Gregory Fitzgerald OSA
Brother James (but known as Greg) Fitzgerald O.S.A. (photo at right) was honoured by a display in the Moree Plains Gallery in north-western New South Wales. In his life he went from being a stockrider and cattleman to becoming an Augustinian.
He was one of ten children of a family that owned Kunderang, a cattle station on the Macleay River in the Northern Rivers’ District of New South Wales. After being a stockman on the family property, at the age of twenty-eight years Gregory in 1919 first met the Augustinian Order when he travelled to Italy. He then joined the Order in Ireland in 1922, and thereby became only the second Australian-born Augustinian (until the 1950s most Augustinians in Australia had been born in Ireland.) The tale is told that he amazed the inhabitants of one small Irish village by riding “upside down” on a horse through their village, his head and forearms supporting his body weight on the saddle and his feet straight up in the air.
He was sent to Rome to study for priesthood and, when he found the learning of Latin too difficult, he remained in the Order as a non-clerical brother. In this capacity, he served in Rome until he returned to Australia in 1940, and subsequently then served in Australia until his death at the age of eighty-five years in 1976. From soon after 1948 he was a member of the Augustinian community at Villanova College in Coorparoo (Brisbane), and then in the community at St James’s Parish in the same suburb. At Villanova College he occasionally succumbed to requests from the students to give them a whip-cracking display.
He had a natural talent for woodcarving, and made a number of intricately-carved walking sticks that featured Australian flora and fauna. His carving task was all the more difficult because he preferred to use Australian hardwood, which is particularly difficult to carve, and because he used only a simple pen knife, rasp and sandpaper.
His woodcarving artistry was one of the first local news items on Brisbane television when TV came to Brisbane over sixty years ago. During his long life, he carved an estimated forty pieces, and usually he gave them away soon after he carved them. His largest carving was of Eileen O’Connor, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor (“Brown Sisters”) in Coogee, Sydney. It was carved out of a hardwood tree trunk. Some of Gregory’s works are quite valuable. The Augustinian Order only possesses one of these works, which is the well-worn walking stick that Bro Gregory himself used.
One walking stick was sent to President John F. Kennedy, and is still in the official Kennedy Presidential Library in Massachusetts. Another walking stick was given to Archbishop Daniel Mannix in Melbourne, who put it to practical use. Others were presented to the Irish President, Éamon de Valera, and to U.S. General Douglas MacArthur.
The display in the Moree Plains Gallery was called Hidden Treasures: Brother Gregory’s Craft, and was featured at the gallery (see photo above) for three months in mid-2008. The display contained some of Bro. Gregory’s walking sticks, his art books, some poetry that he composed, and photographs of other carvings that he undertook.
The Moree Plains Gallery is housed is one of the most important historic buildings locally, having been built as a bank over ninety years ago. It is located in the centre of this town, which is 628 kms from Sydney. Up-to-date details about the gallery appear on the Internet at www.moreeplainsgallery.org.au