Chapter 33


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Down Under

On the Ipswich Coalfield, a vigorous Welsh community established itself in the town of Blackstone. Lewis Thomas, of Talybont, Cardiganshire became known as the king of the Queensland coalfields. His house, Brynhyfryd became a center of Welsh cultural activities for many years. The St. David's Society began the Blackstone Eisteddfod in 1887. The modern Australia-wide Eisteddfod movement derives from these beginnings; they have developed into well-recognized breeding grounds for the nurturing of musical and artistic talents throughout the country.

It is in industry, however, that Welsh people in Australia have made their presence felt most strongly. As in Pennsylvania, their long experience in mining helped them to become foremen and leaders, engineers and draughtsmen as well as workers on the coalface. In the two developments that have shaped much of the history of modern Australia, Welshmen were important: Federation and the Australian Labour Party.

The principal architect of the federal constitution was Sir Samuel Walker Griffith from Merthyr Tydfil; an early leader of the Labour movement and Prime Minister of Australia from 1915-23 was William Morris Hughes (the Little Digger); and the first Labour Premier of South Australia was Welsh-born Thomas Price. In many other areas of Australian life, Welsh men and women have played important, if unheralded roles.

As in many other areas in the world where Welsh have settled, gradual dispersion into the general population has meant a decline in their cultural activities. Not only that, but recent emigrants from Wales have been mainly monoglot English, reflecting the great decline in the Welsh language even in the homeland during the last fifty years.

As in the United States, there are very few chapels in Australia that still continue to offer services in the Welsh language. To cater to a belated Celtic revival, however, some Australian radio stations offer programs about Wales and even offer Welsh language classes, and many cities continue to conduct annual Cymanfaoedd Ganu and eisteddfodau with the proceedings mostly in English.

Welsh groups were also active in New Zealand, where (as in Australia) vast distances between settlements have prevented much communication between them. A Cymanfa Ganu is still held yearly in Aukland, and once every two years in Christchurch. Canterbury also has an active Welsh society. The sign "Welshtown" in a now deserted gold mining area of the South Island points to former Welsh settlement and activities in that area.

New Zealand rugby teams still discuss the world-beating Welsh teams of the 1970's, and on a recent tour of the country, the author found that the story of the 1905 defeat of the Kiwis by Wales has become a legend, passed on from generation to generation (New Zealand claimed to have been cheated out of a touchdown at Cardiff's famous Arms Park that would have won the game).

For all the Welsh in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Patagonia, it is heartening that Wales has its own Assembly at long last. Unlike such settlers as the Quebecois of Canada, fearful of losing their distinct identity, but who have a French "homeland" across the sea to replenish and sustain them, the Welsh who live overseas have not had the luxury of a Welsh heartland, where the language obtains pride of place and is universally spoken. They consequently must do much more to help preserve their own homeland and to ensure that the language and culture of Wales does not soon disappear into the Celtic mists, never to be revived as a living, breathing natural entity. They must heed the words of such fighters for the cause as Dafydd Iwan, who reminds us that he knows what is "right and proper" for the survival of his beloved land.

Chapter 34: Conclusion
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