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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

For the Irish in Australia

Greetings comrades, Michael Collins writes in 1922 to the memorabilia collection on the wall of a pub in modern-day Perth; I have seen the letter myself. Its tone is warm and relaxed. He speaks of hard-won freedoms and of the struggles to come. His views, however, on Australian marsupials, on the welfare of the bilby and the pademelon go unrecorded, as though these creatures did not have to struggle too, in their way! The oversight is not to his credit. Where are the rallying cries for the ghost bat and the laughing kookaburra, the death or glory vows for the Spinifex hopping mouse?

It was the year of Collins’ death. Fifteen years later the constitution of the Irish Free State was born with not a mention of the war waged daily by Australian wildlife for the simplest dignity and self-respect. Irishmen and women, is their cause not ours too? The shame of it burns red on my brow, the same ochre-red of the sunset over our Perth suburb, the deep red of the Australian earth in which we burrow and raise our young, and whence we lift a quizzical head, thinking of Ireland, only of Ireland, when the rains pass, the all-too-brief and restorative rains.

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