By: Matthew Lau
As Sr Joan Evans, of the WA Presentation Sisters, went up to receive her Order of Australia medal at Government House, she could only imagine how proud her late mother and grandmother would be.
“My mother has gone for some years now; I know she and my grandmother would be very proud. Both of them were very close to me,” she told The Record.
The Hon Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia, invested Sr Joan at Government House on Friday 7 September 2018.
The esteemed accolade came as a great surprise to the 86-year-old retired religious sister, whose missionary work was never carried out purely in the hope of attaining awards.
“These things aren’t part of my work.”
Sr Joan was made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the international community of Thailand through humanitarian assistance programmes for the disadvantaged, and to improving the lives of women, children and the elderly.
When asked how she felt when accepting her medal from the Governor-General, Sr Joan said she was “just very happy”.
“The 27 years in Bangkok was the cream of it. I was happy, happy, happy, all the way.”
While she endured some tough times and witnessed some upsetting scenes during her charitable work overseas, Sr Joan always placed her trust in the omnibenevolent Lord.
The born-and-bred Perth girl was just 16 when she felt the indubitable call to religious life, a vocation she has devoted her life to for the past 70 years and has no regrets.
“I have never wanted not to be what I have put myself up to do,” she said firmly.
Dealing with people experiencing extreme poverty in the slums of Klong Toey was a far cry from her teaching days in Perth and Geraldton.
Her affinity with the people of Bangkok grew naturally, knowing that God was with her all the way.
“When I was a child I asked to be baptised, I never thought of anything else but that,” she fondly recalled.
“I have given myself to the Lord. That is the truth of it.”
Education was Sr Joan’s core mission as she believed there was a real need to help children and young adults to the point where they can help themselves.
In Thailand, Sr Joan started an infant milk initiative – known as the “Milk Run” – where each fortnight, families in need are provided with milk formula and full cream powdered milk for babies up to 12 months of age.
A key part of Sr Joan’s undertaking involved buying school uniforms, bags and shoes each year so that underprivileged children and young adults could attend school.
Her Fares and Food (2F) project helped struggling families to afford transport costs and meals.
While Sr Joan’s primary focus was education, her days were often filled with ferrying sick people to hospital, helping out with requests for payment of bills or comforting those in the community who were sick or dying.
She also provided food assistance to 90 families each fortnight by providing rice, cooking oil and other essential items.
Sr Joan returned to Perth in 2016. Her volunteers continue a number of her projects unstintingly.
The other four Officers recognised in this year’s Australia’s Queen’s Birthday Honours were: Peter Fitzpatrick AO, Paula Nathan AO, Prof Michael Quinlan AO, and Prof Christobel Saunders AO.
From pages 20 to 21 of Issue 16: ‘Celebrating Women’ of The Record Magazine