Vale Barbara Croyden
Following is the eulogy given by Ron Croyden.
My mother, Barbara Croyden, was born in Rabaul, PNG, in 1923 as Szeto Yuk Yoong – the eldest daughter of Thomas Szeto ah Ying and Anne Maria Nui Sin Szeto.
Barbara was born on the 31st December no less. Happy New Year!
The Szeto family grew to 11 children however only seven survived to adulthood. Barbara and Justin as the two eldest children, shouldered the responsibilities of helping to raise Betty, Cathy, Collette, Jack and Simon. There is a close bond and affection between her brothers and sisters.
The Japanese occupation in Rabaul took place in 1942 when the war broke out. Like many others Barbara and her family became Japanese prisoners of war. They were housed in a compound and Barbara was put to task sewing for the Japanese army.
During this time the family faced a traumatic experience when my Grandfather was arrested for being associated with the Kuomintang. He was released after one night incarceration but the ordeal caused his hair to turn completely white overnight.
At the same time the level of bombing escalated and my Grandmother decided it was time to leave Rabaul so the family moved to New Ireland.
For three years, as the war continued, the family lived under Japanese jurisdiction near Namatanai. They survived the war living on meagre diet of sweet potatoes, peanuts and snake beans.
This experience during the war made Barbara the resilient woman that she became – pragmatic, resourceful and creative.
After the war the family resettled in their old residence where extended families of the Szeto clan also lived. The family worked hard to rebuild their lives and financial circumstance. Barbara opened a barber shop in the family trade store. She was self-taught and learnt through her experience of cutting her siblings hair with hand clippers. During this time she made a lucrative income for the family and contributed over 200 pounds so that her family could buy land and roofing iron.
Mum was also a dressmaker. She was self-taught from making clothing for her siblings. She also sold jelly at the trade store.
During this time my father, Harry Croyden, was a warrant officer in the Military Police and he met Barbara through the barber shop. According to his driver Dad had a haircut every day until Mum succumbed to his perseverance.
Whilst there was a strong connection between Mum and Dad, inter-racial marriages were not common and they encountered many obstacles from both the white and Chinese community. It was a challenging time for Mum as her parents were initially opposed to the relationship. But Mum was unafraid and together she and Dad wore them down and won their support.
Barbara and Harry shared many similarities. They were both born the eldest in their family supporting younger siblings. Both were resourceful with good work ethic and together they had a happy marriage and were successful in the endeavors.
My mother gave birth to Shirley in 1947 and myself a year later. Sadly my sister became ill and passed away at the age of 3½ years. This was a deeply trying time for my parents and I can only imagine that it must have been difficult for them to move forward. But happily Silvia was born a year and a half later.
Silvia and I share many memories throughout our young lives. A memory that is embedded for both of us was the weekly drive down the dusty bumpy road to Kokopo and beyond as our plantation was being developed from jungle.
On these long drives, you never knew what was going to happen! There were mosquitos, the car was regularly bogged and Mum, Silvia and I would do our best to push the car out of muddy roads. Occasionally Mum would also drive an old army truck with rations and supplies for the laborers.
Whilst Mum was a beautiful small and unassuming woman she was tough and would happily take on any challenge.
Mum was always nurturing and caring. She selflessly always put Dad, Silvia and I first and we always felt secure and loved. She made our clothes, cut our hair and was always proud to present us well. I remember the way she used to comb Silvia’s hair every morning lovingly before school.
It was important for Mum to stay connected with her family and Chinese heritage. Mum took us everywhere – visiting relatives or going to the local market.
Mum was an excellent cook and it meant a lot to her that we grew up speaking Chinese and eating Chinese food. Frequently this meant that she cooked two meals so Dad could have his steak as well!
We had an idyllic childhood and I have fond memories of Mum making hum mong go and milo ice blocks for us.
In addition to being a wonderful mother and astute business woman, Mum also had many other interests. She was a great musician playing the piano accordion and harmonica and I remember her practicing songs on our verandah. She also took an interest in yoga and became a teacher of a weekly class in Rabaul.
It was hard for both our parents when Silvia and I left for boarding school in Australia but Mum wrote us letters every week to remind us that she was thinking of us. Around this time our younger cousins came into Barbara and Harry’s life as Damian and then Ian lived with them for several years.
In 1994 Rabaul was flattened by a volcanic eruption so retirement in Sydney followed. This was a blessing in disguise as the family was finally together in Sydney and this is when the Sunday family dinner tradition began. Sunday nights were shared over a roast, chow mein and baked spaghetti – all served in one sitting!
In 1999 Dad passed away and Mum lived alone in her Mosman unit for many years. She was highly independent and could work her way around the Sydney public transport system. She enjoyed her daily walks, regularly attended church and always made time to see her family and friends.
In her later years as Mum’s health slowly deteriorated and she moved in with Silvia. She enjoyed the time at Silvia’s and her zest for life continued going on senior’s outings and social gatherings weekly.
In the last few years she lived at St Joseph’s at Kensington where she was well cared for by the nursing staff and nuns including her sister, Sister Betty. She was known for he cheerful and friendly demeanor and was affectionately call “Mamma” by her carers.
Over the last few weeks as I reflect on Mum’s life, I realise how much of an impact she has had not just on our own family but also on many others that have been fortunate enough to embrace her friendship and love.
Mum had an inner strength and humility born through the adversity she faced in her life. She was a king sand loving woman with a generous spirit, who accepted people for who they were.
Mum we thank you for being our inspiration and loving mother.