Prime Minister Kevin Rudd addresses the crowd at the Queensland Irish Association Dinner in Brisbane on March 16.
Speech by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, MP, delivered at the Queensland Irish Association St Patrick’s Eve Dinner, Brisbane, on Tuesday, March 16.
“[QIA club president] Eamon [Gaffney] said a couple of weeks ago that there’s no place for politics at a dinner like this. And of course he’s right.
But in my experience, packing 500 people of Irish extraction into a dining hall like this and offering to quench their thirst with a glass or seven of Guinness is the first step towards fomenting political insurrection.
Politics and the Irish go together like leprechauns and rainbows.
So in a warm spirit of non-partisan Irish hospitality, let me welcome my political opponent Tony Abbott to Queensland.
This time last year, I mentioned my namesake, St Kevin of Glendalough who lived in 6th century Ireland.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the works of this great saint, I can let you in on a little secret. St Kevin was in fact an abbott. He wasn’t a mad abbott.
He was a run-of-the-mill abbott, given to long boring sermons and moral crusades against the lasciviously short loin cloths of the sixth century.
St Kevin in fact lived in a cave as a hermit for seven years – nothing compared to my ten long years in opposition.
His one great virtue was that he was attributed with many extravagant miracles – including steering his monastery through the global financial crisis of 578 AD.
He also held back wave after wave of unauthorised people movements of the latter 6th century, otherwise known as the Anglo-Saxons and Jutes.
St Anthony, on the other hand, was not Irish.
He was born in Portugal, lived in Italy and preached throughout Europe.
He was a seriously multicultural 13th century type.
St Anthony was trained as an Augustinian. Be careful, Tony – Martin Luther also began life as an Augustinian.
In fact St Anthony was a man of shifting allegiances – later becoming a Franciscan.
St Anthony is now best known as the patron saint of lost things. To be theologically correct, lost things probably doesn’t extend to lost causes.
For that we must turn to St Jude. And to be equally correct, St Anthony was canonised in record time – a mere 12 months after his passing, a testament to his virtue.
St Kevin on the other hand had to wait 1300 years. Whether that says something about their namesakes in 21st century Australian politics, I’ll leave you to judge. But I digress.
One year ago, when I spoke to this gathering, I mentioned my Irish grandmother.
Hannah Cashin was born on the Tweed River in 1892.
She was the daughter of Irish parents who had migrated from the small parish of Ballingarry in County Tipperary. I confessed to a few family secrets.
Like my family’s links to the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 – having come from the town where the national tricolour of green, white and orange was first unfurled.
And I owned up to my family’s involvement in a long-running factional fight that raged across Tipperary in the 19th century, between the Shanavests and the Caravets.
There’s even a whisper that Hannah Cashin’s grandfather may have been the same William Cashin killed by the blow of a stone to his forehead in the great factional fight of 1838.
Which is probably why my forebears felt at home in the Australian Labor Party after they arrived on these shores.
But now that I’ve come clean about my own past – there’s a matter of history that Tony needs to clear up.
No, I’m not asking Tony to discuss his views, as an ardent monarchist, on the actions of the British Crown against a nascent Irish republican movement.
I’m referring to an historic document that I have with me on the podium tonight.
It lists the names of the men and women transported to Australia on the Second Fleet in 1790.
It inscribes the name of my paternal forebear Thomas Rudd – from the thieving English side of my ancestry, as opposed to the revolutionary Irish side.
Thomas nicked a pair of shoes and got seven years in Australia. He served his time.
He then returned to England – only to reoffend in 1799, and get transported to Australia for a second time, and for another seven years.
Getting transported to Australia twice for thieving reflected a prodigious talent. And a worthy professional preparation for politics.
But I digress. The question raised by this Second Fleet passenger list concerns another passenger.
On the same vessel to Australia that transported Thomas Rudd was another passenger by the name of: William Abbott – from Norfolk. The question I have is, does Billy Abbott bear any ancestral relationship to Tony Abbott? And what was his offence?
And did the forebears of Rudd and Abbott ever cross each other on the high seas – burdening future generations of Rudds and Abbotts with a score to be settled that would finally be fought out on the national stage more than two centuries later?
But as Eamon has said, a Queensland Irish Association event like tonight’s is no time for politics. Especially not in an election year. So I won’t be making any policy announcements tonight.
Although, this being an election year I asked my department to provide the Cabinet with some options for boosting St Patrick’s Day celebrations.
They came up with three.
Option one – making the new national anthem It’s A Long Way to Tipperary.
Option two – replacing the AFL, and rugby league and rugby union with Gaelic Football as the national football code.
Option three – my personal preference – opening up the Lodge to all Irish Australians for St Patrick’s Day, with an open bar and Guinness on tap.
And so it shall be if we see the re-election of the Rudd Government. A few comments of a more serious nature.
As we know, Ireland isn’t exactly the world’s largest nation. But it’s hard to think of a national day celebrated with such spirit and enthusiasm anywhere in the world.
And two million of our 22 million Australians claim Irish ancestry. This reflects the vast reach of the Irish diaspora. And the enduring power of Irish culture and identity.
But that’s Ireland – small nation, with big hearts and a grand character. The course of our nation’s history was profoundly influenced by Irish migrants and their progeny – the Ned Kellys, James Scullins, Ben Chifleys and Paul Keatings.
Including those who, in the words of Chifley, shone their light on a hill. As well as by less well-known Australians of Irish descent.
Those who we might say, followed the old Irish folk custom of putting a candle in a darkened window, to guide the way of strangers.
People who, one by one, helped build our national character as Australians. The larrikin humour. The rebellious character. The deep suspicion of authority. The warm hospitality. What became for us mateship.
And the deep, deep instinct to defend the underdog. Great Irish traits – traits that we can all celebrate.
That’s why I’m delighted to announce a very special celebration.
On St Patrick’s Day next year, the National Museum of Australia will open the most comprehensive exhibition ever on the Irish in Australia.
It will celebrate all aspects of the Irish contribution to Australia.
Its time span will extend from the Irish who came on the First Fleet, to the thousands of Irish backpackers who visit Australia every year.
It will be a generous and scholarly exhibition, with hundreds of exhibits from every state in Australia and from Ireland and the United States.
Many of those items have never been on display before.
The National Museum tells me that no country has ever had an exhibition on this scale, celebrating the contribution of the Irish diaspora.
The exhibition should attract interest from all across the world, and I expect it to be seen by tens of thousands of Australians before the National Museum takes the exhibition to Ireland later in 2011.
And in June this year, ahead of next year’s exhibition, the National Museum of Australia will be publishing a book to celebrate the stories of Irish Australians – suitably titled Sinners, Saints and Settlers.
Friends, the first occasion when the Queensland Irish Association’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations were held here in Tara House was 1928.
The Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, James Duhig, great friend of Labor Premiers T.J. Ryan and Red Ted Theodore – spoke on that occasion of his great pride as an Irish Australian.
His pride in the history, the culture and the values that came with being Australian of Irish descent.
But more than all of that, he spoke of his belief that God had given a diversity of gifts to different peoples throughout the world. And he spoke of Australia’s special opportunity.
‘Never in the history of the world’, Archbishop Duhig said, ‘had any nation had such a great opportunity for combining these diverse gifts of different cultures’.
He spoke of the combination of the Irish, the English, the Welsh, the French, the Germans, Italians and the Danes.
Eighty years and three generations later, Archbishop Duhig’s words still ring true.
Ours is a culture today more greatly enriched by the gifts of cultures from every part of the world.
And no nation has a greater opportunity than does Australia, to bring together, in harmony, those different cultures – to build something far greater than the sum of its parts. Australia is a young nation.
Our future offers extraordinary opportunity. And no people have made a greater contribution to our history, character and identity than the children of St Patrick.
So on the eve of St Patrick’s Day, we celebrate Ireland.
And we celebrate Ireland’s contribution to the great nation that we all cherish – Australia.
So tonight I propose a toast – to Australia.”
See also Victorian Premier John Brumby’s IACC Breakfast speech :: Wednesday, March 17
And NSW Premier Kristina Keneally’s Lansdowne Club speech :: March 19, 2010