A New History of the Irish in Australia

Reviewed By  Janine McEgan BA: Master of Cultural Heritage Management       January 16, 2019


Author  Dianne Hall, Elizabeth Malcolm

Distributor:      New South Books
ISBN:                 9781742235530
Publisher:         New South Publications
Release Date:   November 2018  

Website:    https://www.newsouthbooks.com.au 

The New History of the Irish in Australia is a well-researched and in-depth examination of the lives of Irish immigrants and their offspring in Australia. It illustrates the intolerance shown to these immigrants across a broad range of society and offers a much-needed perspective from a viewpoint other than the past primarily Anglocentric works.

The authors provide an interesting aspect in the way the Irish may have considered themselves and their place in the developing country of Australia compared with Chinese immigrants and Indigenous Australians. Malcolm and Hall suggest the Irish regarded themselves above these groups yet they also related to their lot in life under English colonial rule.

The prejudice and ingrained bias against the Irish by the British hierarchy is demonstrated through popular culture and employment, with stereotypes of simian caricatures common in print media of the time and Irish being specifically rejected by signs such as ‘No Irish need apply’ in job advertisements. The low opinion of Irish people persisted into the 20th century, and despite the barriers faced their tenacity to settle and progress in their new country is exemplified.

The inclusion of chapters regarding crime as well as asylum admissions lack strong analysis of the statistics provided, and possible reasons behind the higher representation of Irish in these areas. Hopefully, future analysis may provide a clearer indication of the reasons behind such numbers.

It is disappointing, however, that the content of statistics as well as anecdotes concentrates on Australia’s east coast, particularly NSW and Victoria. While these colonies/states had the highest number of Irish migrants, the other parts of the continent really required more than a token mention. The inclusion of Irish stories and experiences in these places would certainly benefit the overall picture of Irish in Australia.

With a broader geographical base of information, an even more refreshing and compelling story of pioneering Irish immigrants and their progeny could emerge.