On Saturday 31/August 2002 I travelled to Melbourne, Australia.,with my son Austin. There we stayed in the Ibis Hotel for three days, taking in many of Melbourne's sites. We spent some time with my aunt Nancy Alter, formerly Nancy Sheils from Johnstown Navan. After that we hired a car and travelled around the country putting 6656 miles on the clock. When we returned to Melbourne three weeks later we stayed with Nancy's son Brendan and his wife Irene.
As you can imagine we passed through many towns, including:Kulgera, Woomera, Renner Springs, Adelaide, Tennant's Creek, Darwin, Sidney, Albury, Gunning, Beechworth ( Kelly Country ), Cooper Pedy and those whose names I cant remember. There is however one which sticks in my mind and that is Gundagai in New South Wales.
It was a beautiful morning and we had just left the Hume Highway and crossed over Morley's Creek on our way into Gundagai. As we drove across the small concrete bridge I noticed a park to my left. I stopped the car and went in to stretch my legs. There was a monument in the park with the inscription which read, '' In memory of Yarri Hero of Gundagai . Near this site on the night of 24th June 1852 an Aborigine man named Yarri, rescued 49 people from the flooded Murrumbidgee River''.
I was intrigued by the inscription and wondered how he managed to rescue so many.
We moved further in to the town and stopped at the Cenotaph in Sheridan Street which was erected in memory of those who lost their lives in the Great War. There was a sign close by pointing to the old railway station which is the longest wooden railway station in New South Wales, so we paid it a visit.
On arrival we saw a couple taking photos, they were obviously tourists like ourselves. We parked the car and walked around the station. When we moved out on to the platform, we could see that the rail track was overgrown with weeds. It obviously hadn't been used in years. I strolled around the platform enjoying the scene but all the time Yarry was on my mind, how did he save so many people?.
I came to a window and saw a man sitting inside at a table. When he caught sight of me he immediately leaped from the table with a cup of tea in one hand and a sandwich in the other. He moved so fast that I thought! what the Hell's wrong am I trespassing?. He came out and introduced himself explaining that he was a guide and that he came from Wales 40 years earlier and settled in Australia.
He went on to explain that the line closed down in 1984 and a group of towns people got together and formed a committee. They hoped to get the rail company to run a few trains per year to the town. I commended him on their efforts and said I thought it was a great idea. I told him that I came from Ireland and we both spoke about our respective countries and all the time Yarri was on my mind.
When I got the chance, I said to him, '' when I crossed Morley's Creek at the edge of town, I noticed a monument to the memory of an Aborigine named Yarri, who during the great flood of 1852 saved the lives of 49 people, how did he manage that?. He answered like this, pleasant at first, '' when the official search party pulled out, Yarri who had a canoe of his own continued searching saving 49 people, but! the monument doesn't say anything about the white men who saved his people, if you can prove your grandfather was an Aborigine you'll get concessions!!!
I was dumbfounded by his reaction and fought hard to hold my tongue. I simply looked at the ground, then glanced at Austin and I knew that we were both on the same wavelength. I said a quick good bye and left.
As I drove out of town past Yarry's memorial and drove across the concrete bridge I could see that it was called Yarry's Bridge and I thought, I should have said something, I should have gave him a mouthful, I should have told him the Aborigines didn't come from Wales.
YARRI was later baptised into the Roman Catholic faith, taking the European name, James McDonnell. On his death, he was buried in the Catholic Section of the North Gundagai Cemetery on 25th July 1880, but the precise location of his grave is unknown.