Queensland Irish Association St Patrick’s Day Eve Dinner
Mr Bleijie, representing the Leader of the Opposition; Your Honours, past and present, including our President, the Honourable Jeffrey Spender; Lord Mayor; Senator; and other religious leaders; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
I at once acknowledge the traditional owners and extend respectful greetings to Elders and emerging leaders.
I am delighted to once again join the Irish community of Brisbane for this splendid annual celebration of all things Irish, and to be welcomed by the Queensland Irish Association Pipe Band.
This band has a long and proud history and their Urquhart tartan is a not-so-subtle reminder to the Scots that, according to legend, the Urquhart clan is not descended from a Scot, but from a celebrated warrior King of Ulster.
Queensland’s vice-regal links with Ireland may not go back quite so far, but when Queen Victoria selected our very first Governor, just over 160 years ago, she chose a lad from County Donegal, George Ferguson Bowen.
His successor was also an Irishman, a Dubliner named Samuel Wensley Blackall. A kindly and affable former soldier, he was both respected and popular, preferring to sign himself just plain ‘Sam Blackall’.
Sir William Cairns, Queensland’s fourth Governor, was born in Belfast and while he served here for only two difficult years, the North Queensland city of Cairns today bears his name.
The next Irishman appointed was Sir Arthur Kennedy. Born in County Down, Sir Arthur was gazumped in the naming stakes by the celebrated early explorer, Edmund Kennedy who came from Guernsey, not Ireland; it is the latter Kennedy after whom the North Queensland federal electorate, and Highway, are named.
And there are also no place names at all attributable to our final Irish governor, Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, but the man born in County Cork is remembered in a unique marble plaque that can still be seen on what used to be the Executive Building in George Street. Signed simply ‘Hamilton Goold-Adams, Governor’, the plaque records the words of the cable sent to the people of Australia by King George the Fifth to commemorate the soldiers who died at Gallipoli.
These five men and their families were part of the great Irish diaspora which began its spread two centuries ago and which now comprises some 70 million people world-wide, including the ten per cent of Australians who can claim Irish ancestry.
Speaking of the diaspora, I was interviewed at Government House in 2017 by Ulsterman William Crawley for the BBC Documentary, ‘Brave New World’, charting the spread and influence of the Irish in New Zealand, Canada, the US and Australia.
Mr Crawley was intrigued to learn of the enduring legacy of the early Irish-born Governors in our State, but especially that of Bowen – through the eponymous North Queensland town and mango, but most significantly, really, as the architect of representative and responsible government, at the apex of which still sits the Governor.
I likened Bowen’s actions in this sense to that of a ‘benevolent dictator’ – which, upon reflection, was a rather audacious thing for a Governor with a surname ‘de Jersey’ to say to and about an Irishman!
I left unscathed – just! But that memorable experience, where I enthusiastically promoted ‘brand Queensland’ to a worldwide audience, is but one example of the incredibly varied events undertaken by a contemporary Governor.
Indeed, just this past week, attending and hosting numerous International Women’s Day events; the launch of the transformational new Queensland Ballet Academy at Kelvin Grove; celebrating Commonwealth Day; supporting those remarkable, uplifting Queensland charities, Suited to Success and the Pyjama Foundation; on Friday, a visit to Tattersall’s Club for honorary members, where I publicly lauded the Club’s sagacious and right recent rule change; on the ceremonial front, on Sunday, receiving the Royal Salute, 160 years since the formation of the Queensland Mounted Infantry, and receiving the South African High Commissioner; I receive the Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland next month.
And all of this intertwined with my constitutional duties, infused by that concept of responsible government, portended by Bowen, and which binds our Constitution.
The unifying thread of these occasions? Meeting remarkable Queenslanders!
What a wonderful State in which we live and progress, together, drawing, as we do, on the inspirational contributions of those gathered here tonight, and, especially, on the eve of St Patrick's Day 2020, the contributions of the Irish in Queensland.
And while the corona virus may have led to the cancellation of St Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland and our own in Brisbane on the weekend, we know that the Irish, wherever they are in the world, will still be part of this joyful international celebration and will be still be wearing green and raising a glass of Guinness (or Irish whiskey) in a toast to Irish life and culture.