‘Two-hander’ Oration examines Sir Isaac Isaacs’ life and legacy

23 July 2012

THE 2012 Kerferd Oration this Sunday, 29 July, is a bit different in a number of ways.

The major difference is that the Oration this year is a two-hander between former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer and Beechworth historian Bill Wilson.

They will speak about  Sir Isaac Isaacs, Australia’s first native-born Governor-General, a man ahead of his time, who was educated in Yackandandah and Beechworth and had a 47-year connection with Indigo Shire.

Sir Isaac Isaacs was, in Mr Fischer’s words, an ‘extraordinary citizen, great purposeful contrarian with enormous curiosity’. He was a leader who ‘backed right against might every time’.

Mr Fischer will expand on the issues that Isaacs grappled with in the 1930s and draw modern-day comparisons.

Dr Wilson, a professional historian, has uncovered new material about Isaacs and his links to Indigo Shire.

A special guest will be Isaacs’ great grandson Tim Cohen of Sydney as well as 50 members of the Kerferd family, some travelling from as far away as Perth.

Kerferd Oration Committee chair Joan Simms says other important differences include the showing of a short DVD on Sir Isaac Isaacs filmed in 2009 by senior Yackandandah Primary School students, a new venue, and a revamped format.

“The DVD by the students is a highly engaging account of Sir Isaac Isaacs’ life, with the students playing all the roles, the new venue is the Baarmutha Park Function Centre in Beechworth, off Balaclava Road and the new format is more relaxed than in the past,” Ms Simms said.

“And for the first time the subject matter is about one of our own – Isaac Isaacs – delivered by two of our own. Isaacs was educated locally and later went on to become the State member for Bogong, and then the first federal member for Indi. His distinguished career included being a judge of the High Court of Australia,” she said.

“On the social side, there will be a mobile coffee stall in operation before the Oration, and a light lunch will be provided by Beechworth Red Cross at 12.30pm.

“This is the tenth Kerferd Oration so we have been working hard to make it a bit different. It is a free community event and the doors open at 10.15am for an 11am start.”


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