Blessing of the Bonnets – Evandale

Oct 11, 2016 Speeches

Ms RATTRAY (Apsley) – Mr President, following wombat mange could be a struggle but I will see how I go.

On Sunday 18 September I had the pleasure of attending the Blessing of the Bonnets celebration at Evandale in the Apsley electorate. Together with a large crowd, I attended this special event with my dear cousin Janine Walker, and my lovely granddaughter, Abbi Young, who looked angelic with her long blond hair and wearing her special bonnet made by Janine in honour of our family member who I will refer to shortly.

This event was to recognise and remember the lives of Australian convict women and children and to acknowledge the town’s convict heritage. More than 100 bonnets were made by committee member Kate Rowe to honour and recognise female convicts who entered the country on the Australasia, transported from Dublin to Van Diemen’s Land in 1849. Kate stitched away, bonnet by bonnet and each woman she remembered has the addition on their bonnet of a Latin phrase, di meliora, which translates into English as ‘heaven send us better times’. There was no recognition of female convicts – they were given a number and were not even allowed to use their names. That is sad.

Events of the day included a service and ceremony at the St Andrews Uniting Church with speeches by Dr Christina Henri, who has been instrumental in raising the profile of this very special initiative and previous events.

The day was significant by the attendance of Her Excellency, Professor the Honourable Kate Warner, who, in her address, shared her husband Richard’s family story telling of the hardships experienced. These stories of hardship and immense sadness were not uncommon for so many of the just over 3000 females transported to Australia from Ireland. It usually took 100 days to make the journey to Hobart, which was the case of our family female convict, namely Catherine O’Neal. Catherine travelled with her infant son James Connors who was, as normal practice, taken directly upon landing to the Dynnyrne Nursery. Sadly for Catherine, James was thought to have died at the nursery as no other record of her infant son was ever found. Catherine did eventually become a free citizen gaining her ticket of leave and went on to marry and have a family.

During the service, those wearing bonnets and descendants of convict women were invited to stand and as their names were called the bonnets were placed in the heritage chest at the front of the church, which was a very moving part of the service. For those who are interested and would like to see these most beautiful and individually created bonnets, there is a permanent display of the bonnets at the local historic society centre and also on a rotation basis at Clarendon House.

Following the church service at St Andrews, many of those in attendance moved across the road to morning tea to St Andrews Anglican church where there was an interesting display and an opportunity to light a candle of remembrance. There was a market and music in the church grounds and to round off the day there was lunch at the Evandale Memorial Hall.

Regrettably the weather was not so kind for the event on the 18th and the outside activities had to deal with the showers. Despite the rain there were queues to access the various venues as people were happy to be there.

I place on the public record my congratulations to the wonderful organising committee, led splendidly by president Ruth Tilsley and ably supported by the Evandale Rotary Club, the Evandale History Society and the Northern Midlands Council in bringing together this very special event. We must continue to remember and acknowledge our past and this was a fantastic way to do so.