August 4th, 2023Sharing your stories …
with Simone Kaplan
TRENTHAM’S Mary Walsh describes herself as a simple Irish girl, from a farming family, in Brideswell. She doesn’t like talking about herself and her mum used to say “self praise is no praise”. Even still, we had so much to talk about and the essence and wisdom of Mary Walsh was abundant.
Mary, 90, and a mother of nine and grandmother of 21, lives in the Walsh family
home on Railway Farm, built by her late husband Tom’s grandfather. After marrying
Tom in 1963, Mary moved into the house and they were happily married for 60 years
until his passing in 2018.
Mary possessed a unique sense of confidence and independence as a young woman, long before the feminist movement gained momentum.
Mary was inspired by her neighbours who were doctors. Although she couldn’tpursue medicine, she saw nursing as the next best thing. She studied nursing in Manchester, England and then went on to study midwifery in Winchester.
Although Mary’s parents would have loved for her to continue farming on their property, Mary had a drive for adventure and persisted with her dream.
After nursing studies, Mary’s peers were all travelling abroad to work. Mary applied for a job at the old Kyneton Hospital and after six weeks travel by ship, landed in her new town. Mary loved Australia and appreciated the lifestyle, job opportunities and wonderful people.
She started her career as a midwife bringing babies into the world and completed her nursing years working in palliative care – the full life cycle. Her favourite was caring and looking after the dying – she called it “soul work”. For her, providing a friendly touch and giving hope was incredibly rewarding. Mary’s faith, believing in the hereafter, assisted with this and gave her an inner strength.
During her early career, as a curious young woman, Mary also took opportunity to join the Flying Doctors in Queensland for seven months or so, when she was 23 years old. She describes it as “quite an experience”. And if it was a different time, Mary would have gone back to study as a mature age student and complete medicine.
Mary loves drumming up a conversation up with anyone in Trentham, always opening with “Do you live in Trentham?” – getting to know locals and tourists alike.
She fondly recalls a lovely encounter when she missed a train in Woodend one day, making a lifelong new friend.
Mary’s attention to detail of people’s names is remarkable, even at 90 years young. She has the art of making people feel special by showing genuine interest in them and their stories.
Mary appreciates her upbringing and feels her Irish values were a beautiful foundation on which she launched. In her “old fashioned village”, her mother always encouraged visiting people for a cup of tea. And Mary loves it when people pop around without rushing. “People don’t do this enough anymore.”
Being friendly, welcoming and having a warm house was central to life. Her heritage instilled you “can’t go with your hands by your sides” – always remembering to take something and not go empty handed to visit someone.
After returning to Ireland for a visit after 20 years away, Mary remembers the traditional food – bacon, cabbage and potato – and recalls how much she loved it.
“Nobody cooks like that.”
Mary’s late husband brought into the house Irish music and philosophy. Mary enjoyed and encouraged this, even though she says she’s not musical herself.
Mary met Tom at a dance in Kyneton. Although they connected and he showed interest, Mary had the opportunity to go on a work adventure and did this before reuniting and getting married.
Mary describes Tom as kind, very special, a gentle soul and a farmer. She loved their time relaxing around their farm kitchen, dirty boots and all.
They did some travelling and Mary really appreciates how Tom organised these trips. She feels her strengths lie in the kitchen at home where “meals are important”.
Like any relationship, the marriage wasn’t all rosy “hills and winds” but the values of empathy, patience, communication and being serious and committed, allowed them 60 years of fond memories. Mary states it was a “joy looking after Tom” when he was unwell with osteo-arthritis after knee surgery. He died at home with her.
Tom and Mary tried to give the kids every opportunity during their childhood. They worked very hard and were social. They would sit in their “big room” lounge around the fire and enjoy music with lots of people.
There were usually at least five kids home at any one time. Some were at boarding school and the other children visited aunts and friends for the holidays.
When the kids were young Mary had a lovely woman who helped the busy household. The kids’ school friends and acquaintances were always welcome if they didn’t have anywhere to stay. It really was a welcome place.
“I always loved entertaining, cooking and gardening. Taking time to set the table nicely. People are my forte, they are everything.”
Mary says ageing is teaching her “acceptance”. Back issues are getting in the way now but she has “to accept my lot”. She has learnt with age, to accept others’ hospitality, something which she found difficult when younger. She loves the odd overnight stay with friends and appreciates being taken care of so well.
Sitting in the sun in the garden is also lovely on a sunny Trentham day, Mary says. Her passion in life remains offering help to others, being generous and caring. Smiles, Mary says, are important. “They light you up and show people you are friendly and warm. I love being greeted by a smile.”
Take homes from Mary: A cup of tea breaks down everything; Be yourself; Be grateful for the
small things; Get into people’s hearts; Always say nice things; It’s about the people and
places; and Deal with things as they come.
Writer Simone Kaplan wants to hear and share stories of love and connection, accomplishment and meaning and death and loss. “I’m always curious about people and love getting to know their stories. The region seems to attract people with such a wealth of knowledge, experience and backgrounds and I’m excited to have a cup of tea and a chat with some locals to hear their story.”