Tributes – Vale Marie Standen

Marie Standen

29.03.31 – 25.09.23

I visited Marie in Katoomba Hospital the Wednesday before she died. We had a
great chat about novels we’d both read over many years. There was one thing that
bothered me – her recollection of the fine details of those novels was far better than
mine. But that was Marie – she saw the big picture but didn’t let any of the precise
details escape her eagle eye. At some point her doctor came in. He and Marie talked
– they obviously got on well and she asked him a couple of direct questions. Marie
could be very direct. To his great credit, the doctor answered them.
Then Marie apologised for possibly being a little incoherent. The doctor looked
astounded. I probably did too. He said “But you’re not at all incoherent.” Then he
added “But you should be a bit incoherent. You’ve had so much medication. The
doctor was right. On that Wednesday, Marie was as sharp as a tack and not missing
a trick, just as she always was. She took charge of her life and her death.
As I was leaving, she said to me “You need to get yourself a walking stick” She was
Marie always cared about other people. It was that care and regard for others that
cause her to reject the belief of her new bottom Year 10 class at Kingswood HS
many years ago that they were unable to write a sentence. She cajoled and coaxed
them into writing a sentence and then two sentences and then three and four. She
taught them about the wonders of the full stop and the comma, and being Marie
possibly the semi-colon. She put the structures in place so they could succeed. She
got them writing a paragraph and then two and three. She edited their work
meticulously and she encouraged them and believed in them. She expected them to

succeed. And so they did. Finally everyone in her class wrote an essay. It was this
attitude that she brought to the Blue Mountains Refugee Support.Group: Put
structures in place so that people can succeed, and modify or change those
structures when you need to.
It was this care and regard for others that caused her to dig into her own pockets
when she was Principal of Katoomba High, if she came upon a student whose family
was having difficulty making ends meet. .She always kept a weather eye out for
students who, for whatever reason, were not quite making it and in a practical low-
key way she did everything she could to ensure that they did make it.
She also cared deeply about the plight of refugees in Australia. She had taught them
when she was Deputy Principal at Fairfield High School from 1981-1982. She said in
her memoir:
“It was the time of the boat people from Vietnam and other South-East Asian
countries. The Asian students were the most diligent, respectful and hard-working of
all the nationalities we had there and we had a real international mix.”
But by 2001 Marie, like many others of us, had become very disturbed, by the
increasingly hard line the then government was taking towards refugees fleeing to
Australia. So, she wrote to the Blue Mountains Gazette asking “anyone who felt:as
disgusted as I was with the government’s treatment of refugees to contact me and
together we might effect change. Jim Tulip and his wife, Peggy Goldsmith
immediately contacted me. Of course I received phone calls and threats from people
who did not agree. If you stick your head out, there is sure to be someone wanting to
chop it off. Undaunted we went ahead and organized a meeting in December in the
Lawson Hall.”

Over 150 people attended, and the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group was
formed with Marie as Chairperson
Marie held that position until 2012 and then, for a number of years after that, she
was on the committee. I know it always delighted her to see the way in which the
Support Group evolved and developed over the years and to see it for what it is now
– a hugely successful, flexible, and practical support group and advocate for
refugees and asylum seekers and employing supports and advocacy of every kind –
a systems analyst could use it as a textbook example of democratic organizational
efficacy (to use a bit of the current business speak).
But in 2001 we, the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group committee, were a
motely group functioning during turbulent times – The Tampa scandal, the Children
Overboard Scandal and John Howard’s “We will decide who comes to the country
and the circumstances in which they come.” In the midst of all this were the 9/11
terrorist attacks and the invasion of Iraq by the Allies which has resulted in the
displacement of millions of people. Marie was the perfect chairperson for the times.
She was clear-eyed and direct. She had the big picture and the precise details.
When the enthusiastic committee members needed corralling, Marie would put on
her school principal’s mantle and do it superbly. Refugees were supported and the
Blue Mountains community was made aware of what was really happening. She was
also able to get people on side – every sort of person
Marie got the BMCC on side and the Council have been very good friends to the
BMRSG. I remember on one occasion we had a big event on at the Wentworth Falls
School of Arts. It could have been the 2007 Hypothetical with Frank Brennan as
moderator and a distinguished panel including Dorothy Hoddinnott who is now the

Patron of the BMRSG. Some of Dorothy’s Afghan refugee students from Holroyd
High School were also to speak. They did so, powerfully and poignantly. We were
ready to start, the hall was full. Those who had missed out on seats had packed
themselves into all the aisles. It was a couple of weeks before the 2007 election, and
an emotional time. Suddenly we discovered we couldn’t open the sound box. Marie
phoned Jim Angel, the Mayor, who left another function he was at. He got the sound
box open for us. My memory is that he had to pick the lock.
When the Labour Party came in in 2007, Marie was able to relax a little, but not for
long – there was still much to be done. There still is.
There’s a wonderful cartoon by Katsaukas. It’s on the National Museum Website.
An older woman in a tweed skirt and mauve cardigan is standing at the end of a long
jetty. Through the surging seas, a leaky boat is plunging towards her. It’s packed
with people looking bewildered and distressed. The woman at the end of the jetty is
holding out her arms and saying:
“I know it’s extremely unAustralian, but I’d like to welcome you to these shores.”
That woman could have been Marie, and others like her.
Marie died a couple of weeks before the referendum, but she talked about the
referendum with visitors during her final weeks. She had a bit of an inkling that things
might not go well. But I know what her attitude would be now: “This way hasn’t
worked so we’ll find another way that will work and we’ll get done what needs to be
After all, Marie was the young bride, who arrived at Cathcart Public School where
her husband, Col, was to be principal. Cathcart is south-west of Tantawangalo and

south-east of Bibbenluke in the Monaro. Marie discovered that if they wanted to eat
meat, she would have to learn to butcher a sheep. This she did in a fashion
“Fortunately, soon after our arrival, the Physical Education Adviser made her annual
visit and as her father was a butcher, she showed me how to make a better job of it.”
Col and Marie were soon informed that, in Cathcart, it was the teacher’s job to lay
out the dead. With Marie’s encouragement, Col accomplished his first laying out: an
“The Bombala carpenter made the coffin. He was a sensitive man who could only
perform this task when full of rum. Back to Cathcart the rum-fuelled party came and
finally got the deceased into her coffin and into the Catholic church.”
Throughout her life, Marie got on and did what needed to be done.
Marie was a champion of human rights for all of us. She was unstoppable and
unforgettable. In one way or another she’ll always be here with us.
Liz Wong
Committee member BMRSG 2001-2012