The 150th anniversary of the first Cuban to settle on Australian shores was celebrated in a special ceremony and party held at Rookwood Cemetery last Saturday evening with the Cuban Ambassador to Australia presiding over festivities. The event also became a warm toast to the flourishing Australia / Cuba cultural alliance.
The special event held in Sydney comes at a significant time in the evolution of Cuba as its positioning in the eyes of the western world shifts exponentially. This follows on from the recent visit to Cuba by President Obama of the US in what has become a history making gesture that is set to see a new generation of Cubans engage with the US, Australia and other western nations both culturally, and increasingly financially, since the early days of the now infamous missile crisis.
As recognised by all in attendance, the burgeoning alliance also comes at a time when global friendships must surely be encouraged and celebrated more than ever before.
“We were delighted to co-host this warm and international celebratory event here at Rookwood, especially given our historic cemetery, which remains the largest and most multi-culturally diverse cemetery in the Southern Hemisphere, became the final resting place for this pioneering Cuban who ventured so far from home,” said Liz Wyld, acting CEO of Rookwood General Cemeteries Reserve Trust (RGCRT).
“The Australia / Cuba cultural alliance works to promote more exchange between our peoples and particularly those artists in our community. We hope musical groups, dancers, painters and other artistic expressions of Cuba will grow in prominence here in Australia as out ties strengthen,” added the Cuban Ambassador, H.E. Jose Manuel Galego Montano.
It was in 1866 that the first Cuban, Mr. Guillermo William Sanguily Garrite first arrived in Australia, as a crewman aboard the American Sailboat “General Grant”. Two months later he re-boarded and was bound for London, however, he experienced a tumultuous voyage … the original journey from America to Australia a virtual breeze by comparison. Garrite’s journey included surviving a hazardous shipwreck and castaway’s existence on an island off the coast of New Zealand.
After 18 months Garrite finally returned to Australia. The year was 1868. He later settled in the nearby district of Woolloomooloo, eventually making a successful life for himself running a modest taxi company of horse drawn carriages that were the fashion of the time.
Mr. Garrite died in Sydney on May 6, 1909 and was interned at Rookwood Cemetery thereafter. His gravesite can still be seen today, and includes a plate with an inscription from his American born wife, Sarah.