Forgotten Australians, memories, objects

My Ireland

by Mary Brownlee (guest author) on 16 April, 2011

 My Ireland is the name that Mary Brownlee gave to the apron that was given to her by Sister Judith Kelly, at St. Joseph’s Home, Kincumber, NSW.

Mary explains its significance:

The little apron connected me to my home place in Aghascrebagh, Ireland, where I left my heart and I was connecting to St Joseph’s Home, Kincumber which is located in Bouddi National Park, NSW. ‘Bouddi’ comes from the local Aboriginal language which means ‘the heart’.

I came to Australia in 1960 when I was nine months old with my family as £10 immigrants. In 1967, my family fell apart and they couldn’t cope. After the court case my mother got custody of us. My father wouldn’t leave our house. The judge wouldn’t give her any help to get shelter. My mother did nothing wrong. My parents took me and my four brothers on the long road to Kincumber and it was dark. It was raining heavily and my brother Patrick was under the dashboard making the windscreen wipers work.

We got to the Home very late. It was raining very heavily. St Joseph was there. We went through the door and were taken inside. Everyone was sleeping. We were taken to the courtyard and the nun said, “I have to take your parents away now because they have to sign some papers”. We sensed that our parents wouldn’t come back. We put our arms around each other and we all cried. I cried as hard as the rain came down.

About two years after being in the Home, Sister Judith Kelly came and she was the light in the Home. She and I connected straight away because she was Irish. Sister Judith was a beautiful, special, excellent teacher. She had a great love for us. She knew that I was sad from being separated from my parents and my mother couldn’t come and visit us very often because she didn’t have a car.

Sister Judith was like my mother and my sister. She once took off her veil and showed me her black curly hair.

I used to ask her about Ireland because I remember my father talking about ‘The Troubles’, the politics of Ireland. It was always very sad but Sister Judith told me about all the people and how she missed her family and her home in County Clare.

I remember she told me one day, “I have something special for you”, and her eyes sparkled, “Let me go up to my room”. I sat down and waited and I felt excited. She came back with a scarf and she let me feel it and she spread it out. It had a map of Ireland on it. She showed me where I came from. She connected me to my home place. “A little girl would never wear a scarf, Mary, so I’m going to have it made into an apron so that you can wear it”. She sent the scarf home to Ireland to a member of her family who sewed it into an apron.

It took a lot of weeks to come back. Sister Judith told me how the post worked. Everything was always a lesson.

The parcel came. After school we had a special time. We went to the grotto and she opened the parcel. It was a whole celebration. She brought out the apron. It was beautiful. It was one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever had.

I used to wear it all the time. I used to call it “My Ireland”. I used to put my hand or precious things in the pocket.

Later, in about 1975, Sister Judith left the Sisters of St. Joseph. She now teaches Transcendental Meditation in Ireland.

Mary's apron
Apron given to Mary Brownlee by Sr. Judith Kelly

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