Tag Archives: Western Australia

The HMAS Sydney Memorial, Geraldton, Western Australia.

A very impressive dome-shaped structure perched high on a hill presides over the town of Geraldton in Western Australia. Passing through on a whistle-stop visit recently, it was a good decision to go and investigate. What we discovered was a stunning and very poignant war memorial with a difference, as it stands to the memory of the crew of an Australian warship that vanished in 1941.

The Dome of the Sydney War Memorial, high above Geraldton.

When HMAS (His Majesty’s Australian Ship) Sydney II failed to return to Fremantle as scheduled on November 20, 1941 there was not too much concern. A troopship, Zelandia, which had been escorted by Sydney, had arrived a day later than expected in Singapore and so it was thought that Sydney was simply running behind schedule. She had also been ordered to maintain radio silence. Concern grew however when she had not arrived by Sunday evening, November 23 and signals were sent ordering her to report her position. But she did not respond. In spite of aerial searches which began some days later, there was no sign of her. And so began a mystery that lasted for 67 years.

About the same time that Sydney vanished, German sailors from the Kormoran were rescued by a number of ships and some other members of the crew came ashore on lifeboats. They claimed that their ship had been sunk by a ‘raider’. The Australian Government withheld the news that Sydney was missing until November 30th, while the relatives became more and more anxious about their loved ones. Finally, a statement was released confirming that HMAS Sydney was ‘presumed lost’ following engagement with a ‘heavily armed enemy raider, which she sank by gunfire’. The nation was stunned as the ship had been thought of as a ‘naval Titanic’ – invincible and indestructible.

HMAS Sydney, a light cruiser, was built in the world-famous shipyards of Newcastle – upon- Tyne in 1933 and was launched in 1934. Originally HMS Phaeton, she was renamed HMAS Sydney when bought by the Commonwealth of Australia. She was the pride of their fleet.

HMAS Sydney on the slipway September 1934 (Image http://www.navy.gov.au/)

HMAS Sydney saw much action. She was involved in the bombardment of the Libyan port of Bardia in June 1940 and sank the Italian destroyer Espero just days later while on convoy escort duty. In July of that year, she came under fire from Italian warships and then disabled the Italian Bartolomeo Colleoni. She returned home to Australia in triumph after many successful engagements with the enemy. She undertook further convoy duties both overseas and off the coast of Western Australia. The port of Geraldton welcomed her on three visits, the last one being between the 18th and 20th October in 1941 just a month before she vanished, when the crew fielded teams against the locals in a variety of sports. Her last goodwill visit was to the people of Geraldton and they would not forget her. There was total shock in the town when the announcement came that she was lost. Stories about her were handed down through the generations so that she remained very much in the minds of the locals.

Crew of HMAS Sydney, Alexandria, Egypt Sept 15, 1940 (Image RAN Archives)

645 men went down on HMAS Sydney, and 80 of the 397 strong crew of the German ship were also drowned in the incident. The loss of 645 Australian men represented a loss of approximately 1/3rd of the total Navy personnel lost in the entire conflict. The war which had been played out in faraway lands of North Africa, and Europe had arrived on Australian shores. Fueled in large part by the silence of the authorities, all sorts of theories abounded as to the location and the fate of the Sydney. It was not until 1957 that the Royal Australian Navy offered any explanation and that was based largely on the accounts of the survivors of the Kormoran. And who would believe Germans? And could it really have been the Japanese who dispatched her?

Meanwhile, in Geraldton, there was talk of a Sydney memorial in the 1960s. These plans came to naught, but eventually came to fruition when the Geraldton Rotary Club took on the project to construct a memorial to the men who had visited the town shortly before they went to their watery graves. And so the very poignant Memorial was constructed atop Mount Scott in 1988.

It consists of five quite different but equally poignant elements.

Dome of Souls – one stainless steel seagull for every man on board

Within is the impressive ‘Dome of Souls’ created with 645 stainless steel gulls, representing the spirits of those lost at sea, arranged in a massive dome that can be seen far below in the town and in the busy port. This feature was constructed from stone for every state of Australia, marking the fact that the crew were from all states.

A semi-circular black granite wall, the Wall of Remembrance, wraps around the site. It is engraved with the story of HMAS Sydney in images and with the names, rank and homebase of every crew member who served at the time of her disappearance.

The Waiting Woman, whose wait was never to end.

At the front of the site is a bronze sculpture- ‘The Waiting Woman’ holding her hat and gazing out to sea hoping to see the ship sail into view. My grandchildren were particularly taken with her as she looked so real, and spoke of her for days afterwards!

Towering above Geraldton is a life-size ‘Stele’ or memorial to the Sydney

Behind her is a representation of the bow of the ship – an actual size stone monument, a representation of the bow towering above, with the plimsoll lines marked out. This is also clearly visible for miles around.

But the mysterious story of HMAS Sydney was not to end there. On March 16, 2008, using modern technology, she was finally discovered on the sea bed, more or less where the German sailors had said she was. It was obvious that the Komoran had inflicted catastrophic damage. She lay in 2,468 metres of water.

And so another element was added to the Geraldton Memorial – an illuminated Pool of Remembrance in black polished granite. Etched on the edge of the pool are 644 gulls. At the centre is the 645th gull, two metres high with a wingtip pointing to the precise coordinates where HMAS Sydney lies on the sea bed. The pool was dedicated in 2011, on the 70th Anniversary of the loss of this ship and all hands. She and they are forever and beautifully remembered in Geraldton.

The 645th Gull with wingtip touching the coordinates where Sydney rests.

Anyone who visits this Australian National Memorial will be touched and saddened by this story that rolled on for decades. This memorial stands not only in remembrance of the lost ship and her crew, but in recognition of the determination of the people of Geraldton in making sure they are never forgotten.

Further reading

http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-sydney-ii

 

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John Boyle O’Reilly: Fenian, Convict, Poet

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John Boyle O’Reilly Information Point, Leschenault Conservation Park, near Bunbury (Image ©thesilvervoice)

As Ireland commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Fenian Rising of March 1867, it is fitting to note that thousands of miles away in Western Australia on this coming weekend of March 25th and 26th 2017, the John Boyle O’Reilly Association of Western Australia will once again pay homage to John Boyle O’Reilly, Irishman, Fenian, Poet, Journalist, Escaped Convict.

Although he was not active in the March 1867 Rising, it was Boyle O’Reilly’s Fenian membership that brought him to Australia as a convict in the first place. He was here for a relatively short time – from January 1868 to February 1869 – but nevertheless he is a hero in these parts and is remembered on an annual basis. The primary aims of the Association are to promote the life and literary works of John Boyle O’Reilly as well as his historical significance to Western Australia and the Bunbury area in particular.

I first encountered the John Boyle O’Reilly Association of Western Australia quite by chance when visiting the Leschenault Peninsula in Western Australia in 2014 with my friend Leith, who had wanted to show me where John Boyle O’Reilly ‘hung out’ while awaiting his escape from the penal colony. We arrived to discover that there was already a sizeable crowd there being addressed by various dignitaries. They had gathered at the John Boyle O ‘Reilly Memorial site to regale the gathered crowd with quotes and facts from his life and to celebrate his life and the work of the local community in raising awareness of their convict poet.

But who was John Boyle O’Reilly and why is he so revered  in Australia?

“The world is large, when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide;

But the world is small, when your enemy is loose on the other side”

These words were spoken on June 28 1963, by the United States President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament). He was quoting from the extensive work of poet, author, journalist and Fenian, John Boyle O’Reilly, who in all likelihood was as little known in Ireland then as now, but not as widely known as he ought to be. Historians and history buffs among us would have been aware of him and of his Fenian Brotherhood activities; others may have vaguely recalled the name from some long forgotten school history book. For a considerable number of us however, the name meant and still means very little.

My first (conscious) encounter with Boyle O’Reilly happened in Fremantle Prison in Western Australia in 2012. Fremantle Prison was the ‘Establishment’ in which convicts transported from Britain to the Colony of Western Australia were held.

Fremantle Prison. Housed convicts transported between 1850 and 1868)

Fremantle Prison (The Establishment) Housed convicts transported to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868 (Image c.thesilvervoice)

Now a World Heritage listed  building, the ‘Establishment’ had at the time of my visit an exhibition that included a replica death mask of John Boyle O’Reilly that had been donated by the National Museum of Ireland.

Deathmask of John Boyle O'Reilly . A replica presented by the National Museum of Ireland

Deathmask of John Boyle O’Reilly. A replica presented by the National Museum of Ireland

Born in 1844 at Dowth Castle in County Meath, John Boyle O’Reilly began a career as a journalist at the age of 15. He moved to England for a while as an apprentice and on his return to Dublin in 1863 he signed up with the 10th Hussars. Soon afterwards he became a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, or Fenians, who were rebelling against British rule. He actively recruited considerable numbers of new members from within his own regiment. When he was discovered, he was arrested. In June 1866 he was court martialled and on July 9, 1866 he was sentenced to death for his seditious activities. That sentence was immediately commuted to life imprisonment and subsequently to 20 years penal servitude. With other Fenian prisoners he was transferred to an English prison.

Boyle O'Reilly after his arrest.(Image Public Domain)

Boyle O’Reilly after his arrest.(Image Public Domain)

It was then decided that Fenian prisoners would be transported to Western Australia, and so in 1867, the Hougoumont left England with 62 Fenians among a consignment of 280 convicts on board. This historic voyage was to be the very last one transporting convicts to the penal Colonies of Australia.

During their time on the Hougoumont Boyle O’Reilly and others produced seven editions of a newspaper entitled ‘The Wild Goose’, containing poems, editorials and stories. Boyle O’Reilly later wrote “We published seven weekly numbers of it. Amid the dim glare of the lamp,the men at night would group strangely on extemporized seats. The yellow light fell down on the dark forms, throwing a ghastly glare on the pale faces of the men . .”

The Hougoumont arrived at Fremantle on January 9 1868 after a voyage lasting 89 days. Some weeks later, O’Reilly, prisoner number 9843, was assigned to works on the new road linking Bunbury and Vasse. He soon became an assistant to the head warder, Henry Woodman and he struck up a good friendship with the local Catholic priest, Fr.Patrick McCabe (a native of County Cavan) who offered to help him escape.

In the meantime, Boyle O’Reilly became romantically involved with Woodman’s daughter Jessie who became pregnant. The relationship ended unhappily and resulted in Boyle O’Reilly’s failed suicide attempt in December 1868, and subsequent depression. It was said that ”Boyle, poor Boyle, cried and cried in desperation for help.”  Jessie married a local man in March 1869, probably to preserve her reputation. The fact of her pregnancy has only been confirmed in a letter discovered in San Franscisco in recent years, a letter written in May 1870 by John Boyle O Reilly in which he writes:

“If Cashman, or any of them knows anything about Miss Woodman I wish they would write it or tell you what it is . Was the child born? That’s the principal thing I want to know‘”

Fr. McCabe made arrangements with the captain of the Vigilant, a visiting whaling ship, to take Boyle O’Reilly on board and spirit him away from the Penal Colony. So on a February night in 1869, Boyle O’Reilly slipped away from the convict camp near Bunbury and made his way on foot to a pre-arranged meeting place with two others. From there they rode northwards for an hour and, picking up a rowing boat, they made their way  out of the inlet and traveled northwards for about 12 miles. Here Boyle O’Reilly hid in the dunes, waiting for the Vigilant to leave port. When they spotted her, they rowed out to meet her but were devastated when the Vigilant sailed on, the captain apparently having reneged on the agreement he had made with Fr. McCabe. They had to return to shore and hide again while arrangements were made with another ship. After two weeks, they succeeded in making a deal with the captain of the American whaler Gazelle. O’Reilly and his friends met the Gazelle three miles out to sea on March 2 1869 and  made good their escape. Boyle O’Reilly arrived in Philadelphia on November 23, 1869, one of the very few convicts ever to have escaped from the Western Australian penitentiary.

He settled in Boston and was employed by The Pilot newspaper. He married in 1872, and he and his wife Mary (Murphy) had four daughters. Boyle O’Reilly worked tirelessly lecturing and writing on the Irish question. He became influential and highly respected in the Irish Boston community. Over the next number of years he published, among other works, several popular books of poetry and a novel, Moondyne, based on his life  as a convict.

His connection with Western Australia was not lost however as he was instrumental in planning the escape of 6 more Fenians in 1876. (This will be the subject of my next post).

On August 9 189o he was found dead, apparently having succumbed to an accidental overdose of sedative. He was only 46 years of age.

But his memory lives on in Western Australia where a dedicated band of admirers and scholars celebrate his life and his work, as they will do again this weekend. At the time of our visit in 2014, the Irish Ambassador Mr Noel White was in attendance together with the Irish Consul in Western Australia, Mr Marty Kavanagh.

The Irish Ambassador, The Irish Consul to WA , Ambassador’s son, and the author.

A memorial was unveiled to the late Dr Manea who did extraordinary work to raise awareness and appreciation of John Boyle O’Reilly in the area.

Memorial plaque in honour of Dr Manea. ‘This dreamer will live on forever’

Other West Australians dedicated to the cause are Fred Rea, Tony Costa and Peter Murphy who continue to promote all things John Boyle O’Reilly through their daily work.  It would make you very proud to be Irish when you witness the passion these people and others in the area  have for John Boyle O Reilly, their convict poet.

The Memorial to John Boyle O ‘Reilly at Leschenault

Image ©thesilvervoice

The inscription on the memorial reads:

 In Proud Memory of
FENIAN JOHN BOYLE O’REILLY

Humanitarian, author, poet and lecturer.
Born Ireland 28th June 1844.
Died U.S.A 10th August 1890.
Absconded from a convict
road party, Cokelup Swamp
18th February 1869
and escaped from this area
on the whaling ship Gazelle
3rd March 1869.
Also dedicated to all convicts
who built , sweated and toiled
in this district.

Then here’s to brave John Boyle O’Reilly
who first blazed a trail over the sea
By escaping from Bunbury to Boston
An vowing his comrades to be free

                                                     Catalpa Ballad

Erected by the South West Irish Club and local community

Unveiled by Ambassador Designate to Ireland
Mr Brian Burke, 13th March, 1988.

I am indebted to Ian Kenneally, author of ‘From the Earth a Cry’, a biography of John Boyle O’Reilly for the ‘heads up’ on the discovery of the letter confirming that Jessie was indeed expecting Boyle O’Reilly’s child. His book is an excellent read and is highly recommended.

BE1A17B0-C6D1-4CB7-AF32-8719D6B44E5B-10233-0000082781661F6F

 

Published works of John Boyle O’Reilly

 

References

Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaelogical Society, 1969, volume LXXIV

Convict Ship Newspaper, The Wild Goose, Re-discovered by  Walter McGrath quoted

 J. J. Roche, Life, Poems and Speeches of John Boyle O’Reilly, page 68

http://trove.nla.gov.au

http://www.fremantleprison.com.au

http://www.iankenneally.com/

https://jboreilly.org.au

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish American, Irish Australian, Irish Convicts, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Transportation

Postcards from..

Some of the most popular and viewed posts I put on this site are in the series ”POSTCARDS FROM…”where I post snaps from places I happen to visit or pass through. These are mostly places in Ireland where I live. Many of them are a little off the beaten track, almost in a hidden Ireland but all are ‘Real’ Ireland.

I have created a new page on my site where I will place links to the posts in the series. The list will be added to from time to time. I hope you will enjoy!

The link to the page is HERE , but below is a list of all the places so far!

Places in Ireland 

Newcastle West, Co Limerick August 2013
Moneygall, Co. Offaly, ancestral home of Barack Obama. August 2013
Dublin September 2013.
Kells Co Meath January 2014
Bunratty, Co Clare, May 2014
Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin August 2014
Rathkeale, Co. Limerick September 2014
Dingle, Co Kerry on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way July 2015
Shanagolden, Co Limerick August 2015
Bere Island, Co Cork September 2015.

Places outside Ireland

Serpentine National Park, Western Australia January 2015

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The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia

DSCF6392I discovered this beautiful building on a recent trip to Perth, Western Australia, when on a mission to find out about an  Irish bishop who had fallen foul of the powers that be in Rome in the mid 19th Century. Somehow I seem to have missed St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth,officially the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on earlier visits. This is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, which is ever so slightly off the beaten track in that relatively small city. It certainly ranks among the most fascinating buildings I have visited as it has a fascinating story.

The history of this magnificent building spans three centuries. Officially opened in 1865, it has been a work in progress almost ever since, as it was only finally completed and officially reopened in December 2009. I engage with architecture at a very superficial level – if I like it, I will look at it – but I do know that this is a special place,unique because of the distinctive way architecture from various eras has been beautifully fused together to make a remarkable whole. Not unsurprisingly, at least to this layperson, this building has won an architectural award for the brilliance of its design. These are a few of my snaps which I hope might give a feel for this beautiful structure.

The original cathedral was begun in 1863. Bishop Serra went to Rome and secured donations in the form of money and marble for the altar, which arrived in Western Australia in 1862. The foundation stone was laid in 1863 by Bishop Salvado. Masons from the Benedictine monastery in Subiaco walked each day to the construction site, but progress was determined by the flow of funds, or lack of them from a small catholic congregation of about  5,000.  Eventually the cathedral was blessed and officially opened in January 1865.

The foundation stone of the original structure

The foundation stone of the original structure

 

The original building  was relatively simple with a square bell tower.

The Cathedral in 1865 on the left, with Mercedes College on the right

The Cathedral in 1865 on the left, with Mercedes College (Catholic Girls School) on the right

Between then and 1910 alterations were carried out, including the addition of a spire to the bell tower and the addition of two porches. As the catholic population continued to grow Archbishop Clune, the first Archbishop of Perth, (an Irishman – more in next post), set about fundraising for the enlargement of the cathedral. The foundation stone for the new addition was laid in 1926.

Archbishop Clune lays Foundation Stone in 1926

Archbishop Clune lays Foundation Stone in 1926

Stained glass windows were manufactured in Birmingham, England and beautiful mosaic floors based on the Book of Kells were modelled by an Australian company. However,it became impossible to raise funds to complete the envisaged building and work was halted due to the Great Depression. The Gothic style sanctuary and transepts were grafted on to the existing 1865 nave. The incomplete cathedral was blessed in May 193o with thousands in attendance.

Huge crowds attended the opening in 1930

Huge crowds attended the opening in 1930

The original plain building  and its nave to the front with the bell tower and two porches, has been attached to a new more elaborate extension – much more reminiscent of a cathedral. The outbreak of World war 2 after the great depression meant that plans to complete the cathedral were put on hold indefinitely due to lack of funds.

The structure was a protected heritage building and the need for repairs became clear in the 1990s. The bell tower was crumbling and there was extensive rising damp. Fundraising began and following a bequest of 2 million dollars plans to complete the cathedral could finally be brought to fruition.  Still short of funds, the state stepped in with a contribution of 2 million dollars, and a further 3 million from the federal government. Finally the cathedral was closed in 2006 and building began.

The story of the construction is great reading in itself as the bell tower had to be moved a considerable distance and of course there was always the danger that the entire structure could collapse with the ground excavations going on.  In effect the 1865 nave was taken out and a huge hole dug in the ground for parish facilities below with the new cathedral part above. During construction remains of earlier bishops were uncovered so it was decided to incorporate a crypt  beneath the new altar. Costs soared to over 32 million dollars by the time the building was completed in 2009. (Those interested in the technical construction details may read more here)

The result is remarkable with the modern part sitting in the middle of the earlier structures. Perched on a hill, it is indeed an imposing and beautiful building.

 

A most spectacular building on the outside, but inside it is a wonderful  space.

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The modern central aisle leading to the circular altar, with the 1930 stained glass window beyond

It looks like a traditional church from the entrance, but with wonderful light that spills in from the high windows that open to help deal with the heat of the Perth summer. The modern Stations of the Cross are remarkable in that they are two strips of three-dimensional images, and each face has been modelled on a real person.

The mosaics are behind the main altar in the 1930s section. Clearly based on the Book of Kells, the floor was split from one side to another during an earthquake on 14 October 1968.

The stained glass windows and  side altars from the 1930s building also survive.

The is an amazing trinity of buildings, each having its own characteristics, yet all blend beautifully to form this wonderful space. A fabulous feat of architecture and well worth a visit!

 

 

Further reading

Technical details of the construction

A wide angle professional photo of the interior

 

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C. Y. O’Connor, a tragic genius

C.Y.O'Connor statue at entrance to Fremantle Port

C.Y.O’Connor statue at entrance to Fremantle Port

At the entrance to Fremantle Harbour, south of Perth, is an imposing statue some 12 feet high, of a man who changed the face of Western Australia during a period of ten years or so at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries. This is Charles Yelverton O’Connor, Engineer-in-Chief in the colony from 1891 to 1902. At the base of the statue are plaques depicting his most notable engineering achievements – Fremantle Harbour, the Darling Scarp Railway Tunnel, and the Mundaring Weir, the starting point for the world-renowned Goldfields water supply.

Adjacent to the statue is a further tribute from his Engineering peers and the Port Authority.

Revered for his genius, he is commemorated, respected and admired particularly in Western Australia, yet is practically unknown in his native Ireland, his home for 21 years, and a land that remained close to his heart for all of his life.

Gravelmount,Co Meath. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Gravelmount, Co Meath. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Born on January 11, 1843 at Gravelmount House, Castletown, County Meath, Charles Yelverton O’Connor was named after his maternal grandfather Charles O’Keefe, and his grandmother’s family, the Yelvertons of Cork and Tipperary. His father John farmed around Castletown where the family enjoyed country living in  their beautifully appointed three storey residence. John, working both as a magistrate and a farmer, saw the deprivations brought about by the Famine in his locality. It is said locally that he mortgaged all he had to buy grain and food for his deprived and hungry neighbours. He seems to have run out of money as a result of his benevolence, so in 1850 he moved to a small house in County Waterford. Charles was now aged 6 but it is understood that he, together with his younger sister, stayed in Meath with an aunt, John’s sister, Mrs Martha Garnett of Summerseat, near Clonee. When Charles was older he rejoined his family in Waterford where, according to his biographer Merab Tauman, he attended Bishop Foy’s School in Catherine Street. This is disputed in a more recent work by A.G.Evans who says that he was probably educated at the Waterford Academy. In any event, at the age of 17 Charles expressed an interest in civil engineering and was articled to the engineer John Chaloner Smith who was at that time building railways in Ireland. Between 1859  and 1864, Charles was involved in the construction of various rail links, including the Nenagh Extension, and was Assistant Engineer in charge of the construction of several weirs on the River Bann in the North of Ireland. In 1898 he was to write a letter in which he stated it was here on the Bann that he had ”exceptional opportunity of realising the conditions and forces which had to be dealt with in flood time”

On Christmas Eve 1864, C.Y. O’Connor emigrated to New Zealand where immigration and gold discoveries created a demand for big engineering projects. For the next several years C.Y. as he was known, was involved in identification of routes, constructing roads, bridges and railway lines. He created routes up over steep mountains, across raging rivers and deep gorges ,opening up access to the recently discovered goldfields. One of his first projects was the Otira Gorge section of the road to the West Coast goldfields. He was also responsible for several harbour improvements on the rugged west coast, facilitating  increasing coal and timber exports from New Zealand. During some twenty-five years in New Zealand he acquired a reputation as a brilliant engineer who understood the wild and challenging terrain. He also enhanced his reputation as an imaginative organiser and leader. Meanwhile, in 1847, C.Y. married Susan Laetitia Ness from Christchurch and together they had eight children, one of whom, a son, died tragically following a scalding accident in their family home. By 1883 C.Y. had become under-secretary for public works, a position he held until 1890 when he was apparently demoted in a reorganization, becoming marine engineer for all of New Zealand. Disgruntled by this, he began to look elsewhere for employment.

C.Y and Susan OConnor  in 1865

C.Y and Susan in 1865 (State Library of Western Australia)

In 1891 C.Y. O’Connor was invited by John Forrest the first Premier of Western Australia to become Engineer in Chief  for the colony and General Manager of government railways. Western Australia occupies about 1/3rd of the entire vast Australian Continent and at this time had a population of about 50,000. Forrest himself had been an explorer and surveyor. He had a grand vision for the emerging colony with its vast mineral resources,that included a major rail terminus in Perth,the development of Fremantle as the port-of-call for all overseas mail and passenger services and provision of water supplies and essential services to the emerging  agricultural communities. C.Y O ‘Connor was the man who would make this vision a reality.

At Fremantle, up to then served only by a long timber jetty, O’Connor carried out meticulous research and calculations and decided that the stone bar obstruction at the mouth of the Swan River could be removed and a large sheltered deep water harbour could be created within budget. The harbour dredging began in 1892; the stone barrier was blasted, land was reclaimed to allow for the quays and warehousing. On May 4,1897 the harbour was officially opened with  the SS Sultan, a 2,063 ton steamer steaming into port, marking the beginning of a new era in Western Australia. On July 23rd, 1897 the Prince of Wales, on behalf of Queen Victoria invested O’Connor with the insignia of the order of Companion of St.Michael and St.George, principally in recognition of his outstanding Fremantle Harbour construction project. Since these early days the harbour has seen some changes and has been extended but the basic structure as designed by C.Y. O’Connor remains largely unaltered to this day.

When ‘The Chief’ as he became known, took over as Engineer for the state and General Manager of Government Railways, less than 200 miles of rail was in public ownership and it was operating at a loss. Gold was being discovered in the interior and there was a great need to deliver people and all their needs to remote areas. During the five and half years that he had charge of the railways he oversaw the construction of new lines, standardized and upgraded existing ones, invested in new rolling stock, restructured the maintenance and repair depots and returned the railway to profit. It was while working at the rail maintenance sheds that he became aware of the tough working conditions and poor pay of the men here. While in New Zealand he had also been known for his concern for workers and his leadership abilities. It was said that he was patient and encouraging of new men starting out on their careers, but that while compassionate and understanding he was rigorous in his standards. One of the new young men he appointed as assistant surveyor in Western Australia in 1893 was W.H.Shields, a fellow countryman, who was tasked with identifying water availability (needed for steam locomotives) along the planned railway routes to the parched interior. The discovery of gold in particular at Coolgardie in 1892 and Kalgoorlie in 1893 led to an unprecedented influx of prospectors to these dry arid regions. At this time water was more precious than gold in the goldfields, with thousands of miners often being rationed to a small amount each day, for which they had to pay huge sums of money. Water for washing was simply not available.The problem for The Chief was to supply water to these areas that was fit for human consumption and keep the steam train infrastructure open and performing at full capacity.

C.Y came up with a brilliant and radical plan to supply water to the goldfields. His idea was to dam the River Helena at Mundaring near Perth, lift the water 390 metres over the Darling Range, and pump 5 million gallons a day overground for 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) to the goldfields. By laying the pipe along the railway line and overground, costs could be kept to a minimum and any problems such as leaks could be dealt with rapidly. His spectacular plan was met with disdain and disbelief. Mine owners and local representatives in the goldfields joined with state level politicians in heaping scorn on the plan. Most people thought it sheer madness as it would be the longest pipeline in the world and in any event, the gold might run out and there would be no need of a permanent water supply. Some newspapers were particularly scornful of the proposed cost of 2 million pounds as well as the madness of the scheme, and of  O’Connor himself. However, the meticulous O’Connor discussed and shared his plans with his engineer peers in England who commended it. His own engineering credentials and the political prowess of Forrest obtained international investment funds and work commenced. In 1898 a railway line was completed connecting the main Eastern Railway line to the Mundaring Weir site on the Helena River. The dam was built in an age without modern machinery, using the strength of hundreds of men with wheelbarrows and pickaxes, who dug down some 30 metres to create the weir.

John Forrest departed Western Australian politics and became Defence Minister in the federal government. With a change of government in Western Australia, politicians continued to attack  O’Connor’s scheme in Parliament at every stage of construction and with increasing hostility. In effect, he became a political football. Enquiries and Select Committees were set up about the caulking or joining of the pipes, whether or not it should be done by hand or by machine, by public workers or private sub contractors. O’Connor – fastidious, meticulous and cost conscious –  a sensitive man and a man of honour was deeply troubled by the endless criticism. Newspapers were suggesting that the dam would collapse and inundate all of Perth. The Western Australian Sunday Times was particularly virulent and suggested that he was lining his own pockets from the scheme. In a very nasty article about him in the Sunday Times on February 9, 1902 it was written – ” ..and apart from any  distinct charge of corruption this man has exhibited such gross blundering or something worse, in his management of great public works it is no exaggeration to say that he has robbed the taxpayer of this state of many millions of money…This crocodile imposter has been backed up in all his reckless extravagant juggling with public funds, in all his nefarious machinations behind the scenes by the kindred-souled editor of The West Australian.”

On January 22 1903, just  five years after work commenced, Pumping Station Number 1 at the Mundaring Weir on the newly created Lake Helena was started up and, with the help of 7 further pumping stations along the route, two days later fresh water flowed into the reservoir at Kalgoorlie. O’Connor’s brilliant plan had worked and not only provided water for the mines and towns along the route of the pipeline and for the steam locomotives that hauled goods and supplies to the area, but also met the needs of a generation of farmers, the pioneers of a new ‘wheat belt’ between the west coast and the eastern goldfields. O’Connor had estimated a cost of 2.5 million pounds for the project and the scheme was delivered at a cost of 2.6 million.  The pipeline is still in use to this day, and is one of the great heritage projects of the entire continent.

Missing from the grand opening however was the man himself, for 10 months earlier on March 10,1902 O’Connor penned the following note:

”The position has become impossible

Anxious important work to do and three commissions of enquiry to attend to

We may not have done as well as possible in the past but we will necessarily be too hampered to do well in the  imminent future

I feel that my brain is suffering and I am in great fear of what effect all this worry will have on me – I have lost control of my thoughts

The Coolgardie scheme is all right and I could finish it if I got a chance and protection from misinterpretation but there’s no hope for that now and it is better that it should be given to some entirely new man to do who will be untrammeled  by prior responsibility

10/3/02

put the wingwalls to Helena Weir at once”

He then rode his horse out  to Robb Jetty in Fremantle and there rode into the sea and shot himself.

A subsequent government enquiry into the scheme exonerated him from any wrongdoing and found no basis whatsoever for political or press accusations of corruption or misdemeanour.  When his will was published it showed that he had not enriched himself with his brilliant schemes – It showed assets of 298 pounds,which included two horses and a  cow valued at 47 pounds, books, jewellery and furniture valued at 215 pounds and salary due to him of 36 pounds. He had liabilities of 189 pounds mostly to merchants for produce and coal.

Charles Yelverton O’Connor is buried in Fremantle Cemetery under a fine Celtic Cross. Those who knew him spoke of a character who was subtle and often aloof, but who was deeply considerate of others, who was fun-loving and witty, gentle and amiable. According to his daughter Kate, ”he was devoted to Ireland and carried Ireland with him everywhere and he was acutely sensitive to the unhappy state of Ireland and the distress of many of his countrymen.” She said he helped many a young Irish lad start a new life in the colonies and always had Irish boys from farms in Ireland to look after his horses, and they lived-in, as part of the family.

The grave of Charles Yelverton O'Connor, proud Irishman

The grave of Charles Yelverton O’Connor, proud Irishman

A genial, generous giant of a man, sometimes difficult, but  whose legacies of the Goldfields Water Supply and Fremantle Harbour in particular stand testament to his brilliance.

One wonders what other ingenious schemes C.Y. O’Connor might have designed had he not been hounded and libeled by press and politicians alike. And isn’t it a shame that the Irish man who conceived and largely implemented one of the world’s greatest engineering projects is relatively unknown in Ireland?

References/Further reading

There are some excellent photographs of the construction of the Pipeline at the website of the National Trust of Australia, Education and Learning site at http://www.valuingheritage.com.au/learningfederation/the_pipes.html
 
The Chief C.Y. O’Connor (1978) Tauman, Mereb, University of Western Australia Press
C.Y. O’Connor : his life and legacy. (2001) Evans, A.G., University of Western Australia Press.
Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand accessed at tp://www.teara.govt.nz
The Australian Dictionary of Biography accessed at http://adb.anu.edu.au/
National  Trust of Australia
National Library of Australia
Trove Newspaper Archive accessed at http://trove.nla.gov.au
State Library of Western Australia
 
 
 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Irish diaspora in Australia, My Travels

A terrible beauty

‘ A terrible beauty is born’ is a line from a poem by one of Ireland’s greatest poets, W.B.Yeats. who died on this day, January 28,  in 1939. This line came to mind  as I witnessed several bush fires in Western Australia. Bush fires can be catastrophic events, resulting in loss of life or serious injury, devastating loss of property, (46 homes were destroyed in a fire near Perth in 2014)  flora and fauna and general disruption by way of evacuations, road closures, power cuts and smoke. Emergency phone Apps beep, the sound of fire engines and police sirens fill the air,  helicopters chakk-chakk-chak-chak overhead, planes circle. Here bush fires are fought from the air as well as the ground. In the air, water bombing aircraft and ‘helitacs’ douse the flames, while career and volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel swing into action on the ground, often putting their own lives at risk. Bush fires can move very quickly – often at several kilometers an hour, and are fanned by strong breezes. The tinder dry vegetation is the fuel that makes them catch hold very quickly.

On the other hand, palls of smoke produce wondrous skyscapes, and I am a big fan of the sky!  In the past few weeks there have been 4 major fires

The smoke can cause breathing difficulties for those of us with chest conditions, and even if it can’t be seen, the smokey smell  can be in the air and even inside the house for days on end.

 

Looking a bit like the Crab Nebula, the sun is blotted out

A smoke-filled sunset

photo 3

Fires can burn for anything from a few hours to a few weeks. Afterwards there is a huge logistical clean up operation, that may include replacing hundreds of burned poles, washing power lines as can be seen here, searching for injured wildlife, etc.

The ‘bush’ is stripped of all low growing vegetation, with only some eucalyptus  and grass trees still standing. These particular species can withstand fires and will regrow, but the swathes of beautiful flowering trees and shrubs are gone. Gone too is the wildlife –  snakes, birds, kangaroos, wallabies, – their rich habitat lying naked and destroyed.

Although denuded and apparently dead, Australia’s bush will rejuvenate itself very quickly after fire, and it will be interesting to see how long this particular devastated area takes to regrow and return to its natural state. However long it takes, a terrible beauty will be born, with wondrous plants,flowers and wildlife.

How fortunate we are here in Ireland not to have to deal with these emergencies, although on a day like today with snow and sleet warnings, some heat would be very welcome!

 

 

 

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Sculpture by the Sea at Cottesloe Beach, Western Australia

On March 17 last I was delighted to be introduced to the famous annual Cottesloe Sculpture by the Sea event in Western Australia. Not only was it my first trip to Western Australia’s most iconic beach, it was fascinating to see some 70 pieces of Artwork on display in the open (and no vandalism!) Appreciation of   modern art installations can sometimes be something of a challenge for me, but these modern sculptures were right on my plane and I loved them. I hope you like them too!

I do not have a name for each work, but they are good to look at anyhow!

Loved this spinning flower

Flower in  the wind

Flower in the wind

Bulk Carrier

Bare feet often seen at a beach!

Bottle top Monsters

And what about some Bottle Bottoms?

Bottle Bottoms!

Bottle Bottoms!

Stuff from the seashore

More Monsters!

Surfboard Graveyard?

SurfingSharks

SurfingSharks

Killer Wave…..

Of course it is hard to improve on nature –  this is my own piece of artwork –  people enjoying beautiful Cottesloe Beach!

Cottesloe Art - by Me ! Enjoying the beach!

Cottesloe Art – by Me ! Enjoying the beach!

Thanks to my friend Leith, for a great afternoon!

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, My Travels