Monica Cosby, Patricia Keleher and Patsy Weekers get together to mark their arrival in Australia 70 years ago.
Monica Cosby, Patricia Keleher and Patsy Weekers get together to mark their arrival in Australia 70 years ago.

Incredible: How 3 ‘orphans’ forged unbreakable bond in CQ

It is a story of friendship forged between three British orphans bound for Central Queensland that has endured for 70 years.

The first chapter was written in December 1950 when Monica Duff, 13, and five year olds Patricia Davies and Patsy Barratt boarded the passenger ship Esperance Bay bound for Australia.

They were among 22 children sent from England under the Child Migration Scheme to live at Neerkol orphanage, 22km west of Rockhampton.

Monica was charged with looking after the two 'Pats', who were the youngest of the group on the voyage.

Their arrival in Brisbane in February 1951 featured in an article in The Courier-Mail.

Monica, Patricia and Patsy's childhood connection would become an unbreakable bond.

The three women all call Rockhampton home now and, according to Patsy (now Weekers), "have a lot to do with each other".

Patsy said they had also gathered without fail to celebrate "50, 60 and now 70 years in Australia".

 

The British migrant children leaving for Australia on December 23, 1950.
The British migrant children leaving for Australia on December 23, 1950.

It's a time for reflection and celebration given that, amazingly, each of them went onto be reunited with family members.

Monica (now Cosby) spent four years at Neerkol, while Patricia (now Keleher) went on to study at the Range College and pursue a career in nursing.

Patsy, by her own admission, was not academically inclined. She failed to pass scholarship and stayed at Neerkol until she was 18.

"Most of the time when we get together, Neerkol does come up," Patsy said.

"It stays with you and I'm sure it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

"I guess bittersweet is the best way to describe my childhood. There were a lot of sad times but a lot of happy times as well.

"I was very fortunate. They taught me how to sing and I used to go in the eisteddfod and win prizes.

"I also played a lot of sport and used to come into Rockhampton and play basketball.

"They were the two highlights for me - the rest you just had to learn to live with."

Patsy said while at the orphanage, she would spend the Christmas holidays with the Weekers family in Rockhampton.

The Weekers relocated to Biloela and when Patsy finally left Neerkol with "just some clothes in a port and not a cent to my name", were instrumental in helping her find work at one of the town's hardware stores.

Patsy married her husband Julian in December 19, 1971. They had five children but lost son David when he was 28.

 

The story in The Courier Mail about the British orphan migrants when they arrived in Brisbane in 1951.
The story in The Courier Mail about the British orphan migrants when they arrived in Brisbane in 1951.

Monica and Patricia also had families of their own and like Patsy, would eventually meet members of their own birth families.

Monica returned to England in 1998 to meet her mother and three of her four sisters for the first time and Patricia found her brother Joseph, who was living on the Gold Coast.

Patsy was reunited with her sister Barbara in England in 1989.

"When I first met her there were no feelings at all. She looked at me and I looked at her, and it felt like we were just complete strangers," she said.

"Barbara invited me to her house and she showed me the one photo she had of our mother.

"I became very emotional then, my first reaction was 'So I have got a mother, have I?'

"I burst into tears because I had no idea what family I had. We were always told we had no family, that we were orphans.

"I always thought no one belongs to me and I don't belong to anyone, so it was a bit overwhelming at the time.

"We're still in contact now. Barbara's five years older than I am, and just recently had her 81st birthday."

Patsy said her friendship with Monica and Patricia had helped sustain and nourish her.

"We started this journey together," she said.

"Patricia and I are only one month apart and when we were on that ship, Monica was like a mother figure to us. She looked after us and cared for us.

"Both of those women are a treasure to me, and I would do anything for them."



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