Irish-Sydney in Transition.

Newspaper advertisement for the Irish Australian Welfare Bureau and Resource Centre Annual General Meeting ā€“ found in a pile of documents Iā€™m cataloguing and digitising for this project.

A short way up from the corner of Devonshire and Randle St, right next to Central Station in the metropolitan heart of Sydney, sits the Irish National Associations building, the Irish Cultural Centre. Most know this building for the Gaelic Club. However, at the back of the club room, through a little door, sits the office of a perhaps lesser-known organisation, the Irish Support Agency (ISA).

The ISA was established in 1995 by Frank O’Donoghue under the name of the Irish Australian Welfare Bureau & Resource Centre NSW Inc. Today, the ISA, rebranded in 2015, is a registered charity responsible for a series of public-facing community wellbeing initiatives and events. Current service initiatives include things as diverse as men’s mental health walks, wellbeing seminars for mothers, visa information evenings, book clubs, and much more, giving a sense of the diversity in their work. The ISA also directly supports individual Irish and Irish-Australian community members, supporting people through crisis, unemployment, immigration, housing and accommodation, funeral, and repatriation.

As with Irish and Australian society at large, since 1995, the ISA has undergone unprecedented change. It is in understanding the nature of this change that my project sits. With increased community demand and funding, notably in 2005 with financial assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, the ISA has grown from an entirely volunteer organisation to now employing two Outreach Workers and a Project Officer. In addition, with the organisation’s 2025 thirtieth anniversary approaching, the ISA has felt the need to understand better how they have developed over the years. Accordingly, the ISA has identified their desire to record a much-needed oral history, presented in video format, for their anniversary commemoration.

I will work closely with the ISA team to develop a clear outline of the organisation’s early years, including key personnel, service developments, and achievements. Through this project, by establishing a more transparent, more objective understanding of the ISA’s early history, we can look toward the planning and execution of interviews with early members of the organisation.

These interviews are critical to the ISA and offer the opportunity to shed light on the history of Irish Sydney at the turn of the millennia. One of the strengths of oral history is the ability to capture the stories and reflections of the past still in living memory. As many members within the Irish community here closely associated with the ISA start to age, there is a growing urgency to capture these stories. The stories attached to these members also hold the potential to not only tell the story of the ISA but also shed light on the motivation and experience of Irish immigration in the second half of the twentieth century, more generally.

My interest in the organisation stems from my ongoing interest in Irish history throughout my degree. I felt like it was time to give back to the Irish community in Sydney, those whose history has already given me so much. With my initial engagement and work to date, I’ve been met with great enthusiasm from the ISA team.

I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead.

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