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The Catalpa Memorial -

Artist's Concept



In developing this concept, we are aware that the design should be one that a wide range of people, reflecting the multicultural nature of Western Australia, can understand and relate to.

Inspired by the historical context of the site, the recently named Catalpa Park, in memory of the dramatic incident that took place here in 1876, when the daring rescue of the Irish rebel ' Fenian ' Prisoners was organised from Fremantle Prison through the port of Rockingham, this commemorative sculpture should speak to all those who espouse the ideals of freedom that this event symbolises.

Essentially, the sculpture celebrates the concept of freedom and especially the triumph over adversity which is common to all those who have come to WA from the far distant corners of the World.

Although there were six rebel Fenian Irishmen at the core of this adventure, the surface story, as it were, has far greater ramifications than would be at first apparent. Firstly,these men were not common criminals but were people fighting to achieve social justice in Ireland and belonged to a large revolutionary movement which swept through all of Europe in the middle 1800's.

This great social upheaval, which began with the American Revolution of 1776, laid the foundations for true Democratic Universal Suffrage as we know it today. In this context, the individual personalities of the escapees is not important as what we are endeavouring to portray, through the medium of this sculpture, is the magnitude of their daring feat and their determination to achieve the freedom and justice which although now accepted as the norm, was in fact highly unusual in mid-Nineteenth Century society.

To this end, the Irish Revolutionary Exiles in America charted the American whaler, 'Catapla', to rescue their comrades held in Fremantle; an extraordinary feat of logistical planning, given the huge distances involved. The story of this daring rescue has gone down as one of the greatest escapes in history.

This exciting incident can be depicted in narrative form through the medium of bas relief plaques. However, it is important to distil the essence of the whole enterprise through the medium of one simple, symbolic feature, rather than through a 'literal' illustration, only. This can take the form of a powerful metaphor which acts as a vehicle, to capture in visual form, the undaunted spirit of these rebels and the daring of their rescuers.

Dealing as we are then, in symbolism, the idea of a flight of Geese, as a sculptural motif came to us as a direct inspiration from the background of the story itself, namely the title of the newspaper or broadsheet, entitled ' The Wild Goose', produced by the Fenian prisoners on the transport ship the 'Hougoumont', during the long voyage out to Fremantle. This title is based on the 'Wild Geese' of Irish revolutionary history, referring to the'Flight of the Earls'from Ireland after the 1690 Rebellion. This term thus passed into common usage amongst Irish people, to encompass all subsequent revolutionaries exiled from their Native land and ultimately all of the millions of Irish migrants and those of Irish descent spread around the world today,

Apart from this particular reference, birds, particularly flights of birds, are traditional symbols of freedom in all cultures from earliest times. They represent transcendence, flying free from earthly cares and the endeavours of man to overcome his everyday concerns and enter into a higher state of being. The impression of birds ascending, through flight, has long been associated with other-worldliness and the concept of purity of thought. To the Celts, and many other cultures, all birds are sacred symbols, messengers of the gods and harbingers of good fortune, enchantment and healing. The Goose is especially sacred to the Celts to whom it represented the idea of migration as a natural phenomenon. Geese follow the sun, thereby representing light, inspiration and the eventual flight home. Waterbirds generally reflect the links between air and water.


This will comprise six over life-size Bronze Geese, taking flight towards the Indian Ocean and the Westerly sun, from a raised plinth. This will elevate the work and increase its dramatic impact on the observer. The plinth would be constructed of local granite and limestone representing both the prison from which they are flying free and the many other civil structures built by the Fenian prisoners in Western Australia.This could be constructed in such a way as to reflect some of the architectural detail of Fremantle Prison. Inscribed into the granite plinth are the 6 photographs of the prisioners and also a narrative text.

Surronding the central sculpture there will be bronze plaques depicting excerpts from the wild goose jornal, written aboard the 'Hougoumont' on their way to Australia.

This then, is the foundation for our concept and the inspiration for us as artists to produce a truly relevant commemorative sculpture.

Joan Walsh-Smith
Charles Smith








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