Tag Archives: C.Y. O’Connor


This week marked the anniversary of the death of Western Australia’s celebrated Engineer-in-Chief, C.Y. O’Connor, on 10 March 1902. O’Connor, exhausted and suffering intolerable stress—much of it caused by vitriolic personal attacks on him in the press—rode his horse into the sea in the early morning and shot himself.

On Wednesday morning, I joined O’Connor’s descendants at the beach that bears his name, as I do every year. It is always an uplifting gathering, in spite of the sadness at the core of the memorial. Flowers are cast onto the water and members of the family carry them out to adorn the bronze horse-and-rider statue (the work of sculptor Tony Jones) anchored to the sea bed 100 metres offshore.

I always bring sunflowers, to honour C.Y.’s artist daughter Kathleen (Kate) O’Connor and the close relationship she had with her father. Brilliant sunflowers worked in oil are among Kate’s most famous paintings, and she painted them obsessively late in life.

This year’s commemoration was made more special, and more poignant, by the presence of four beautiful horses among the swimmers.

As I watched Kate’s sunflowers float away, I also remembered standing in the same place a year ago, on the day the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. I think it was only just dawning on me that I wouldn’t be going to Europe in April, as planned, but I had no sense that the world was about to change so dramatically. That people would lose their livelihoods, their homes, their sense of security, their loved ones. That families would be separated, people would be stranded, and the world would become infinitely more uncertain. That well over two million people would die in the next twelve months.

I feel immensely grateful to be here, grateful and hopeful. I hope that ‘this’ is not forever. That the incredible effort put into developing vaccines will bring relief the world over. That what we’ve learned over the past year—new ways of working and communicating, new ways of experiencing the world from afar and looking more closely at our own backyards—will have lasting benefits. And hopeful that we have come far enough in our attitudes towards mental health, over the past one hundred and nineteen years, that people suffering intolerable stress will feel more able to reach out for help.

Lifeline Australia is available 24/7 on 13 11 14


Filed under Kathleen O’Connor of Paris

Sunflowers on the ripples…

Today was my annual visit to the beach. The one day of the year when, in the early morning, I walk along the shore of the Indian Ocean instead of the footpaths of my own suburb.

I’m carrying a bucket of flowers—roses from my own garden and a clutch of brilliant sunflowers—and up ahead I can see the group of people I’m joining. They are some of the descendants of C.Y. O’Connor, the brilliant engineer who contributed so much to the infant colony/state of Western Australia. And today is the anniversary of O’Connor’s death 118 years ago, when he rode his horse Midnight into the sea—from here, the beach that now bears his name—and took his own life.

I tip my roses into a larger box of offerings.

Not being a swimmer myself, I take photographs, pick up shells, watch the others swim out to the bronze horse-and-rider statue (the work of sculptor Tony Jones) with bunches of bougainvillea in their hands. I’ve given a few sunflowers to one of the swimmers to add to the others now garlanding the bronze.

O’Connor was the father of artist Kathleen O’Connor, and the sunflowers, which she loved and painted again and again throughout her career, honour the strong connection between them.

Wading out a little, I strew bucketfuls of petals, and set two large sunflowers on the wavelets to float away.

Before long there is a ragged trail of blossoms between statue and shore, and another heading north-west into the open sea. It occurs to me that every year, those sunflowers take the lead.

By the time I leave, there is little sign of that floral procession floating to the north-west, but if you squint you can just make out two specks of cadmium on aquamarine. I wonder where the waves will carry them, Kate.







Filed under Kathleen O’Connor of Paris

Seagulls, stories and sunflowers…

Every year on 10 March, descendants of C.Y. O’Connor, along with friends and sundry stragglers like me, gather at the beach named after him to honour the memory of Western Australia’s Engineer-in-Chief, whose visionary schemes helped to transform the colony.

On this day in 1902, The Chief—overworked and exhausted, harassed and reviled by the press, trapped in a volatile political environment—rode his horse along this beach one last time.

But today’s early-morning gathering is no sombre affair. There are conversations and stories. Laughter. Lolloping dogs. Children and irreverent seagulls. Buckets of flower petals to be strewn on the waves and carried out by swimmers to the bronze memorial statue, by sculptor Tony Jones, a hundred metres offshore.

I have brought sunflowers, for Kate—large as dinner-plates and the brilliant cadmium yellow she loved—and as I fly one like a frisbee into the Indian Ocean I hope it will travel far…

















Filed under Kathleen O’Connor of Paris