Tribute to Pat Murray: Anne Peters

Pat Murray was formerly of Baia Plantation, New Ireland, PNG

Patricia Audrey Murray (née Stanfield) was born on 5 September 1922 in Naini Tal, in India. Her parents, Ernest and Audrey Stanfield, left India and settled near Stanthorpe in Queensland when Pat was only a few months old. In 1927, when Pat was five and her brother James was seven, the family moved to Bolegila Plantation in New Ireland.  The Australian Government of the time was offering Soldier Settlement opportunities to returned service men from World War One, of whom Ernest was one. He decided to take up this opportunity and thus our family began an association with New Ireland that continued for almost sixty years.

Diana joined the Stanfield family in 1928 and John a couple of years later. I’ve often thought how difficult it must have been for my grand-mother (Audrey) in particular in those days, raising a young family in a country with very few amenities and services. But for Pat and her siblings it was a wonderful life. Although other children to play with were few and far between, Pat and her older brother Jim had a wonderful relationship and were the best of friends.

Pat grew up during the Depression and times were hard for everyone. Her family spent some months on the island of Tabar where Grandad (Ernest) was fossicking for gold, because there was no money to be made in copra at the time. I imagine it was a terrific adventure for the kids, and it was at this time that Mum set her heart on becoming a Geologist. This was something she never had a chance to achieve for various reasons, and she regretted this throughout her life.

In 1936, Pat was already fourteen and was behind in her school work for various reasons that were not of her doing. She managed, with the help of schoolmaster Mr MacPherson, to complete the whole of her last year of primary in one term. Not only did she complete this successfully, but she came top of all the candidates, thus winning the only available Scholarship in the whole of New Guinea. This scholarship (which her brother had won previously) was instrumental in allowing her to go to boarding school for her secondary education.

Pat spent three years at Frensham, in Mittagong: the same school that her daughters (Rosalind, Evelyn and Anne) attended in later years. Although she was sad to leave before completing her Leaving Certificate, she was happy to be living once more back at home in New Ireland. But it was not long before her life changed again. With the advent of WWII, her brother Jim enlisted with the Australian Air Force and her father Ernest re-enlisted in the Australian Army. Ernest had served from in both the Australian and Indian Armies in WWI.

Because so many young men were enlisting, there was a shortage of people to undertake the work they previously did. So, at nineteen, Pat found herself the Post Mistress of Kavieng! As with everything she undertook, Pat put all her efforts into ensuring the job was done efficiently. She also acted as the Secretary for the District Officer. During this time, Pat lived in the Kavieng Club and went home to Bolegila Plantation for weekends.

In December 1941, Pat was evacuated from New Ireland, along with her mother and Di and John. She then enlisted with the WAAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force) and undertook her training in Melbourne in mid-winter: a drastic change from tropical New Ireland! She was assigned to the Brisbane office, the site of General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, where she served as a wireless operator. She served in this capacity until the end of the War.

One of the greatest tragedies of Pat’s life occurred in January 1942, when her brother Jim, who was serving with the 455 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, was reported missing, presumed dead. He and his fellow airmen were shot down over Germany. Although they held out hope he would be found, that was never to be. The loss of her brother, who was also her best friend, left a lasting legacy of sadness for Pat. In her last days in particular, she talked of him very often and with much nostalgia.

1946 saw the return of Pat, her mother and siblings to New Ireland. Ernest, her father, had returned immediately after the cessation of hostilities and as soon as it was safe, the rest of the family joined him. The plantation had suffered from the neglect of four years, to say nothing of the intensive bombing. It was a case of starting all over again, much as they had done in 1927. To give an idea of the damage that had occurred, the old plantation house at Bolegila had five unexploded bombs in it.

Pat and Di took on treating the locals for illnesses and injuries that had been left untreated during the time of the Japanese occupation. By far the most common problem was the serious tropical ulcers that needed treatment. In later years, Pat was a dedicated supporter of Medecins Sans Frontieres because she vividly recalled the suffering of those who were denied basic medical care when they needed it.

In 1950, Pat met Peter Murray, and they were married in March 1951. Peter, originally from Perth, Western Australia, had served in the Australian Navy during the Second World War and later served as an officer of the Royal Papuan Constabulary and New Guinea Police Force [sic] briefly from 12 February 1947 until 14 November 1947. He served as an assistant Sub Inspector at Finschhaven  and Rabaul and also as assistant HQ officer at Konedobu. He also served at the War Crimes Trials executions at Rabaul. Together they managed Lossu Plantation for Jim Grose and his mother, Margaret. Three months after Pat married Peter, her sister Di married Jim Grose. While Pat and Peter were living at Lossu, I (Anne) was born in 1952, and then Alastair was born in 1953. Our family were living at Luburua Plantation when Roz was born in 1957, and by the time Eve was born in 1960, we were living at Baia. For the Murray children, Baia remains the home we remember best.

Pat was a remarkable mother to us. She taught all four of us up to the stage where we were ready for secondary schooling. As with all Plantation wives, there was no end to the things she was called on to do. She nursed us when we were ill, and she supervised the first aid treatment of the plantation workers for infections, illnesses and injuries. She ran the trade store. She helped Dad with running the Plantation, particularly with the bookwork side of things. She acted as Dad’s unpaid secretary for his roles in organisations such as the Planters Association and the Masons. Over the many years Dad worked as an Auctioneer in New Ireland, she was his Clerk and undertook all the relevant duties of that position.

Pat managed for much of her life without the things we take for granted today. There was no running water at Baia, nor was there electricity in the early years. The stove was heated with firewood, and Mum was adept at adjusting the damper to ensure the right temperature in the oven for cooking. She cooked some delicious cakes in that old wood fired stove! The fridge ran on kerosene and would occasionally catch alight, causing great ructions in the household! When it was time for us to bathe, the cry “Putim wash-wash” could be heard, and the house staff would fill the bucket shower with hot water heated in a 44 gallon drum over an open fire behind the bathroom. Looking back today I realise how much my mother had to deal with due to the absence of mod-cons. Whilst we children never noticed the inconveniences, she had to deal with them every day, which can’t have been easy.

Going to boarding school meant each of us was parted from our parents for a year at a time. This was hard for us, but undoubtedly hard for Mum too. The only way to keep in touch was by letter and she wrote to each of us every week. Like kids everywhere, we were often cavalier about responding to her letters but we were always so happy to hear from her.

For several years Pat managed a string of Trade Stores for Uncle Jim Grose. This was a demanding job that she approached in her typically responsible way. We can all recall our mother balancing the trade stores’ accounts after dinner at night. If the figures were out by as little as five cents, she would go over and over the numbers until she found it.

With all her children settling in Australia, and Pat and Peter still living at Baia, Pat missed out on the early years of her first grandchildren: Melanie, Bianca and Michael. Luke was only a baby when she and Peter came to live in Australia for good in 1982, and the other grand-children were born after that. Mum was delighted with the arrival of Ben, William, Lucy, Michelle, Georgina and Rosie. She loved her all her grandchildren deeply. In her last few years she had the added joy of great-grandchildren: Bodie, Mayah, Abigail and little Carter.

Pat and Peter lived with me (Anne) for the first three years they were in Australia. Then in 1985 they moved into the little house in Toronto (NSW) that we all knew as “Granny and Grandad’s house”. In the eighties they enjoyed travelling to different parts of Australia and catching up with old friends. In later years when Peter’s health prevented them from moving around, Pat was his chief carer and looked after him with her characteristic conscientiousness.

One of Pat’s favourite activities in her later years was Croquet.  She was passionate about playing Croquet and for several years played three times a week. She was also a Scrabble fanatic and must have played thousands of games throughout her life. When we were children, her main partner in these games was her mother, Audrey. When we were adults, all three of her daughters became avid Scrabble players who enjoyed playing with her. She was unstoppable at Scrabble and, even at the very end of her life, she could still comfortably defeat us on many occasions!

As Pat became aware of her own failing strength and as her ability to cope single-handedly with caring for her household began to wane, she and Peter decided to move into an Aged Care Nursing Home. Pat settled in surprisingly easily, although Peter found it harder to adapt to group living. But as Pat reminded us, she’d been to boarding school and lived in camp at times as a WAAAF, so sharing living with others was not strange to her. I think too that she felt relief at no longer having to take full responsibility for both her care and Dad’s. In the Home, meals were cooked, laundry done and it was someone else’s job to clean the bathroom!

When Peter died in 2006, Mum’s memory was starting to fail. And over the remaining years it continued to do so. But her physical health remained good until the very end. She had a pacemaker fitted to her heart in the later years at Toronto, and this gave her a new lease of life. Then in early 2006, she broke her pelvis after a bad fall in the Nursing Home. From then on she used a walker to help her get around, but until her last breath she never gave up on being as independent as possible.

Pat died in the early hours of the morning of Tuesday 7 May. She felt unwell and the Registered Nurse on duty in the Nursing Home went to call for an ambulance to take her to hospital. Before she returned to the room, Pat had slipped away. Her death was unexpected in some ways, because she had not been ill. However she was ninety years of age, so her passing did not come as a real surprise. It has been a great comfort to us, her family that she did not suffer or endure pain at the end of her life.

Pat is survived by her sister, Di Grose, her four children, her ten grandchildren and her four great grand-children. Pat always felt that New Ireland was “home”, and was never happier than when recalling her life there.

We, her family, miss Pat very much. I like to think that she is waiting patiently now for us to join her for another game of Scrabble. And I’m sure that when we do, she will still beat us hands down!


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