By Caroline Smith and Father John Gandini SDB
The life of Ethel (Judy) Mullan – who died in March this year – was one of service and variety, with a nursing career that took her around the world and into a number of Australia’s rural communities, and was followed in retirement by a supporting role at a number of parishes across Perth and in South Australia, notably St Joachim’s Catholic Church in Victoria Park.
Mrs Mullan’s funeral was held on 23 March at St Vincent Pallotti Chapel in Rossmoyne, where Mass was concelebrated by Frs John Gandini SDB, Ray Hevern SAC and John Flynn SAC, who was chaplain at the nearby nursing home where Judy had been resident for five years.
Ethel Mullan, also known as Judy, was born in the Wheatbelt town of Narrogin on 11 August 1918 to farming couple, William and Ethel Mullan (nee Farr).
After completing her schooling with the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, Judy moved to Perth to become a nurse, training in three WA towns: Wooroloo, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie. In 1940, she graduated from Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital as a fully trained nurse, and registered the following year in Perth.
From the beginning of her nursing career, travelling was central to Judy, starting with her move to Melbourne in 1942 to work at St Vincent’s Hospital, where she also gained a midwifery qualification three years later. While there, she also worked with renowned war surgeon, Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop.
In 1947, Judy travelled to India as a ship sister, and worked at St George’s Hospital in Mumbai (Bombay) on Operation Theatre duty, before moving to the UK in 1949.
Later that year, she worked for some time at the Holbaek Hospital in Denmark, before returning to England where she worked in Gloucestershire, and did two stints at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London in the early and mid-1950s.
Between these two, she returned to Australia and was listed as a registered nurse in New South Wales (NSW) in 1952.
After completing her second appointment at St Bart’s in 1955, Judy moved to Canada where she worked at Toronto East General Hospital (now Michael Garron Hospital), and where she underwent major surgery for breast cancer.
She returned to Australia shortly afterwards, and was then posted to the Pacific Island of Nieu for one year. During this time, Judy was required to take full responsibility for the local hospital there, after its local medic was killed in a car accident and they were waiting for a replacement.
Returning to Australia, she took up a position at the Ballarat Base Hospital in Victoria from August 1959 through to October 1960, before moving back to WA where she spent the remainder of her career, except for a third stint in London in 1968 and 1969.
She was Matron at the District Hospitals in Broome (1960-61), Carnarvon (1961-1968), Onslow (1970), Wyndham (1970-71), Exmouth (1971) and Dampier (1971-1973). Her nursing career ended at Mt Henry Hospital in South Perth, where she had been Assistant Matron from 1973 to 1978.
Her time working in rural WA was by no means without adventure, as Judy encountered sometimes curious health problems and adverse conditions that required quick thinking and resolve: on one occasion, she delivered a baby mid-flight on board a Royal Flying Doctor Service plane.
Upon retiring in 1978, Judy settled in the Perth suburb of Victoria Park, where she bought a small unit. However, she would continue to work as an active member of the community; in particular, through her service to the Salesian priests who had established a presence at St Joachim’s in 1985. From this time onwards, she prepared meals at the presbytery and occasionally did the shopping and cleaning for the priests – all done free of charge, as Judy viewed this service as being God’s will. She had also provided similar support for Fathers from the Missionary Society of St Paul.
Taking up the challenge of presbytery duties in providing meals on a daily basis for the priests proved to be no easy task. To facilitate her in the effort, she purchased the very best of kitchen utensils, including a set of Rena Ware cookware, Portmeirion dinnerware, Royal Albert fine bone tea ware and Waterford crystal ware.
Her cooking would extend into entertaining for her retired nursing friends, with whom she would organise dinner parties and high afternoon teas.
Whenever she had to entertain, she would wear her Pringle knitware, her beautiful Italian Salvatore Ferragamo” leather shoes, carry with pride and joy her Oroton leather handbag and, if this were a summer event, she would wear her Liberty of London cotton fabric tailor-made dress, most of these items purchased at the local David Jones department store.
Judy’s nursing expertise would also prove to be a blessing on many occasions for her ‘boys’, as she would say. But her main effort was for the parish in Victoria Park, providing an invaluable service to the clergy until her health would no longer permit her to do so.
Faith was a constant and integral part of Judy’s life: she was a daily Mass attendant from her time at boarding school in Narrogin. While working at St Vincent’s in Melbourne, she would attend and sometimes service Mass in Latin at the hospital chapel or visit any of the other cathedrals or churches in the city.
Daily Rosary and prayer were also close to her heart; in particular, the Thirty Days’ Prayer. She was also most generous with her Mass offerings to the Kimberley Native Mission. This, too, she would say was another way of supporting the priests.
As well as her work at St Joachim’s presbytery, Judy provided support to many clergy throughout Perth, at Good Shepherd Parish in Kelmscott, St Cecilia’s in Floreat and Our Lady of the Assumption in Dianella. From 1992 to 1995, she provided care for parish priest of the St John Bosco Parish in Brooklyn Park, South Australia, Fr John Gandini SDB.
“She didn’t count the cost or sacrifice when it came to helping others and would often go without, never complaining about her own personal health or other problems, to make life better for those she cared for,” Fr Gandini said.
“She would always say that the priests were neglected in so many ways and that it was the people’s duty to provide for their well-being.”
With the departure of the Salesian priests from St Joachim’s in 2006, Judy returned to her unit for a rest. During those years, Fr John, who had been for so long a beneficiary of her generous service, then had the opportunity of reciprocating that generosity while attending to the Chaplaincy at Curtin University.
In 2011, when she could no longer manage with the professional care and assistance provided by the Silver Chain Nursing Home Service in the unit, she took up residence at the Southern Cross Care Catholic Nursing Facility in Rossmoyne called Margaret Hubery House, and it was there that her long and generous life came to a close earlier this year.
During her final years, Judy never complained about her weakening health, but was joyful and appreciative of the care she received. Although she could no longer prepare her favourite recipes, she was happy to spend time with friends talking about her earlier experiences and adventures.
The highlight of these years was the celebration of her 90th birthday on 11 August 2008 surrounded by her few surviving relatives and friends. She was given a Papal Blessing to celebrate this milestone and to acknowledge her many generous years of service.
Apart from her many journeys while nursing, she was also well travelled for recreational purposes, often connected to her faith. This included penitential pilgrimages to Croag Patrick (County Mayo), Ireland’s Holy Mountain and Lough Derg (County Donegal), and St Patrick’s Purgatory.
She also visited Rome with her mother for the Holy Year in 1950, and went to Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play, as well as to Italy, Malta, New Zealand, Switzerland and the UK several times, visiting those friends she had met over the years.
She also took great pride in telling her friends that she had walked the Milford Track in New Zealand. Other recreational pursuits included monthly concerts put on by the WA Symphony Orchestra, for which she had an annual season ticket.
Apart from spending most of her twilight years in prayer with her daily Mass and devotions, she would entertain residents and staff, many of whom she had worked with in the north of WA, with her memories and share a laugh with them about the many interesting adventures of her nursing career and the years spent caring and supporting ‘her’ priests.
She always looked forward to visits from her close friends and phone calls from those who were unable to do so and was moved and delighted by the visit from the Archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe SDB, whom she had known from her time at St Joachim’s when he was the resident parish priest.
He came to see her and comfort her with his prayers shortly before her passing.
Ethel Mullan was laid to rest in the Fremantle Cemetery, overlooking the great Indian Ocean she had so widely travelled in the almost 98 years of her lifetime.