Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Schultz, Mr Alby, MP, Lawrence, Sister Madeleine, Aston, Professor Michael Antony

10:36 pm

Photo of Ursula StephensUrsula Stephens (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As this parliamentary sitting comes to a close, tonight is a night of farewells. I would like to place on the public record my appreciation and regard for the contribution to the parliament that the member for Hume, Alby Schultz, has made. He has been my local member for more than 15 years and I had the honour of being in the House of Representatives today when he made his valedictory speech. Alby and I have shared the stage on many occasions and I wish him and Gloria well, particularly as he faces the big challenges that are ahead of him in the next few months.

More importantly, if I can be so bold, I want to place on the record the extraordinary contribution of a woman who died last week at the age of 110. I am referring, of course, to Senator Back's good friend and mine, Sister Madeleine Lawrence, who died on 16 June. She was the oldest member of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy. It was suggested that the supercentenarian could have been the oldest person in Australia. She was, most certainly, one of the oldest people in the world.

She was born at Black Flat, Notting Hill in Victoria on 8 December 1902, and she certainly saw the world change—from telegrams to mobile phones, ships to space travel and everything in between. It was reported in The Young Witness that she had lived through five major wars, 18 US presidents, five British monarchs and all 27 Australian prime ministers. But she said that none of that was central to her life. In her life of service as a Sister of Mercy she did something quite extraordinary.

Every year for 13 years a group of men would visit Young to pay tribute to the woman who helped raise them in St John's Orphanage in Goulburn. More than 2,000 boys passed through St John's from 1912 until it closed in 1978. Sister Madeleine taught mostly 5th and 6th class students over the 11 years she was at St John's, taking on the role of parent and educator, nurse and administrator in her endeavour to provide a certain quality of life for those at the orphanage. She then went on to the St Joseph's Girls School, where she was the Mother Superior for almost 14 years.

The boys used to visit her every year and many talked about the care and support that she provided for them. 'She loved the boys, and we have always stuck by her,' said one of the old boys, Ken Doyle. 'I have been coming to visit her in Young for years.'

Father Richard Thompson at St Mary's Parish Young said, on behalf of the parish at this sad time, that he offered his deepest condolences to the Sisters of Mercy and Sister Madeleine's family. The Young Witness reported him as saying:

As a community of faith we firmly believe Sister Madeleine is finally in the arms of her saviour, whom she gave her service to for 94 years as a religious sister.

That is amazing. Countless generations have been touched by her special magic, and now countless friends all over the world will mourn her loss.

We have lost someone else—today, in fact. I would like to make reference to him. For those of us who are Time Team fanatics, and watch it with great gusto, I want to acknowledge the fact that Professor Mick Aston, the archaeologist who played such an important role in Time Team, died yesterday. He was an extraordinary person. He was born and raised in Oldbury in the West Midlands and known for the colourful, crazy jumpers he managed to wear for every series of Time Team and for his unruly white hair. He was a unique man and he made an extraordinary contribution. He brought archaeology alive. For all of us who have learnt so much from Time Team, let us acknowledge Professor Aston as a passionate believer in communicating archaeology to the public and bringing it to the masses. Let us hope that he rests in peace. As Laura Tingle tweeted to me today, let us hope that before he is interred they 'do the geophys'.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too was taught by the Sisters of Mercy. Senator Williams, I hope you were taught by the Sisters of Mercy. You have the call.