Former Tumut mayor Geoff Pritchard had a special connection with the surprising result of the British snap election last week, that saw dark horse Labour candidate Jeremy Corbyn ride a surge of youth voter support for his socialist policies.
Alongside him was Shadow Foreign Office Minister Catherine West, who is the daughter of Mr Pritchard’s cousin and friend Janet West.
As Mr Pritchard explains, they are both descendants of an English woman named Hannah Russell. Hannah was a “remittance woman” – a black sheep of the family that was shipped off to Australia with enough money to ensure they stayed here, usually because of a scandal.
What was considered scandalous for women in 1862, however, was generally the sort of behaviour that is accepted or celebrated today, and Mr Pritchard thinks Catherine West’s role as a social justice pioneer in the motherland is a fitting conclusion to Hannah Russell’s fate over a century ago.
“She’s a direct female descendant of this woman who was sent out here all those years ago by the poms, into the backblocks of Australia, to get her out of the way,” he said.
“Now her direct descendant is back in their parliament in a senior position – she’s pretty young still, and I suspect she’s got a big future ahead of her over there. It really gives me a bit of a thrill to think of it!
“Catherine is a Quaker, very into women’s rights … it’s a great family, her mother taught Prince Charles at Geelong Grammar. She’s a very intelligent woman, very well-educated. [The family] aren’t radicals, they’re very religious, but they have a very strong social conscience.”
Mr Pritchard, an involved Australian Labor supporter, has political views that align with Catherine West’s – but he said that one common thread throughout Hannah Russell’s descendants is a passion for shaping communities and events.
“Some of the family has been quite right-wing and others left-wing, but basically all of them have had strong political feelings for the development of our country and a responsibility for people,” he said.
“Personally, I absolutely agree with her politics. I believe that people should work – if you’re capable of working you should work – but those that can’t should be looked after properly. This separation of wealth in our communities are destroying our communities, you see it right across the world.”
Catherine West grew up in Australia, and has been a politician in England since 2002. She is a strong long-time supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and his brand of tax the rich, help the vulnerable, leftist politics.