The Founding of the Bureau and the Paul Condie Story
The Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau came into existence in 1978 in unusual circumstances. The story concerns a lady and her son, Dorothy and Paul Condie from Cumlin, Co.Antrim, Ireland.
In April 1978, a phone call was received from John O’Callaghan – Manager of the Celtic Club in Melbourne. Dorothy from Ireland had entered the club looking for financial help to take her sick child back to Ireland. Apparently in February of that year she allowed her 12 year old son to have a holiday in Australia with family friends.
While travelling on the Puffing Billy Tourist Train, Paul fell off and suffered head injuries. His mother borrowed some money and flew to Australia immediately to be with him at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. She was advised to have her house converted to suit a wheelchair as he would never walk again. As her money ran out, she went to the British High Commission so seek funds for Repatriation. They do not make donations but were prepared to lend money, provided that she left her passport as insurance that she would pay back the loan once she was back in Ireland. This she agreed to do before trying the Celtic Club.
I had been involved for many years with various groups and individuals and was known to help raise money for deserving cases. As a result of the phone call from John O Callaghan I went to the Celtic Club to meet Dorothy to find out how I could help. That night I passed the hat around the club and raised over $200 which kept her going until we could organise something more substantial. I then contacted Johnny Dodds, a long-time supporter and helper, to join me in organising the necessary funding by way of a charity dance.
In June 1978 Paul was due to be discharged from hospital, but there was not enough time to run the function to pay for the air fares. First item on the agenda was to recover the passport. Johnny and I dressed the part – suit, tie and briefcase, and called on the High Commission. He released the passport when we convinced him that the Irish Community would look after its own.
Second item was a visit to Philomena Cornu, travel agent, and a good friend. When we recited the story and explained that we had not had the necessary money yet to pay for the tickets. Philomena replied that she could fly Dorothy and Paul out within 5 days and we could pay later. They flew out later that month.
In July a charity dance was organised and well attended in St. Columba’s Church Hall in Glenhuntly Road. There were so many helpers it is impossible to remember them all, but here are a few – Séamus & Mary Moloughney, Ricky & Evelyn Keys, Peter & Marie Lightfoot, Gerry O’Connor, Jim Cushnahan, Steve Cushnahan and Johnny Dodds.
A sum of $4,200 was raised and after paying for the air fares approximately $3,000 was left. Johnny and I discussed holding this money as a fund to help the next case that came along, but decided that as we had raised this money in Dorothy’s name it should go to her.
In August, Dorothy took Paul to Lourdes, still in his wheelchair and put him in the water, he has never sat in a wheelchair since.
Over the years I have visited the family and Paul is leading a normal life. He served an apprenticeship as a landscape gardener and perform charity walks to help needy cases etc.
In discussions with Johnny Dodds we decided that irrespective of whether you believe in the Lourdes cure or not, when you provide help for someone you are never sure of the outcome.
In October 1978 we decided to start an organisation to help Irish people in trouble. First inquiry was to John O’Callaghan about the use of a room upstairs in the Celtic Club. He couldn’t help us. We put feelers out to see if someone knew of suitable premises that were central and close to public transport. Peter Lightfoot came up with an address in Latrobe Street Melbourne CBD.
We hired the rooms and installed a phone and an answering machine, as we both worked during the day. We would meet at nights to take care of business. Initial work was sick visits, funerals and personal advice. At this stage Johnny and I were paying all the bills and handouts from our own pockets. It was then that Phillis McGrath came aboard, followed by Steve Cushnahan. Used goods were collected and sold at trash and treasure markets. To finance increased activity we graduated to opening an Opportunity Shop.
The first shop was in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. We then moved to Smith Street Collingwood and then Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; before locating to the present premises in Northcote.
It must not be forgotten that in later years Phillis McGrath went to Adelaide and Sydney to advise on setting up branches of the Bureau. While Johnny and I founded the bureau, this type of work has been going on for years and it was thanks to the work everyone put in that it was brought together in one office.
This is the history of the start of the Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau (formally known as the Australian Irish Welfare Bureau).
Tom Hopkins (RIP)
This above is an extract from the Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau publication ‘ Yesterday , Today , Tomorrow ‘ in 1999.
In addition to the above we would like to thank John Flaherty(RIP) who joined shortly after the IASRB was formed. In the early 1970’s Steve, Johnny and John along with the above mentioned worked extremely hard to form the Bureau, they saw a need for an organisation that could assist new emigrants and those who through no fault of their own needed support. The Bureau is what it is today because of the dedication, compassion and hard work of these selfless people. Steve Johnny and John were awarded our Recognition Award in December 2015. They are referred to as the ‘Three Muskateers’ .