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Byron Shire
April 18, 2021

Vale Norma ‘Nu’ McCabe 1927–2019

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Norma McCabe. Photo supplied.

Eve Jeffery

Norma Reilly was born in Sydney on September 6, 1927, to Ada and Norman.

The middle of three sisters, Margaret and Gwenda, Nu as she came to be known, lived a life revolving around her mother’s faith, their church, and the music within it. The girls became known as The Reilly Sisters, performing for many audiences, including regular radio appearances.

Nu experienced life as a jillaroo and governess in outback Australia, and travelled the world as an air hostess with Ansett Australia. 

In Melbourne in the 50s, Nu met and married John McCabe. They began their family with Fiona, then Iain, Kathryn, and Rebecca. Unsatisfied with life in the city, John answered an ad for a lightkeeper on a remote island, and Nu packed up the family to embark on an isolated ‘lighthouse life’ on South Solitary Island.

Nu took on the role of teacher to her four children, guiding them through schooling, via correspondence.

Other lighthouse lives followed at Montagu Island, then eventually Cape Byron. Nu took the opportunity to obtain her driver licence and got a position as a teachers’ aide at Byron Bay Primary School. This is where Nu really shone. She saw an opportunity to nurture the musical talent of the students and formed the successful and enduring Byron Bay School Choir.

Nu joined musical and theatrical groups. She made lifelong friends and enjoyed all that this beautiful area offered.

After five years John, Nu, and their youngest daughter Rebecca moved to Point Perpendicular, where Nu made more wonderful friends and again worked at the local primary school forming another hugely successful school choir. Nu and John also immersed themselves in the art of Scottish country dancing.

Following John’s retirement, they settled in Mullumbimby. Nu got involved with the CWA, the Music Makers, the Amatori Choir, the Seahorse Singers, Raise the Roof singers, and she remained deeply committed to the church.

Scrabble was also a non-negotiable event at Nu’s house on a Wednesday afternoon. There were not many days on her calendar that did not include a service, a rehearsal, a show, or performance, and it remained so into her 90s – a life well lived.

Nu died peacefully in her room at Byron Aged Care on July 29, 2019, aged 91 years.


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