ert & ily leary
This is an example of the degree of sectarianism—or was it Irish cantankerousness— that existed in Australia in the first half of the twentieth century.
An Irish-Australian soldier was taken by a Geordie comrade to visit his family in Newcastle whilst on leave from the grim hostilities in France and Belgium. It was in Newcastle that the Australian soldier met the sister of his Geordie friend. Three quarters of a century later, a family friend from the mining district of Annfield Plain recalled the visit at the time on ‘a glorious summer’s day and we had a wonderful time’. It begs the question as to how often do they have beautiful summer days in the north-east of England.
Having survived the war and waited for many months for a troopship home, the Australian soldier wrote in his diary, ‘Goodbye France and Belgium I don’t want to see you again.’ The horrors of the trenches had overcome his great love of the French and Belgium people.
Back in Australia, the soldier, after visiting his family in the old gold-mining town of Rushworth, worked for some time on a farm on the Wakool River in south-western New South Wales. Then he took up his own farm in the north-western Mallee and began the long and arduous task of clearing the land. But obviously the correspondence with the girl in Newcastle was continuing, as she arrived in Australia in February 1922 and proceeded by train to Carwarp. She was to taken to the farm by jinker to be greeted by both a Mallee dust-storm and a dingo tied up in the house.
They were soon married in St. Margaret’s Church of England in Mildura. This may have not pleased all, as the former soldier had come from a Catholic family, although he was not a practising member of the Church of Rome.
Sometime later, a Catholic priest arrived at the Mallee homestead and was subjected to a combination of Mallee and Geordie hospitality. No doubt the best cups were brought out, as well as the yo-yos, cream-puffs and lamingtons. But the pleasant afternoon tea was not to last for long. The priest turned his gaze on the former soldier and stated that a Catholic married in the Church of England was not married at all, so the newly-weds should go to the Red Cliffs Catholic Church and have a proper wedding. What can be assured is that the priest would neither have finished his cup of tea nor his half-eaten lamington. He was ordered in no uncertain terms to leave the place immediately and never return.