A Feature on West Australian Famine Girls by Caroline Smith
Irish history and its role in the establishment of the Catholic Church in Western Australia was a key theme at a recent memorial service held in Dardanup, in honour of Elizabeth Carbury, who arrived in the town in the 1850s after fleeing the Potato Famine.
Approximately 120 people turned out for the service, which was held at Immaculate Conception Church on Sunday 21 May, and celebrated by Parish Priest Father Wayne Bendotti.
The service included speeches by Hon Consul of Ireland to WA, Marty Kavanagh, local Councillor Danny Harris, Bill Marwick from the town of York – which had hosted a similar event in 2016 – and Fr Paschal Kearney from Bunbury Parish.
The service was one of several events organised by the Western Australian Irish Famine Commemoration committee, chaired by Kingsley resident Fred Rea.
A similar commemoration was held on Saturday 20 May at Bunbury’s King Cottage Museum, in honour of Bridget Mulqueen.
Both Elizabeth Carbury and Bridget Mulqueen came to Western Australia from Ireland in 1853, on-board ‘bride ships’, and later settled in Dardanup and Bunbury respectively, marrying into local families.
Mr Harris said he had been enthused by the idea for the event after being contacted by Mr Rea in mid-2016.
I attached myself quite quickly to the idea, and I chaired our little group in Dardanup – there were half a dozen of us working on it.
We ordered a travel box from Ireland, it was made by inmates in one of the prisons there.
Then we looked at the Pioneer Cemetery, because we knew there’d be a lot happening there. We had a lot of cleaning up to be done, to make sure it looked special.
An integral part of the memorial was the blessing of the grave sites of Elizabeth Carbury and members of the Maguire family, which she married into, conducted by Fr Bendotti.
Mr Harris said the event had brought members of the community together, while also highlighting a significant part of Dardanup’s heritage.
On the day itself we had 120 people in the church. We had the travel box up the front, and descendants of Elizabeth Carbury brought up clothes similar to what she might have brought up with her from Ireland.
We had a lot of former Dardanup residents who now live in Perth in attendance; they were ecstatic about it. It’s a memory I’ll hold forever, it’s made me take an interest in our history.
Fr Bendotti said the journey of preparing for the service had been an inspiring experience.
I started at the Dardanup Parish in January last year and I knew we had a Pioneer Cemetery but other than that, didn’t know much about this specific history.
Then Fred rang me and told me about these workhouse girls who came here from the time of the potato famine in Ireland, and he was sure one of them was buried here in Dardanup. I was really interested – I don’t think we remember things well these days, and I was fascinated by this local back story.
It was important to hear about how through the extraordinary suffering of the Famine, and at a time when Western Australia had a huge imbalance in the number of males to females, these young girls were able to come here and be part of the community.
As part of its mission, the Western Australian Irish Famine Commemoration committee is fundraising for a planned memorial, An Gortá Mor, to be constructed in Subiaco later this year, in honour of Famine victims and survivors.
The City of Subiaco recently donated $25,000 to the project, which will include a one metre tall cast bronze sculpture, built by Charlie and Joan Smith, of Smith Sculptors. It will be Western Australia’s first Famine memorial, and Australia’s third, after Melbourne (1998) and Sydney (1999).
Caroline Smith is a Journalist/Photographer with the Archdiocese of Perth Communications Office