Melissa Parke MP – gave speech to acknowledge passing of Mr William ‘Liam’ Barry, a Western Australian who had supported Palestine.

photo of Melissa Parke MP
February 4, 2016

A 2002 trip, for which he took long service leave, to Palestine’s West Bank to conduct volunteer research work at Nablus University made international headlines when Liam and seven others were arrested at gunpoint and held for five days by the Israeli Army. The group had been in Balata refugee camp trying to help the sick and wounded after it had been shelled by Israeli forces.

Full speech

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (12:00): ‘If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time.’ This was the lifelong philosophy of Mr William ‘Liam’ Barry, a human rights and social justice campaigner of Australind in the south-west of WA who died aged 68 last November. Born in County Cork, Ireland, the young, adventure-seeking Liam took the £10 migration offer to Australia, landing in Fremantle in 1970. As a fitter and turner he would easily find work across the north-west of Western Australia in the booming mining industry, and ultimately spent 28 years working for Alcoa at the company’s Pinjarra and then Wagerup operations before retiring from his mechanical supervisory position in 2006.

Liam was recognised early on for his natural leadership skills. At Alcoa, he became the worker’s representative as a union convenor in the 1980s. The satisfaction of helping people and improving working conditions drove Liam’s passion for politics and positive change. He quickly became a sharp negotiator and public speaker and, though unsuccessful in his quest to gain preselection, remained dedicated to the Australian Labor Party.

I came to know Liam when I stood for the then seat of Mitchell as a Labor candidate in the WA state election of December 1996. Liam joined me on the election campaign as an enthusiastic volunteer. Even though we lost that election, Liam stayed in touch with me over many years, inviting me to speak at the John Boyle O’Reilly ceremonies he organised each year. During the eight years I worked as a lawyer with the UN, Liam would send me regular emails updating me on local, national and international news, as well as his progress on the books he was working on and his local campaigns to raise money and awareness for Amnesty International and other good causes.

Liam also undertook, at his own expense, various missions to some of the world’s poorest and most war-torn places, carrying out volunteer engineering and other work. A 2002 trip, for which he took long service leave, to Palestine’s West Bank to conduct volunteer research work at Nablus University made international headlines when Liam and seven others were arrested at gunpoint and held for five days by the Israeli Army. The group had been in Balata refugee camp trying to help the sick and wounded after it had been shelled by Israeli forces. Being based in Gaza at the time, I exchanged phone calls with Liam regarding his arrest and detention and offered moral support, not that he really needed it. He was happy in the knowledge that he had been acting in support of the Palestinian people.

In 2004, Liam took his interest in peace and human rights to Curtin University, ultimately earning a Masters degree in human rights, and later publishing the book Israel’s Brutal War Against the Palestinian People.Liam was an avid supporter of the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Red Cross, World Vision and Greenpeace.

Together with working many hours of overtime to support his family, Liam pursued his great passion chronicling the lives of Irish Republican or Fenian figures and researching many facets of oral history, writing or contributing six books on the subject. His best-known work, The Dramatic Escape of John Boyle O’Reilly, details the life and times of a Fenian convict sentenced to death, but whose sentence was commuted to deportation to the Western Australian penal colony in 1869.

Even as a prisoner, O’Reilly was a charismatic figure, a writer and poet, who was assisted by a local catholic priest to escape the Bunbury prison hide-out on the coast, and catch a lift with an American whaling ship to Boston. Following his escape to Boston, O’Reilly became a renowned author, poet, human rights activist and newspaper owner, and assisted in planning the famous escape from Fremantle prison of six other Fenian prisoners on the Catalpa whaling ship to America. There is a memorial to John Boyle O’Reilly in Boston and Liam drove the installation of a granite memorial to O’Reilly at his purported escape point—the northern tip of Leschenault Peninsula north of Bunbury and for 25 years organised annual celebrations of the unlikely historical feat, a task that has now been taken up by others, including Bunbury’s Tom Dillon.

In 2012, Liam was awarded the prestigious Brendan Award by the Irish Australian Heritage Association for his contributions to Irish-Australian history and his John Boyle O’Reilly efforts in particular. Liam served as the president of the South West Irish Club from 1994 to 2000, organising Rose of Tralee Balls and St Patrick’s Day parades. Many a Barry family outing would be spent touring local grave and other historical sites around the south-west. I am told that his broad knowledge and keen interest rendered his children too scared to ask for help on school assignments for fear of it resulting in a book being published.

The second child of six born to Catherine and Daniel Barry, Liam came from humble origins. He always said that life was tough growing up, but always knew that there were people out there worse off than himself. Like so many migrants who have dedicated their lives to this country, Liam’s life epitomises the implicit Australian social contract: opportunities and acceptance in return for hard work and social commitment. I say thanks to Liam for his passion and his activism for good causes and for the long support and friendship that he gave to me. I offer my condolences to Liam’s family: his wife of 42 years, Lyn; his four children, Tania, Shayne, Michelle and Scott; and his seven grandchildren.

Link to parliamentary Hansard

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