A is for Ardkinglas in Argyll, and Alotau (Papua New Guinea).

 Let me explain my plan for the A-Z blogging theme for April. Given that family history is my focus generally, there are a number of paths I could have taken. I’ve opted to use each letter to highlight a place/places of some ancestral significance. Hopefully they’ll also be interesting from a travel point of view. I’ll try to keep them relatively short on words (good luck with that!), and where possible, illustrate them with photos. Where I’m defeated by a particular letter (eg X), I may write about a place I’ve visited. (X still has me stumped). I’m already behind the eight ball having just learned about the challenge so I’ll do two tomorrow to catch up.

A is for Ardkinglas in Argyll, and Alotau (Papua New Guinea).

Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne.

Ardkinglas is an estate in Argyllshire, Scotland. Technically Argyll is in the Highlands but very close, by sea, to the metropolis of Glasgow. In this way eastern Argyll bridged the cultural divide with the Lowlands as in the mid-19th century more and more Scots found their way to Glasgow to look for work as their traditional rural roles disappeared. My McCorkindale ancestors lived on the Ardkinglas estate for many years as evidenced by the census returns. However don’t begin to imagine my family offers a re-run of Monarch of the Glen, despite its physical similarity. Unfortunately my family, like most other Scottish emigrants, were labourers or workmen on the estate, not the laird.

The sixpenny gatehouse for Ardkinglas estate.

Not only that, the current “pile” is not the one that James McCorkindale knew when he worked as a sawyer on the estate in his younger years. As he aged he seems to have become more of a general labourer and in old age, the census reports him living in the sixpenny gate house at the entrance to the estate. Ardkinglas offers one of Scotland’s beautiful gardens with magnificent conifers from around the world and a fantastic array of Rhododendrons. It’s a delight to wander around even in chilly weather but absolutely gorgeous in spring. My husband has just learned to his peril that they now have accommodation available in the old butler’s quarters….he’s so in trouble now.

Alotau is the headquarters, albeit a small town, in the Milne Bay district of Papua New Guinea. It’s family history links are modern rather than historic, with three generations of our family having lived there. You can read about my in-laws’ contributions to Papua New Guinea here and here.

When I went to Alotau as a young bride it had only recently taken over the role of district headquarters from the island settlement of Samarai, another site of family history heritage of which my husband has many fond memories. We had radio telephones, slow combustion stoves, 18 hour power, and more red clay than you’d care to see in your washing. Most of our groceries came in from Samarai or Port Moresby, and the pilot’s success at landing depended on the weather. You can read about my 1st Papua New Guinea Christmas here.

The airstrip for Alotau is some miles away at Gurney, the site of a major World War II Australian base. The Battle of Milne Bay in 1942 was pivotal in turning the tide of the Japanese advance. While less well known than Kokoda it was arguably even more important in the overall scheme of the war’s outcome, as it was the first time the Japanese military had experienced defeat. Milne Bay is U-shaped, and in the Wet Season the cloud descends over the surrounding mountains obscuring everything until you can barely see further than 20 metres away and keeping aircraft from landing –very inconvenient.  It’s unforgiving flying country which challenges all a pilot’s skills. One plane crash, soon after I arrived, killed a young family who we knew, as well as others[i]. The sound of choppers and planes searching through the clouds and mist for a downed aircraft is an eerie and sobering one. My husband was the last person to see this plane take off and I had farewelled some who had stayed at Glyn Wort’s guesthouse (where I worked) that morning. It’s surprising that the incident was not more well-known among his colleagues.

My Alotau memories are quite shell-shocked, having come from a familiar urban environment to a very different environment, but within the year it felt like home. I’ve always wanted to revisit Milne Bay to refresh my memories.


[i] Also see http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/the-kiaps-honour-roll.html. The plane had reportedly stalled the day before when another kiap (later murdered) was on the flight.  In PNG, we lived with the philosophy that “when your number’s up, your number’s up”.

Some thoughts on “St Mary’s Ipswich: the Luckie Parish”

St Mary’s Ipswich: the Luckie Parish

This book by John R Kane was published in 2011 and was a winner of the Viva Cribb Bursary offered through the Ipswich City Council. I bought the book during a driving trip to Ipswich a few weeks ago and felt my money had been well spent, and as a bonus it gave me in-flight reading on the way home.

This book added a new timeline dimension to those I’ve read before about Catholic Queensland, or Ipswich, or both. This meant I got a clearer sense of what had happened in St Mary’s Ipswich before and during the years my Kunkel ancestors lived there. Other ancestors lived there but they were members of other congregations. My interest really focussed on the period from the church’s inception to the turn of the 20th century.

The physical and emotional demands placed on these early Queensland priests, essentially missionaries, echoed our own experience of missionaries in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. It could be a very lonely life as well as physically challenging and financially draining.

I had known about Fr McGinty’s indefatigable efforts to fund-raise and build churches for the Catholics of his geographically-dispersed parish (or mission as it was technically known). I’d also known that he had ridden many, many miles in his commitment to his parishioners, baptising and marrying people who may not have seen a priest for some years. My great-grandmother Julia Gavin and her brother were among those he baptised on these rides to far-flung stations, settlements and towns. He’d also baptised some of the Dorfprozelten descendants as well as an unrelated Gavin family I research. The man really had enormous energy and dedication. Unfortunately his resistance to the Bishop’s directive to hand over the donated funds raised by McGinty, caused untold controversy, and no shortage of ill-will. He could also be a rigid-thinking man who got himself into bother with the community over religious holidays or refusing to bury those who did not practice their faith (even children). Still I continue to admire his commitment and energy.

It may not have been the author’s intention, but I left the book feeling no love for Bishop Quinn and his impact on the church in Ipswich. Certainly McGinty was obdurate but to over-ride the parishioners’ wishes for the money they’d so generously donated seems both unwise and insulting, albeit consistent for the times. My understanding is that the Sisters of Mercy struggled against Quinn’s control as well, though Kane suggests they conformed –not my understanding from years at All Hallows’ but perhaps my memory is not correct.

The book also highlights the Irishness of the Catholic Church in Australia, something that’s not news to anyone brought up in the faith in Queensland, and something the German Catholics had to come to terms with (though sometimes it drove them to the Lutherans). The book also talks of the debates and changes around parochial education and government funding –something that continues to rear its head from time to time.

From a personal point of view I remain disappointed that the church built by Fr McGinty in 1860 from donations by early parishioners was largely destroyed, to be replaced in 1884 by a grander church of cathedral dimensions. Surely it would have been possible to retain the old one and use it for another purpose. I wonder how many of the first donors contributed to the second church’s construction…those early pioneers must have suffered from church-building-burnout, especially if they moved around. Fr Martin (see book below, p134) indicates that stones from the previous building were used in the sacristy of the new church.

I’d have liked to see a little more cohesive editing of the book in some sections, and a subject index, but this did not detract from its value to understanding the history of St Mary’s Ipswich and would be a useful reference for anyone whose family worshipped there.

It is a good complement to the following books:

The Foundation of the Catholic Church in Queensland, Martin D W, Church Archivists’ Press, Brisbane 1998 (this book has some excellent images of St Mary’s Ipswich, old and new).

St Mary’s Story: a history of St Mary’s Catholic Parish, Ipswich 1849-1999, St Mary’s Parish Historical Society, Ipswich, 1999.