Welcome, strangers: Queen’s Birthday honour for asylum seeker advocate
When Sister Brigid Arthur was a teacher at schools in Melbourne’s west, from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s, she was moved by the resilience of local immigrant families.
She saw that with help from the community, they could not just survive but thrive.
It’s something she’s seen with many of the thousands of asylum seekers she’s assisted over the past 30 years.
One young woman who came from a wartorn country in 2017 as a teenager, with little education, is now studying for a master’s degree and works in medical research, which was “an amazing turnaround”, Arthur said.
Arthur, an 87-year-old Brigidine nun, has been recognised for her work with an AO (Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia) in the 2022 Queen’s Birthday Honours.
She has been regularly visiting detention centre inmates since 2000, and in 2001 she co-founded the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project.
Thanks to donations and volunteers’ work, the project provides accommodation, food, employment, financial support and help with visa applications.
For the past 20 years, Arthur has also acted as a litigation guardian – someone appointed by a court to represent vulnerable individuals – for minors in immigration detention and in juvenile justice centres.
Recently, she assumed the role for a group of young people seeking a judgment that the former environment minister had a duty of care to young people because of the effects of climate change.
She was also a litigation guardian in cases advocating for the rights of Indigenous minors in prison.
The Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project’s motto is from the Gospel of Matthew (25:35): “I was a stranger, and you made me welcome”.
Arthur explains it: “We believe that if you’re going to really be Christian, then you must be kind to the outsiders and the vulnerable people.”
Would she ever retire? She laughs. “I’m happy to work while I can work.”
What motivates her? “A certain stubbornness, probably, that there are a lot of things wrong and while we can do something about them, we shouldn’t give up, we should do it.
“I think I’m motivated by the fact that no one of us, and no one organisation or government, has the right to set up structures and adopt policies that are really cruel and that often don’t recognise that the people who are being victimised by those structures and policies are quite vulnerable and need to be protected and not punished.”
Seven decades fighting fires for the Emerald community
When Graeme Legge was 15 he called the Emerald Fire Brigade to put out a fire at the edge of his family’s property which was quickly becoming unmanageable.
An estate agent, a house painter, a farmer and a nursery worker arrived in the firetruck, and they soon had the blaze at the Dandenong Ranges property under control.
“They were ordinary people who supported one another when the fire siren went off,” Legge said. “And I thought, that is an organisation well worth supporting.”
That was the same year he decided to join the fire brigade. Now 86, Legge has spent seven decades serving the community as a volunteer firefighter.
His passion for helping the community has extended well beyond the fire brigade. He has volunteered for Ambulance Victoria, Scouts Victoria and served on various community committees. He’s even written a book on the history of ambulance service in Emerald.
Legge is also president and founding member of the Emerald and District Ambulance Auxiliary, which was set up in the 1980s after the brigade and residents became concerned with the sometimes hour-long wait for the ambulances to be dispatched from Ferntree Gully.
As a teacher, if Legge was in class when the fire siren went off, the principal, PE teacher or librarian would step in and take over his class.
“That sort of support is wonderfully encouraging,” he said.
After 40 years of teaching, Legge retired and turned his focus to council work. He worked as a councillor for 15 years at Cardinia Shire Council, and served as Mayor for three terms.
Today, there are no signs of slowing down for Legge. He conducts monthly church services, runs meetings for the Ambulance Auxiliary, sits on various committees and in his remaining spare time he is also a Justice of the Peace.
He is still driven by the power of community that inspired him all those years ago.
“People working together can achieve all sorts of things,” he said.
Community sport volunteer honoured for swimming, tenpin bowling duties
Jamie Taafe learnt to swim at Sunshine pool as a child and for the past 58 years the place has been a part of his life.
Taafe, 67, who has held many volunteer roles at Sunshine Swimming Club, including being its president since 1996, can still be found poolside at the now Sunshine Leisure Centre every Sunday, 34 weeks a year.
He helps organise, and is the starter for, swimming races for young people aged from six to 18 years.
He says the idea is “to give every swimmer an opportunity to succeed”, but also for swimming to be a social as well as physical outlet for them, just as it has been for him.
Taafe and his wife, Dee, still have friends they met at the club 40 years ago.
It’s not Taafe’s only voluntary interest – he is also the chair of Tenpin Bowling Victoria.
And so in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, Taafe receives the OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia in the General Division) “for service to swimming, and to tenpin bowling”.
An unusual combination, but he says he loves helping people participate in two sports you can play all your life.
Taafe, a retired financial accountant, said he felt humbled, surprised and grateful at the Queen’s Birthday honour.
He grew up less than one kilometre from the-then outdoor 50-metre Sunshine pool, in Melbourne’s west. There are now two 25 metre pools – one outdoor and one indoor.
Jamie’s father, Tom Taafe, was the swimming club president for 25 years and the club rooms are named after him. Jamie was a club member from 1963 at age nine.
He raced and trained there from the age of 11, and as a teenager he worked as a lifeguard at the pool. Roles he’s held since at the club include publicity officer, learn-to-swim co-ordinator and water polo organiser.
Taafe met his wife, Dee, also a competitive swimmer, in 1976 at a ball organised by district swimming clubs. The couple started helping run junior sport after their own two children, Jason and Kirsten, began racing at Sunshine pool.
The couple started helping organise tenpin bowling after their kids started playing that sport at the now-defunct Sunshine Bowl.
Taafe’s involvement in tenpin bowling has risen from local to national level and he has accompanied Australian junior bowling teams to compete overseas. He reckons that community engagement “gives you a few more years on your life span” but he also realised that sport wouldn’t function without someone organising it. “Somebody needs to do it.”
He said getting an honour was hard to put into words. “It’s not the reason we volunteer, but I’m certainly honoured and grateful that my peers thought enough of me to nominate me for the award.”
Mystery of one leg in the grave, and other cemetery tales
In an old cemetery in Melbourne’s north there’s a grave that contains a leg, and nothing else.
Researcher Beryl Patullo explains that in 1865, either through accident or illness, a woman’s leg was amputated.
The limb is listed in the burial record of Will Will Rook Pioneer Cemetery, in Campbellfield, in Melbourne’s north. The woman – sans one leg – moved to northern Victoria and was buried there, more than 40 years later.
Patullo doesn’t know why the leg was buried. In elegant script, the register names the burial as ‘Mrs Duttons leg’. “Maybe they weren’t certain she would survive, so they booked the grave ready.”
It’s one of the many stories that Patullo has discovered at Will Will Rook Pioneer Cemetery.
For her volunteer work as secretary and treasurer of the Friends of Will Will Rook Pioneer Cemetery, Patullo received a Medal in the General Division of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Burial records of the cemetery, dating from the early 1850s to the 1940s, were thought to be lost until Patullo pushed for Hume City Council to find them in their archives in 2019.
Patullo also found the cemetery’s cash transaction book in private hands, via an appeal in a newspaper.
The Friends group made storyboards at the cemetery about its history and people, and wrote a booklet about the 1600 known burials. They are still discovering others. Patullo runs a Facebook page and leads cemetery walks.
Among stories from burial records is how in the early 1900s the family of two local brothers, who died in the Western Australian goldfields, paid for their bodies to be exhumed, brought them home to Melbourne and buried them with their relatives at Will Will Rook.
Also exhumed, after an inquest but before a police investigation, was a baby girl whose body had been found on a Broadmeadows street in 1878. Animals had dragged it from a secret burial place on a farm. A young local girl was found to be the baby’s mother.
Patullo, of Thomastown, first came to the cemetery in the early 1980s while researching her husband’s Scottish ancestors, 25 of whom are buried here. She became secretary of the Friends group in 2013.
Researching the cemetery and local history has become a good hobby and it’s satisfying helping people find information about ancestors, which she does for free.
“I liken it to being a detective. You like to find out that little piece that’s missing,” Patullo said. Receiving the honour was a surprise. “It’s not something I ever expected to get. But I am quite honoured”.
Patullo’s husband, Lindsay Patullo, also receives an OAM in the 2022 Queen’s Birthday Honours, for his volunteer work with disability support and Freemasons groups.