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July 16, 2024

Religious icons depicting Holy Family bequeathed to St Johns Catholic church

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The two 116-year-old icons of the Holy Family, pictured with Parish Priest, Father David Gilbey and Ros Elliot, have been bequeathed to St Johns Catholicchurch in Mullumbimby. Photo Jeff Dawson

‘You silly bugger, I was born there in the little grey hospital in Dalley Street, and baptised in the Catholic church!’

That was the response from Monie Elliott, (nee Buckett) when local resident Ros Elliott and her former partner purchased property at Durrumbul, Mullumbimby in 1979 then rang Ros’s mum in McLaren Vale South Australia with the news.

Ros had always thought her mum was from Tweed Heads, but in fact the Buckett family had rented a property at the end of Tandys Lane overlooking the wallum, the heath, Simpsons Creek and, in the distance was the lighthouse. Michael John Buckett was a horse breaker and trainer, and used to ride through the heath and the creek to train his latest horse on the beach. He also worked on dairy farms in the area. Then the idea to grow bananas further north saw the family pack up for the long slow trip to Gympie Queensland.

Return to Tweed

The Great Depression hit banana sales hard and the family had to walk off their not-yet-fruiting banana crop as there was just no money in it for them. They returned to Tweed Heads to camp on the beach until a rental house could be found after the holiday season saw the tourists depart. Monie then lived in Tweed Heads, attended the Catholic primary school run by nuns there, and then high school at Murwillumbah. Monie’s dad was tragically killed in the early 1930s and her mother, Cecily, was left to raise four children with no income support whatsoever. Monie left high school as soon as she could, aged 15, to start work and contribute money to the family to help her hardworking mum. She worked in hospitality and made her way up to bartending in the Grande Hotel in Coolangatta, which became a favourite drinking place during the war years as soldiers from the US and Australia would have their leave in Brisbane and come down to Coolangatta. Monie met a young fellow from McLaren Vale, South Australia, and after the war was over, and he returned from Borneo, they married and she traveled to his home town by train. They then had three daughters and Monie lived there until her passing in March this year aged 101.

The old Catholic church in Mullumbimby where Monie was baptised.
Photo supplied

Little Monie Buckett was born in 1923 at what her family called the ‘nursing hospital’ on the corner of Dalley and Tyagarah streets in Mullumbimby. Her Irish ancestry family were devoted Catholics and Monie was baptised in the old church up the hill from the current St Johns Catholic church.

Monie’s grandmother, Ellen Morrissey (nee Fitzgerald) lived in Goonellabah and had 14 children. When Monie’s mum, Cecily, got her first job and pay packet in 1908 she purchased for her mum two large religious icons of the Holy Family.  Grandma Morrissey had these until her passing in 1916 and then Cecily had them until her own passing in 1975.

Monie was already a mother of three children when she travelled from McLaren Vale to Tweed Heads for Cecily’s funeral, where she saw the religious pictures leaning outside. She asked her brother what he was doing with them, and she took them back to SA so they wouldn’t end up in the bin.

The return

By then the Holy Family icons had lost their wooden surrounds, and they were rolled up for safe keeping. Over the last decade Ros has regularly driven down to McLaren Vale to live with her elderly mum. Monie asked Ros to frame the Holy Family and to put them in the car and drive them back to Mullumbimby. Monie’s request was, ‘When something happens to me, I want you to ring the priest at St Johns Mullum and ask if the Holy Family can be hung in the church with an accompanying plaque.’

In late March, after Monie’s funeral, Ros contacted the St Johns Catholic church to put this request to them to bequeath the pictures.

They were very responsive to the idea and the pictures will be hung somewhere suitable in the parish, for which Monie’s family are very thankful.

The pictures have traveled a long way already, and these 116- year-old prints of the Holy Family are finally on display where little Monie started her life, and her devout adherence to her Catholic Christian life.

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