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The luck of the Irish was chronic bad luck, as their sad history attests. That's how it looked for 250 Irish convicts when their ship, the Hive, sank igminiously off the NSW coast in 1835. Miraculously all survived, guided to safety by local Aboriginal people. They landed at a time when the so-called slave colony was at its height, ruled by the lash and the chain gang. Yet as Babette Smith tracked the lives of the people aboard the Hive, she discovered a very different story. Most were assigned to work on farms or in businesses, building a better life than they possibly could have experienced in Ireland. Surprisingly, in the workforce they found power, which gave rise to the characteristic Australian culture later described by DH Lawrence: 'Nobody felt better than anybody else, or higher.' The Luck of the Irish is a fascinating portrait of colonial life in the mid-19th century, which reveals how the Irish helped lay the foundations of the Australia we kw today.
Babette Smith is the author of the bestselling Cargo of Women and Australia's Birthstain.