Belfast woman Chris Gillic has received a Mount Isa Legend award for her community work in multiculturalism and with homeless people in the north Queensland mining town.
Ms Gillic moved to Australia in 1974, following in the footsteps of three of her sisters who had already made the move Down Under.
She and her sister Carmel had worked for the Australian emigration
office in Belfast, at a time when Australia was offering £10 fares to migrants. “Carmel is in Sydney, Barbara is in Melbourne, Bernie is in Perth and I’m in Mt Isa. We were all very close but we all got separated in Australia.”
Ms Gillic was in Sydney with Carmel, but decided to go on an adventure around Australia. A friend gave her the number of someone in Mt Isa who would give her a place to stay.
“I went into the Irish Club in Mt Isa looking for this fellow. I shook hands with him and said ‘My name is Christina Connor’. Ben took one look at me and said ‘I hope not for long’. That was the beginning of it and we’ve been together ever since,” she said.
The couple played an instrumental part in the club’s success.
“At that time we had maybe 500 members and we now have around 18,500 members. Our son Bernard is now the CEO of the club,” she said.
The town’s annual multicultural festival is done in conjunction with the Good Shepherd parish and features food and drink from around the world, along with a different theme each year.
“Two years ago we had an Irish theme and had 5000 people at it. It was a tremendous success. The Irish ambassador, Noel White, came to it, as did the Multicultural minister from the Queensland parliament,” she said.
Ms Gillic has also worked with the homeless in Mt Isa for a decade.
“It is something Fr Mick [of the Good Shepherd parish] decided he would do. He would give a meal each day, seven days a week to the most needy.
“I’ve been there eight or nine years now, working on the weekends. I’ve got a fantastic amount of volunteers. All the teachers in town come and give me a hand. I used not have help like that, initially it was very hard going, but now I have a lot of help,” she said.
When these good deeds were recognised with an award from her adopted hometown the only person surprised was the modest Ms Gillic.
“I was brought there under the pretence that one of my friends was receiving an award and she would like me to be with her. I had no idea. It was a lovely surprise. I certainly was not expecting it and I don’t need recognition for doing anything I do.
“Most people here do it as well, so it was very nice to be picked out,” she told the Irish Echo.