Report by Trevor McClaughlin
Each year the Irish Famine orphan girls are commemorated in two places: in Melbourne, in Burgoyne Park, Williamstown, in November, and in Sydney, at the Hyde Park Barracks Monument on the last Sunday of August. This year the Sydney commemoration went ‘virtual’, quarantined by the coronavirus.
Some Melbourne readers may not be familiar with the Hyde Park Barracks ceremony. I hope the links below will give them a chance to experience it, if but ’virtually’. Maybe, one day soon, you will be able to attend.
The Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee is very grateful for the continuing support of Sydney Living Museums, and the Irish Consulate. That support is long-lived and treasured. If anyone does not know the monument itself, please do visit. It is situated close to St Mary’s Cathedral at the top of Macquarie Street.
Competition for the monument was won by two artists of international renown Hossein and Angela Valamanesh. Hossein is originally from Iran, Angela from Port Pirie in South Australia.
If you have visited the Sydney monument to the Great Irish Famine before, please tell us what you think of it. I personally am a big fan.
Take time to sit under the lilli pilli tree and listen to the haunting soundscape of Paul Carter. Where is the loy? Or the potatoes? Or the sewing box? Why do the names of the orphans fade at the edge of the glass panels? Do take your time, and search for its hidden meanings and symbols.
As the late Professor Joan Kerr said, ‘The high stone wall cutting the institutional buildings off from the unrestricted life of the city has been cleverly incorporated into the memorial as a symbol of the almost insuperable barrier that divided early colonists from their origins, families and memories.’
You will find there is always something to explore and think about. For more, see www.irishfaminememorial.org
The artist Hossein Valamanesh always insisted the monument was not just about the Great Irish Famine but about all famine. For me, this is what makes it a great monument. It transcends the specifics of time and place; it transcends the past. It is a monument to the Irish Famine, yes. It is a monument to all Irish migrants to Australia, yes. But it is also a monument for the here and now, to Darfur, to Yemen. It is a monument for all time.
This year’s LiveStream ceremony was particularly moving. It is a most fitting commemoration of the young women who came to Australia fleeing the Famine, the Irish orphan girls. They too were refugees. It also encapsulated all that the GIFCC hoped for: a living, vibrant monument whose programme reached out to women with a refugee background at Western Sydney University, and to the women refugees in the care of the Sisters of Mercy at Mamre, St Mary’s.
In 2009, on the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Sydney monument, a contribution to the Irish Famine memorial fund at Mamre was presented to Sister Janet who was accompanied by two women from Southern Sudan, Rebecca Akuer and Athien Kual.
And the very first prize to a female student at Western Sydney University was awarded to Noor Kabel Jaywad, originally from Iraq, then studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Advanced Science.
L-R, Elissa Gale, Dr T. McClaughlin, Noor Kabel Jaywad and Vanessa Smyth
LiveStream Irish Famine Commemoration 30 August 2020
I hope you will find this year’s ceremony, the twenty first, as moving as I did. You can watch the whole ceremony via the links below, or just part of it.
First is the address by the Irish Consul General, Owen Feeney,
Second is the acceptance speech of Western Sydney University student Zainab Khavary
Frank O’Shea has kindly transcribed her wonderful oration. As he says, ‘read everyone, and weep’.
Acceptance speech by Zainab Khavary
My dream has finally come true. To be able to have a voice and to see other people listen to me. Today I am standing in front of you all as a woman from a country where standing behind a microphone is difficult, but to be able to have a voice in the open is impossible.
I am standing here today in front of you all as a woman prepared enough to do the impossible against all the odds. I am a woman. I am a single mother. I’m a student. I’m a fighter and dreamer. I don’t want to lose hope, but still the unknown and the trauma from the past experience fills me with anxiety and depression until I was recognised as a refugee and received a permanent visa from Australia. I came to Australia with my one-year old son. This was where I decided that I won’t be the victim of my circumstances.
I fight all the odds and want to be visible, taking education as a tool to move forward. I chose Western Sydney university and applied. I had my doubts – am I smart enough, this and that. But with all the right support from this wonderful university I got all the confidence to make the impossible possible.
I have been honoured as recipient of Great Irish Famine Memorial prize. I feel so fortunate to be selected as recipient of this honour. I would like to express my deepest gratitude for the generous prize you have given to me. Opportunities like this open doors for a woman like me who doesn’t have much support from family and community to choose from. Being an achiever is great but to be an achiever and to help others to be an achiever as well is a whole level of greatness and it is my dream.
I plan to continue my education and eventually build a career in accounting and law. Studying law and accounting is not to lose the best of us but to understand the law of the land in which I am living and to have a voice and have it heard in every social justice platform to give the voiceless a voice. This is my promise: that I will serve the humanity with the best knowledge and people around me.
Thank you all again for a wonderful opportunity you give to me. Thank you very much.
And here, thirdly, is the link to the whole ceremony
Zainab’s son comes to say ‘thank you’ too, just after her address.
Our thanks and congratulations to Trish Power and her band of expert helpers for keeping the commemoration alive in this Covid-stricken year.
Tintean is happy to recommend its readers visit https://give.westernsydney.edu.au/gifcscholarship and make a donation to what is a wonderful and worthy cause.
Trevor McClaughlin is a member of the Tinteán editorial collective.