Entry 6: A Touch of Ireland There is a small community radio station called WOW FM in St Marys, a suburb of Sydney’s outer west. It caters for a range of ethnic and community groups as well as individuals who have a yen for presenting and who can convince the board that what they have to offer is in harmony with the ethos and aims of the station.
St Marys, situated around South Creek which flows through the Cumberland plain at the foot of the Blue Mountains, was originally settled by the Commerigal-Tongarra tribe of the Dharug people about 45,000 years ago. But those vast swathes of time and all the men, women and children pouring down the generations are largely hidden to view: a not unusual consequence of European settlement and its aftermath.
We know the names of the invading overlords and their lackeys who were granted land by the English crown. The flogging parson, Samuel Marsden, for example, was given over 1000 acres in the area by Governor King who also ensured that his own family got in on the land grab. Lots of details and names here, but I can’t find any of the names of the Aboriginal dispossessed.
I’ll have something to say about the dispossessed in a later entry, but for now, I want to get down from the soap-box I seem to have mounted and talk about the Irish connection.
During the 19th Century as the Sydney basin was increasingly settled, convicts-Irish among them- provided an economic way of ensuring rapid development.
And, no doubt confounding the shades of the likes of Samuel Marsden, the convicts, for most part, prospered and put their stamp on the region. The small settlement on the banks of South Creek continued to grow and, by the second decade of the 20th Century, a serene and prosperous township was dreaming in the Australian sun, entirely oblivious of the apocalypse hatching in the soul of a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo. Lines of a local poet, George Sullivan, recall those idyllic days:
If only Victoria Park could speak/ What wondrous tales from it you’d share, /About those careless, happy days/ When it was called ‘The Square’./ It could tell of all the bullocks/That were roasted on its green;/Of the glorious games of football/By sportsmen strong and clean./ It could tell of games of cricket,/ Of how the wickets soon did fall/When demon bowlers, Royal and Tolhurst,/Did send down the ball.
The names of all too many of those sportsmen strong and clean would be inscribed in bronze on tablets marking the fallen in the Great War, and subsequent wars, on the octagonal Rotunda. The phrase, strong and clean emerges 60 years later when Redgum sang, This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean/ And
there’s me in me slouch hat and me SLR and greens/ God help me, I was only 19.
The Irish love sport and having a flutter. They also love their culture and, in the mid-nineties, Jim Clarke and Noel O’Donohue started a radio program they called, A Touch of Ireland. For almost two decades they presented music, news and items of interest for their audience, largely, but not entirely, the Irish diaspora. From convict times to the present there have been waves of Irish migrants, among whom I would number myself, who have found in Australia a refuge from political and economic turmoil.
I was a regular listener to the program and it struck me as a refreshing change from so much of the garbage spewing from the talkback stations by obscenely overpaid shock jocks. You know who I mean, those contemptible commentators who classify it as a missed opportunity if they can’t turn a radio listener from someone at peace with his or her world into a tightly wound xeno- or islamo- or homo-phobe, frothing at the mouth. I expect there is a special section of hell reserved for them.
I wrote the song, A Touch of Ireland, in gratitude to people like Jim and Noel that the airwaves were not the sole preserve of hate-mongers. This was shortly after the new millennium when planes should have been falling from the sky and energy grids collapsing- all because the computer geeks had not realised that two-digit year dates repeated every century. Weren’t we all so happy that the sky did not fall in courtesy of the millennium bug?
Of course, the sky didn’t fall in, but, from the sky, ushering in a change as profound as that caused by that bullet in Sarajevo, two planes struck the twin towers in New York City and- here we are. But life goes on, and, while Jim and Noel are no longer hosting the show they conceived all those years ago, I am happy to say that I, as one of the new presenters of the show, A Touch of Ireland, was able to dedicate the song you are about to hear, to the men who brought a touch of Ireland to the people of the western plains of Sydney: well done, guys.