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Official graveside blessing for Ipswich’s Babies of Walloon

21 March 2015

The resting place of two young girls who captured the attention of one of Australia's greatest literary legends was officially blessed today.

Ipswich Poetry Feast Committee Chairperson and Ipswich City Councillor David Pahlke said council had held a special ceremony in the Ipswich Cemetery with the descendants of Ipswich's famous Babies of Walloon.

Young sisters Bridget Kate and Mary Jane Broderick drowned in a waterhole at Walloon and were immortalised by legendary Australian writer Henry Lawson in his 1891 poem The Babies of Walloon.

Lawson became captivated by the sad tale of the girls while working as a journalist on The Boomerang newspaper in Brisbane.

The ceremony was witnessed by 92-year-old Rockhampton resident Joan Busby and her family who are descendants of the Broderick family.

Cr Pahlke said Father Neville Yun from St Mary's Church performed the blessing.

He said the ceremony also included the unveiling of a new headstone for Bridget and Mary's final resting place.

Cr Pahlke said council was thrilled to be able to join with Mrs Busby and her extended family to formerly recognise the final resting place of The Babies of Walloon.

"Council uncovered Mrs Busby and her connection to the poem through the family history research undertaken by staff at the Ipswich Central Library and Ipswich Poetry Feast committee member Shirley Stubbs.

"Through this contact we were able to uncover more of the puzzle surrounding the girls which has been extremely exciting."

Cr Pahlke said the highly successful annual Ipswich Poetry Feast competition had been born from The Babies of Walloon story.

"This poetry writing competition was established 13 years ago as a direct result and each year the competition attracts more than 1000 entries from around the world."

Over the years the Ipswich Poetry Feast has grown and its annual program now includes an official launch and Poets' Breakfast, poetry writing workshops in local schools, an online poetry writing workshop for Queensland schools, the poetry writing competition awards presentation and other poetry related events.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said today's ceremony was another chapter in the story of the Broderick sisters and their living relatives.

"Ipswich is extremely proud of its link to Lawson and it is wonderful to be able to share this with the Busby family who also have a special connection to this story," Cr Pisasale said.

"It is fantastic to witness the way the Broderick sisters have been honoured not only by Lawson, but also by the Ipswich community through the annual Ipswich Poetry Feast.

"The story was first brought to life again in 1999 thanks to the publication of a book by Ipswich author Judith Baker.

"It highlighted Lawson's poem and the story behind it which council and the community then used as the foundation for the Ipswich Poetry Feast.

"Each year through the Ipswich Poetry Feast we invite amateur poets to submit an entry in a poetry writing competition.

"This has unearthed a huge number of talented people, not only locally but throughout Australia and even overseas.

"Many entrants have enjoyed taking part so much that they return year after year to submit an entry."

Mrs Busby and her family were unaware until 2012 that the Broderick sisters had drowned at Walloon and were the subject of a Henry Lawson poem.

They believed that the girls had drowned in Woolwash Lagoon near Rockhampton.

Mrs Busby's late mother Annie always spoke about the tragic death of her sisters Bridget Kate and Mary Jane Broderick in the waterhole in 1891.

Aged six and seven, the two daughters of railway lengthsman Patrick Broderick were sent on an errand by their parents.

It is believed that they were attracted by some water-lilies in the waterhole near their home on Haigslea - Amberley Rd on the outskirts of Walloon.

They were found drowned in six feet of water.

Thankfully one of the girls' aunts had stopped Annie then aged four, from following her sisters.

Annie always talked about the incident but unfortunately she died in 1942 and never knew about the poem.

This weekend's visit has been one of several trips to Ipswich for the extended family since finding out more about their family history.

They have previously been the guests of honour at the presentation to the winners of the annual Ipswich Poetry Feast competition established in honour of their family's story. The family also attended the rededication of the Babies of Walloon statues in Henry Lawson Bicentennial Park.

The cast bronze, ceramic and Italian glass mosaic sculpture depicted the Broderick sisters playing.

They had stood in the park since 2006 as a tribute to the late Broderick sisters and their story and also to recognise the city's special connection with Henry Lawson.

Henry Lawson Bicentennial Park has been progressively remodelled over the past 10 years to highlight The Babies of Walloon story.

A poet's platform made of timber which bears a bronze bust of Henry Lawson set into the lectern was also installed in the park.

Public toilets constructed in the park in 2008 feature a verse of The Babies of Walloon poem on the front.

Council has also protected The Babies of Walloon waterhole as a character place under the Ipswich Heritage Planning Scheme as the site has significant cultural heritage.

The Babies of Walloon - Henry Lawson (Written in 1891)

He was lengthman on the railway, and his station scarce deserved

That pre-eminence in sorrow" of the Majesty he served,

But as dear to him and precious were the gifts reclaimed so soon. -

Were the workman's little daughters who were buried near Walloon.

Speak their names in tones that linger, just as tho' you held them dear,

There are eyes to which the mention of those names will bring a tear.

Little Kate and Bridget, straying in an Autumn afternoon,

Were attracted by the lilies in the water of Walloon.

All is dark to us. The angels sing perhaps in Paradise

Of the younger sister's danger, and the elder's sacrifice;

But the facts were hidden from us, when the soft light from the moon

Glistened on the water-lilies o'er the Babies at Walloon.

Ah! the children love the lilies, while we elders are inclined

To the flowers that have poison for the body and the mind

Better for the "strongly human" to have done with life as soon,

Better perish for a lily like the Babies of Walloon.

For they gather flowers early on the river far away,

Where the everlasting lilies keep their purity for aye,

And while summer brings our lilies to the run and the lagoon

May our children keep the legend of the Babies of Walloon.

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