Discovering Indigo’s national legend

13 June 2012

A HIGHLY-regarded former politician and ‘citizen of the world’ and a local professional historian will present this year’s annual Kerferd Oration in Beechworth.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and historian Dr Bill Wilson will join forces to talk about a ‘local’ legend – Sir Isaac Isaacs, Australia’s first Australian-born Governor-General (1931-36), who grew up in Yackandandah and Beechworth, attending school in both towns, and had a 47-year association with Indigo Shire.

Chair of the Kerferd Oration committee Ms Joan Simms said a chance remark two years ago about an ‘unsung hero’ of Indigo Shire led to a community-driven research effort about the early life of Sir Isaac Isaacs. This has uncovered new material about Isaacs, who became a judge and later the first Member for Indi at Federation in 1901.

“This year’s oration, unlike past years, will be a culmination of months of work by a team of local researchers working with Bill Wilson and the result is an expose of a national legend with a 47-year direct link to Indigo Shire, including strong links to George Briscoe Kerferd,” Ms Simms said.

“Dr Wilson’s Oration will include new material he has uncovered which includes a link to Ned Kelly, an unmarked grave in Beechworth’s cemetery and that Isaacs father, a tailor, set up shop in two places in Beechworth – the Star Hotel, and 62 Ford Street, now a wine shop.

“Tim Fischer, who in January finished his appointment as Australia’s first Rome-based Ambassador to the Vatican, refers to Sir Isaac Isaacs as a national legend, and will talk about what this remarkable man means for us today. What lessons can we learn from Sir Isaac Isaacs and his enormous contribution to public life and the broader community, who as Governor-General during the Depression, refused to take his judge’s pension during his term and also cut his Governor-General salary.”

The Oration will include a DVD on Sir Isaac Isaacs life prepared in 2009 by students at the Yackandandah Primary School.

This is the 10th year of the Kerferd Oration and over that time far-flung members of the Kerferd family have discovered each other. More than 40 will meet in Beechworth for a first-ever family reunion on 28 and 29 July.

A special guest will be Sir Isaac Isaacs’ great grandson, Tim Cohen of Sydney, the only direct descendant living in Australia.

Ms Simms said an exhibition on Sir Isaac Isaacs, supported by community members, will be held in the Historic Courthouse in Beechworth to coincide with the Kerferd Oration.

“The Kerferd Oration this year will be held at the Baarmutha Function Centre, off Balaclava Road, Beechworth, on Sunday 29 July. The doors open at 10.15am for an 11am start,” Ms Simms said.

“This annual event is free. People just need to turn up, and there will be a light lunch afterwards so people can mix and talk to the Orators.”

The Kerferd Oration is sponsored jointly by Indigo Shire Council, WAW, La Trobe University and Beechworth Neighbourhood Centre.

Australian Dictionary of Biography

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