March a great month for Ir­ish

Townsville Bulletin - - PRIME TIME -

with Dr Dorothy Gib­son-Wilde I HAVE two par­tic­u­lar fam­ily ref­er­ences to the month of March – that it was the worst month for rain and cy­clones, and that the best day to sow seeds for the gar­den was March 17 – St Pa­trick’s Day.

The ba­sis for the first be­lief was the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Yon­gala. My grand­par­ents and their fam­ily, which in­cluded my mother then aged four, ar­rived in Townsville in Jan­uary 1911, two months be­fore the Yon­gala dis­ap­peared.

That left an im­pres­sion on my mother that re­mained, de­spite the nu­mer­ous later floods and cy­clones she ex­pe­ri­enced – in­clud­ing sev­eral in March.

This year those who lost their lives a cen­tury ago in the Yon­gala disas­ter will be re­mem­bered with a num­ber of com­mem­o­ra­tions. It is a timely re­minder of man’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity when con­fronted by ter­ri­fy­ing forces of na­ture that have dev­as­tated so many parts of the world through­out his­tory.

St Pa­trick’s Day brings the re­minder that the best known vic­tim of the Yon­gala disas­ter was Matthew Rooney, one of the lead­ing Ir­ish­man in Townsville at the time.

Matthew was a man­ag­ing part­ner of Rooney and Co, the lead­ing tim­ber millers, builders, fur­ni­ture mak­ers and hard­ware sup­pli­ers in North Queens­land. It is not an over­state­ment to say the whole re­gion mourned the loss of Matthew, his wife and their daugh­ter.

Ir­ish­men have played lead­ing roles in North Queens­land his­tory – Pat Han­ran, sev­eral times Mayor of Townsville and a mem­ber of Queens­land Par­lia­ment; Eu­gene Fitza­l­lan, the ear­li­est botanist in the north, and a tal­ented writer and poet; Jack Fan­ning, busi­ness­man, stock breeder, a re­spected horse breeder and a founder of the Ro­tary move­ment in the city, and so many more.

Not to men­tion the women, par­tic­u­larly the Sis­ters of St Joseph, who es­tab­lished the first Catholic school in Townsville on The Strand near the first St Joseph’s Church, and their

Pa­trick Fran­cis Han­ran suc­ces­sors, the Sis­ters of Mercy.

Num­bers of the sis­ters were of Ir­ish de­scent. In their heavy dark habits, seem­ingly im­per­vi­ous to the heat, they braved all haz­ards in the ser­vice of their faith.

The Ir­ish were but one of many na­tional groups who con­trib­uted to the fas­ci­nat­ing mul­ti­cul­tural his­tory of the north since that first set­tle­ment at Bowen.

Chinese, Ger­mans, Ital­ians, Greeks, French, South Sea Is­landers, Danes, English, and many other na­tion­al­i­ties can be iden­ti­fied in early cen­sus records. Scot­tish names – Ge­orge Dal­rym­ple, James Gor­don, J. G. Mac­Don­ald and oth­ers – stand out in the first set­tle­ment in the Kennedy District, at Bowen in 1861, 150 years ago.

To com­mem­o­rate the sesqui­cen­te­nary of Bowen and the Kennedy District, a dis­play honouring some of those who pi­o­neered both Bowen and Townsville will be open at the Na­tional Trust Her­itage Cen­tre at Castling Street from the end of April to July.

As a fi­nal thought, if you plant seeds on St Pa­trick’s Day, my ex­pe­ri­ence has been that al­most in­evitably rain will wash them all out – I reckon that was an old wives’ tale.

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