Order of Australia

Doyenne of Australian Irish dancing community honoured

Jan Currie-Henderson has received an OAM for her 60 years of service to Irish dancing.

Jan Currie-Henderson has received an OAM for her 60 years of service to Irish dancing.

Celebrated Irish dance teacher and adjudicator Janice Currie-Henderson’s Order of Australia Medal (OAM) will be in good company alongside her multitude of prizes.

Ms Currie-Henderson, ‘Miss Jan’ to her devoted students, received a Queen’s Birthday Honour last week for services to Irish dancing, just two years after receiving a lifetime achievement Brigid Award for her contributions to the Irish-Australian community.  She was also honoured last year by An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (The Irish Dancing Commission), the sport’s peak body.

“I got such a shock when I got that letter,” she said.

“I don’t know who nominated me...I’ve asked, but the good fairy’s not speaking up to tell me!”

Ms Currie-Henderson, whose family hails from Offaly, Derry and Dublin, has lost count of how many young competition hopefuls she has guided through jigs and reels in her 60 years of teaching but knows the number must be in the thousands.  

Her own involvement with the tradition began at the age of five when her father saw an Irish dancing performance in the Brunswick Heads hotel owned by her grandparents.

“We came down to Sydney to live and there was Irish dancing in the school, Daddy enrolled us of course,” Ms Currie-Henderson said.

Jan Currie-Henderson at her recent Diamond Jubilee celebration with (from left) sons Craig, Andrew and Michael Henderson and husband Bob.

Jan Currie-Henderson at her recent Diamond Jubilee celebration with (from left) sons Craig, Andrew and Michael Henderson and husband Bob.

The eager prodigy would go on to become a national champion and knew by 17 that she wanted to share her skills with new generations.

In 1959, she set up the Currie-Henderson Academy of Irish Dancing. Ten years later, she became a founding member of the Australian Irish Dancing Association (AIDA).

She is a past president of the NSW division of the AIDA and continues to serve as its vice-president.

Her dedication has reaped rewards, with troupes of students from her academy winning over 100 national titles.

Fast-paced moves are the norm in Irish dancing, and Ms Currie-Henderson has watched the centuries-old tradition evolve into something quite different, especially since the emergence of Riverdance in

Today, costumes embroidered with Celtic motifs are enhanced with a healthy dose of glitter and crystals, but the sport has undergone more than a surface-level makeover.

“The basics of it are all the same but it’s more expressive now...we still have the rules in competitions but in the shows you can express yourself differently.

“It’s not always people of Irish descent, there’s dancers of many, many nationalities, they just love Irish dancing.” 

Ms Currie-Henderson will receive her OAM at Government House in September while her students prepare to take October’s Australian Championship by storm.

 

Kilkenny man honoured on Australia Day

John Kinsella (above) at Manila Hospital where Operation Restore Hope (International NGO) are operating on underprivileged children and teenagers with cleft palate. 

John Kinsella (above) at Manila Hospital where Operation Restore Hope (International NGO) are operating on underprivileged children and teenagers with cleft palate. 

A TOP Irish Australian businessman and philanthropist says he is “truly humbled” after being honoured in this year’s Australia Day awards for his charity work with Cambodian children.

John Kinsella, originally from Co Kilkenny, was appointed a member of the Order of Australia. In 1988, he and his brother William co-founded the Billbergia Group, now one of the biggest developers of waterfront apartments in Sydney.

“You need a bit of luck in life, and I think we’ve been quite lucky in that side of things,” said Mr Kinsella who left school at the age of 12.

“When things have gone well, you have to give back too.” It was a small newspaper article about a struggling Cambodian orphanage that spurred him into action 13 years ago. He founded Hope for Cambodian Children with a few likeminded people. The community-based charity has now helped more than 1000 vulnerable children through healthcare and educational projects, and by providing basic housing.

Mr Kinsella, who visits the charity in Battambang every couple of months said there are “lots of success stories”.

“We’ve got kids starting at university; kids who are motor mechanics, hairdressers and beauticians,” said the developer who also supports a charity in the Philippines. “It’s good to be able to help give someone a hand up….But it’s all

into making it work.” His own success is testament to the power of hard work, entrepreneurship and, as he frequently stresses, luck. After leaving school at 12 despite coming top in his exams, he worked on the family dairy farm outside Kilkenny’s Mooncoin.

His first came Down Under in 1976 when he won a young farmers’ scholarship to work on New Zealand farms. But it was Australia that took his fancy and he emigrated here in 1985. The enterprising Kilkenny man found plenty of work on building sites around Sydney. He soon became a sub-contractor after buying some equipment. Within a few years, he had joined forces with his brother William who’d followed him to Australia and they were sub-contracting civil construction projects around NSW.

“We brought the sewers to the country towns,” he said. But those jobs involved a lot of travel and Billbergia moved into residential property after John married his wife Riezel and they started a family. “The boss didn’t like me being away so much,” he said with a laugh.

(Left) John Kinsella with his family (from left to right) John Kinsella Jnr, John Kinsella Snr, Thomas Kinsella, Joseph Kinsella and mum Riezel Kinsella.

(Left) John Kinsella with his family (from left to right) John Kinsella Jnr, John Kinsella Snr, Thomas Kinsella, Joseph Kinsella and mum Riezel Kinsella.

The couple’s three sons are now grown up and Billbergia is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. He said his work colleagues have been teasing him about his Australia Day honour. “You know what it’s like in construction,” he said. “Today they were asking me ‘should we bow?’.”

Mr Kinsella will be formally presented with the award later this year.