unbroken spirit

In 1825 a young Irish farmer, Peter O'Neill, was found guilty of robbery and sentenced to transportation to Australia.
Forced to leave his wife, Mary, and their three children behind, Peter endured the hard and lonely life of a convict in an alien country for a number of years.
Eventually however, he was able to have his family brought from Ireland to Australia where they became the forebears of the large family of which the author of Unbroken Spirit, Ivy Getchell, is a member. Using the technique known as 'faction', which combines fact and fiction,
Unbroken Spirit traces the lives of Peter and Mary, paying tribute to their ability to rise above the hardships and challenges that beset them as they established a well-deserved place for themselves in the pioneering history of Australia.


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ISBN:   978-1-922229-20-5
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 96
Genre: Fiction
based on fact.

Author: Ivy Getchell
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2013
Language: English



One of nine children of a spiritual mother and a heavy-drinking father, Ivy Getchell was born in 1932 in the central west of New South Wales, Australia. She spent her first thirteen years with her family as they scratched a living as itinerant workers during the depression. Although they went where the work took them, family life to some extent became centred on Native Dog Creek in the Oberon area of New South Wales to which they returned frequently.

After the death of Ivy’s mother in 1945, the family was split up and Ivy was placed in the now notorious Parramatta Girls’ Home until, at the age of eighteen, she was sent to Queensland to work.

Ivy now lives in the Hunter region of New South Wales with her husband, Frank.

The Pea Picker’s Daughter, her first book, is the story of her life and how she drew on her inner strength to overcome adversity and find happiness. In her second book, Unbroken Spirit, Ivy explores the lives of her Irish-born great-great-grandparents, Peter and Mary O’Neill, from whom she believes she inherited much of the inner strength that has sustained her throughout her life.




For many years my family history was an incomplete story to me.

My mother had often talked to us about her North American Blackfoot Indian ancestors and told us stories about their beliefs and how they lived. Much as he loved her, these stories irritated my father. In Australia in the 1930s, where black was black and white was white, he was worried people would regard us as half-breeds if they knew of our American Indian heritage. He much preferred to emphasise the fact that, on his side, we were of Irish blood – but apart from saying that our forebears on his side came from Dublin in Ireland, he lacked either the patience or the knowledge to tell us much more.

“You’re Irish – be satisfied with that!” he’d tell us.  

He did relate some stories about Ireland that had been passed down in his family over the years. I particularly remember tales about the dreadful famine between 1845 and 1852 when disease ruined the country’s potato crop, causing a famine that killed about a million people and forced another million to emigrate. But while I learned something about Ireland, I still knew virtually nothing about my Irish ancestors.

As I grew up, my life took many twists and turns as related in my book The Pea Picker’s Daughter. Its events included separation from my family, incarceration, marriage to an abusive man, separation again, this time from my own children, and then meeting and marrying a man who knew how to be kind, loving and understanding.

In later years, after I reconnected with my father and siblings, I’d sometimes asked Dad questions about the Irish side of our family and he’d answer me the best way he could. From these bits and pieces of information I learned that Dad’s mother, who I knew as Granny Williams, had belonged to the O’Neill branch of the family. I also heard that her mother, my great-grandmother, had been named Elizabeth Eliza and had married three times. Elizabeth Eliza had been the first Australian-born child of the couple who had come to Australia from Ireland and started the branch of the family to which I belonged. I probably heard that the names of this Irish couple were Peter and Mary O’Neill, and that Peter had been a convict, but for a long time that was where my knowledge of them ended. For one thing, having a convict in the family was not a matter to boast about at that time. For another I lacked the time and opportunity to find out more. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that my interest was rekindled.


Around 1992 I was staying with my sister, Mary, at Newbridge, near Bathurst. While there, I met Gloria Armstrong when she called in to visit Mary. Gloria, I was told, was one of Dad’s cousins.

“You should have been at the O’Neill family reunion earlier this year,” Gloria told me when she heard who I was. “Your great-grandmother was an O’Neill.”

I gathered from what she said that Gloria’s great-grandfather, Dennis O’Neill, and my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Eliza O’Neill, had been brother and sister. They had been among the six children of Peter and Mary O’Neill, who had come to Australia from Ireland and had founded the Australian line of their family. Peter and Mary, therefore, were my great-great-grandparents.

With Gloria’s words whetting my interest and curiosity, I began a quest to learn more about these Irish pioneers. Along the way I was helped by people such as Gloria, her daughter, Judith Goldsworthy, and Frank Wilcock whose wife, Shirley, is another member of the O’Neill clan. With great generosity, Frank provided me with what he described as an “essay” in which he recounted the circumstances under which Peter and Mary became residents of Australia. In his introduction, Frank said: “The intention of the essay is to satisfy the curiosity of the younger generation and to excite in them some interest in their forebears. More importantly, it is to encourage them to continue the record. Their descendants will be interested.”

I certainly was. Having at various times been cut off from my parents, my siblings and my own children, I was always looking for family links. Within me was a growing awareness that I needed to know where I came from in order to know where I belonged and where I was going.

As I continued to find names and information about the O’Neills, I was more and more captivated by what I learned about my Irish forebears. Even documents such as government grants from the colonial days brought the people alive for me, as did the physical description I found of Peter, giving such details as his height, weight and eye colour.

Now I know where my hazel eyes came from! I thought.

Increasingly I experienced a strong fellow feeling for Peter O’Neill. Like him I grew up in an agricultural environment, scratching a living from the land so that the outdoor life has always been natural to me. Also, both of us had been separated from our families and incarcerated in alien surroundings. Because of this, we’d had to live without choice in many ways until each of us had finally been reunited with our families and had been able to make new lives for ourselves.

Thinking of how far Peter and Mary had travelled across the sea, and how they’d had to make the best of things in order to survive, I could imagine how difficult their lives must have been as they tried to come to terms with the new and strange environment in which they found themselves. I marvelled at the strong spirit that had sustained them, despite the hardships and tragedies they encountered. I also wondered about their children and what had happened to them.

Frank had written his essay for the family but I began to want to spread the information further. I felt that the story of the perils our pioneers had faced would also interest others outside the family.

With Frank’s approval I have therefore built on the foundation of his words and information to tell the story of Peter and Mary O’Neill. There will always be appreciation in my heart for the generosity of Frank Wilcock and the other people who have helped me along my journey of discovery and have made it possible for me to offer this story to a wider audience.



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