Updated: Mar 15, 2019
The Australian Irish Welfare Bureau (AIWB), known today as the Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau (IASRB), proudly continues it's 40+year tradition of providing support and resource to our extended community in Melbourne.
The Bureau began in the mid 1970s to help those who had immigrated to Australia from Ireland in the 1950's and 1960's, who found themselves in need of support. There are a number of stories about how this fantastic resource for the Irish in Melbourne began, these are their stories.
The founding committee consisted of President John Dodds, Phyllis McGrath, John Flaherty, Tom Hopkins, D. Howard, Jack McGinty and Peter Lightfoot.
The Bureau's first co-ordinator, Phyllis McGrath, said the AIWB began at an Irish National Day meeting, when they were told of two men who died within a month of each other and were buried in the same grave at Bulla.
Phyllis, who spent 23 years with the Bureau before returning to County Armagh, said it was agreed at the meeting that something had to be done to help Irish people in need or distress, and so the AIWB was formed.
Tony Rogers, a former president of the Association, said around the same time the body of a dead Irishman lay unclaimed in the morgue. A funeral was arranged and a collection was taken at mass to cover costs. The money in the collection plate far exceeded the cost of the funeral and, according to Tony; the remaining funds were used to start the AIWB.
Tom Hopkins one of the founding members, records the Bureau as starting with the sad story of Dorothy Condie and her 12year old son Paul, from County Antrim. In April 1978 Paul had come to Melbourne for a holiday with family friends. On a visit to the Puffing Billy Tourist Train he fell and suffered head injuries.
Tom, who had been involved for many years raising funds for worthy causes, organised a charity dance that raised $4,200.00 . The money went to the family who used it to return to Ireland and take a trip to Lourdes. Tom said that Paul arrived at Lourdes in a wheel chair and after he was put in the holy waters he never sat in the wheelchair again. Paul went on to work as a landscape gardener and was keen to help others in need.
In October 1978 the Bureau asked the manager of the Celtic Club if it could use an upstairs room as an office. The Club couldn't help so Peter Lightfoot another one of the founding members came up with an address in Latrobe Street on the site of the present Remand Centre. There they had an old desk and a chair according to Phyllis McGrath, and kept themselves warm by burning old shoes in the fireplace.
Tom said he and Johnny Dodds were paying the bills from their own pockets, they installed a phone and an answering machine to take calls during the day. At night they visited the sick and helped out with advice on a wide range of problems confronting Irish immigrants.
The group gathered goods to be sold at Trash and Treasure Markets and this lead to the Bureau's first shop in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. From there the Bureau moved to rented premises in Smith Street, Collingwood and later Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. In 1996, with the help of some generous donations and a bequest from George Rouse, the Bureau was able to buy the current premises at 440a High Street, Northcote.
Hardworking volunteers built the AIWB. Mary Corr devoted her time to writing submissions to governments and businesses. In the early 1980's there was no office equipment available to the AIWB, so Mary wrote all her submissions by hand. Mary was determined to have the Department of Foreign Affairs acknowledge the needs of the Irish Community were comparable to those of other ethnic groups. Dermott Lamb and Michael McGartland assisted her in these efforts and funding was eventually secured for services and equipment. After proving it's worth to the Irish community over a dozen years, the AIWB gained funding from the Irish Government.
Today the Irish Australian Support and Resource Bureau continues its work with the generous support of the Irish Government - Department of Foreign Affairs.
Acknowledgment : With sincere thanks to Raegon Carroll for gathering all these wonderful stories and making our first BLOG possible..