By Kevin Andrews - Australian Polity - Volume 2 (Number 2)
In 1883, the Irish nationalist, John Redmond MP, together with his brother William, toured the Australian colonies, urging support for Irish home rule. He had been despatched the year before by the Irish National Land League as a delegate to Australia to promote the cause and raise funds.
Arriving in Adelaide in February 1883, the Redmond’s held a successful meeting and founded a local branch of the League before travelling to Sydney, where their reception was entirely different. They were greeted on their arrival with allegations that the League had been involved in the murders of Lord Cavendish, the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, and Thomas Burke, the most senior civil servant in the country. The result was a round of hostile engagements, and public dispute at a time when sectarian divisions were rife in the colony.
Redmond’s denials that the League had been involved in the events — and the condemnation of them by Charles Parnell, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party — only fanned the flames in some quarters. (A separate, little known group was subsequently found responsible for the murders.)
The Redmond’s later toured extensively throughout the east coast and spoke at more peaceful gatherings before departing for New Zealand, and subsequently, the US. Indeed, John married Johanna Dalton in Sydney and they had two children before she died in 1889.William, also subsequently elected to the House of Commons, returned to Australia several times and published two books about the colonies.
Such was the consternation about the Redmond’s visit to New South Wales that a meeting was arranged in Sydney to express loyalty to the Queen. It was a rowdy event, attended by thousands of people. The principal speaker was Sir Henry Parkes, later to be known as the father of Federation, who had to be escorted away by police at the conclusion.
Parkes made an impassioned speech against stirring up Old World animosities in the colonies:
Let Irishmen cherish the memory of the bright and heroic passages of her history; let them, if they will, cherish with a burning indignation the wrongs they have endured.
But they have come here for a very different purpose, and I at once take my stand on this very simple ground, that when Irishmen, or Englishmen, or Scotchmen, or Germans come to this land, they have no right to revive the animosities of the land from which that have come. Our public life ought not to be disturbed, ought not to have its very heart torn, by the revival of injuries of other countries.
As a liberal who opposed the colonial conservatives, and later fought for the Federation of the colonies, it might have been expected that Parkes would support home rule for the Irish.
But Parkes was clear about Australian loyalties: “Let us be of whatever faith we may, let us still remember that we are above everything else free citizens of a free commonwealth.”
It is probably the case that Parkes’ participation in the rally was motivated by mixed motivations. Nonetheless, his words deserve attention.
I was reminded of them as I pondered the recent Greens’ sponsored imbroglio at the Marrickville Council. Consider some of the contributions to the debate about whether this inner city local government should join a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel:
“I’ve been ethnically cleansed and prevented from going to live in the home of my ancestors because I am not Jewish” said a woman of Palestinian background.
People would be “happy for my son not to dance at the Marrickville festival because he belongs to a Jewish youth group” said another woman.
People shouted at a young man waving an Israeli flag. “Show support for the Palestinians,” shouted others. A woman swore at a Coptic councillor in Arabic. And on it went for three hours until a majority of councillors rejected the Greens’ sponsored motion.
Individual Australians routinely support overseas causes where they perceive injustice, inhumanity or evil are usurping peace, tolerance and freedom. However the Greens’ motion was different, directly fuelling domestic animosities
On the whole, Australians have taken Henry Parkes’ advice, even in the age of instant global communication. ‘Heroic passages’ and ‘the wrongs endured’ in the history of other peoples have been cherished, but we have been wary about the importation of exotic animosities into our civic life. Rallying for a cause has been accompanied generally by peacefulness, order and civility. A line has been drawn between persuasive advocacy and rhetorical support, and direct action against another nation. When the latter has been taken, it has been by the national government, usually in conformity of international proposals.
We are Australians first, regardless of our background; not diverse groups living on this continent. The Marrickville saga is an illustration of what can happen when Parkes’ counsel is forgotten and overseas animosities are made our own.