we all talk about what we would like to see, 

how we could be better provided for, 

what are the essential features we would like to have to make our visits to Ireland better for us,
in the way of research, and anything else we think of. 

Now you are being asked what you would like to see happen.

 To put forward your ideas, would you either please post comments below or contact me directly via the email address in my About Me column.

 Think about it, but not too long... now is your chance to have your say. We can make a difference, but only if we put forward our ideas.



Fáilte Ireland has been asked by Minister Varadkar to carry out a scoping study into the establishment of a Diaspora Centre in Ireland. As a first step in this process, a small group has been set up to guide the study.

The group, which is chaired by John Bowman, has been tasked with developing terms of reference for the study which is due to get underway in early May. The group will also be involved in guiding the implementation of the scoping study.
Speaking about the establishment of the group, and the importance of the project itself, Aidan Pender, Director of Strategic Development, Fáilte Ireland said –

"It is believed that a diaspora of approximately 71m Irish people exists across the globe and finding an appropriate way to connect with these people would clearly bring significant benefits for Irish tourism. 
"Finding the right way to make that connection is crucial. The establishment of a Diaspora Centre, its design, function, form and fit-out will be critical and it is important to get this right. It is important also that we keep in mind the balance between the physical world and the virtual world in doing this. A properly designed on-line presence can be as important –perhaps more important – than an exclusive focus on bricks and mortar.  The important thing is to develop a Diaspora facility that is well designed, well branded, appealing, and readily accessible.
"Branding is particularly important because it will allow other parts of the country to present their unique diaspora stories under the national brand, and so avoid a sense that Ireland's diaspora story is told in one location only. In this way, the Diaspora Centre could serve as a hub from which visitors will travel around the country to follow their own unique family's journey".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Sea eagles return to Irish nest

The Irish Times - Mon, Apr 30, 2012

A pair of young white-tailed sea eagles have bred for the first time in Ireland in over a century.

The breeding pair – a four-year old male and three year-old female reintroduced here from Norway – have chosen an island on Lough Derg to nest, and are currently incubating their young.

The pair had settled in the Mountshannon area of Clare early last year, and began to build their nest in early April.

Dr Allan Mee, Irish White-tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction Programme project manager with the Golden Eagle Trust, told The Irish Times that it would be at least three weeks before the young hatched.

He described it today as a "truly momentous event for Clare and Ireland", and appealed to the public to give the birds space. The trust has applied for an exclusion zone through the National Parks and Wildlife Service to ensure that the birds are not disturbed, and public viewing of the island will be facilitated at Mountshannon pier.

 For the full story, please go to...