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From prime ministers and premiers to pastoralists and poets, Australia’s history is, in part, Irish history

Gary Gray


Heritage: Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison will lead his nation in celebrating Australia Day today. Photo: Mark Graham/Bloomberg

Heritage: Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison will lead his nation in celebrating Australia Day today. Photo: Mark Graham/Bloomberg

Heritage: Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison will lead his nation in celebrating Australia Day today. Photo: Mark Graham/Bloomberg

Today will be a significant date for Australians in Ireland – it is Australia Day in a special year. 2021 marks 80 years Robert Gordon Menzies, our longest serving Prime Minister visited Eamon de Valera in Dublin, and 75 years since the establishment of formal relations between the Government of Australia and the then soon-to-be proclaimed Irish Republic.

The creation of diplomatic relations in 1946 was illustrative of the deep and very personal ties between our two island nations which have continued for almost two and a half centuries.

Much has happened in the last 75 years. We have seen the world evolve in an unprecedented way; witnessing the first missions into outer space, hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty, the proliferation of democratic institutions across much of the world, the establishment of the United Nations Security Council, of which Australia was a founding member and on to which Ireland now takes its rightful place as a member for the next two years.

Australia Day acts as both a day of celebration and a day of reflection for many Australians: celebrating the modern and open democracy we have become, while acknowledging the pained history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples of Australia who remain uniquely connected in culture and in history to the land.

Indeed, since the First Fleet arrived in Australia in 1788, Ireland has left an indelible mark on Australian society and created one of the most established Irish immigrant communities anywhere in the world. In the 2016 census, 11pc of Australians claimed Irish ancestry – the second largest grouping on our continent – and the newest wave of Irish immigration has meant that almost 80,000 people who were born in Ireland live in Australia today. These long-standing and significant ties have influenced our value system and created an interconnectedness that permeates every aspect of relations between our two nations.

From prime ministers and premiers, priests, pastoralists, and poets; medics, winemakers, inventors and musicians – as well as the occasional bushranger – Australian history is, in part, Irish history. The Irish have shaped Australia’s public life. Former Australian Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, former New South Wales Premier John Fahey, Minister Susan Ryan and the first female Australian Minister, the Hon Margaret Guilfoyle (born in Belfast) – all celebrated their Irish heritage. The influence of Irish Australians on Aussie culture continues. A number of Australian Football League Premiership players are Irish, testament to this enduring connection, as is the number of other notable influences such as: Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, former Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, Wi-Fi inventor Dr John O’Sullivan and former Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Gerard Brennan. They are all examples of the continuing Irish influence on Australia.

The last 12 months have been difficult for both our countries. Last year, at this time the people of Ireland gave generously to help Australian communities as we worked to recover flora, fauna and livelihoods destroyed in the horrific bushfires. The recovery needed to be significant and the Irish people ensured that it was a truly global response as they backed relief efforts through the Irish Red Cross and for that we are extremely grateful. With the advent of Covid-19, we have seen Irish nurses and doctors working in Australian hospitals and many of their Australian counterparts doing the same here in Ireland. We share in the optimism of the Irish people as January ends and the days get brighter and longer, that the year ahead will see us connect with each other again in the ways that we all know and love.

From the Australian Embassy’s vantage point on St Stephen’s Green we have seen the incredible effort from Irish people and businesses in continuing to operate under the most strenuous of circumstances, and we anticipate being welcomed back into cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs as the year progresses towards normality.

We have seen renewed global co-operation and collaboration to beat the virus that has hurt so many. It is in this context that open democracies and open economies such as Australia and Ireland must work together to safeguard the freedoms that make our lives great.

Climate change is now, and has been for some time, irrefutable. In Australia we have seen first hand what this has meant, and it is why we are moving fast. We have reduced our total emissions by almost 17pc since 2005 and are on track to meet and beat our 2030 target of 26-28pc below 2005 levels. But addressing the planetary impact of human activity is for us all, not for any one region of the planet. As we come together to face growing global threats, Australia remains steadfast in its climate commitments as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and we look forward to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow later this year to review global progress and, if deemed necessary, strengthen our commitments to safeguard our planet for future generations.

With a renewed optimism for 2021, Ireland and the world will be able to look outwards again to address climate change and seek renewed opportunity in global free trade, prosperity and equality.

For the team here at the Australian Embassy in Ireland, we live and work in a truly interconnected world where peoples and nations come together to tackle the most significant and challenging issues of our time. We encourage everyone with an interest in ‘Down Under’ to connect with us across social media channels this Australia Day as we remember the influence Australia has had in building the international institutions that promote collective action and celebrate the great Irish women and men who helped along the way. Australia Day is for us all.

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The Hon Gary Gray AO Australian Ambassador to Ireland