Mrs Shirley Mort – a living legend

September 4th, 2016

I like newspapers. Always have. Especially on a lazy weekend with a nice breakfast and a lovely view. Intelligent writing, whether it confirms my views or challenges them, is lapped up and appreciated.

My darling wife views newspapers with more suspicion, regarding them as a defence and barrier against conversation and the intrusions of family. Never happened in my household, no sirree, not in my lifetime.  Nonetheless she holds that view and it has proved hard to dissuade her.

So last weekend chez Buchanan, a funny thing happened. Opening the weekend West to find the usual diet of atrocity, natural disaster and endemic corruption, I started to shake my head. No,no, said Denise, keep going – you’ll find something you’ll like, really like! So I did and I did.

On page 18 of the West Australian of August 27-28 there was an article about Mrs Shirley Mort, marking her retirement from fundraising for the Salvation Army at the callow age of 92. In the course of the last 26 years Shirley has shaken her collection tin on the footbridge between the city train station and Forrest Chase. In the course of that long and faithful service, she has collected (and are you ready for this because if you didn’t read the paper that day you are going to need to sit down) $1,700,000. No, there is no typo – $1.7 million.Let’s try and put that in perspective. That same weekend a house on Forrest St in South Perth was auctioned and passed in with a highest bid of $1.45 million. That’s a pleasant 3/4 bedroom family home on one of the best streets in one of Perth’s best suburbs. Shirley bought that for the Salvos and then some.

And that’s only half of it. Before she climbed up the stairs to stand on that cold overpass day after day, she would have been up in the early hours making sandwiches and soup that she helped to distribute to the homeless on the Salvos soup run. I think, without any exaggeration, she saved some lives and changed  more.

Back in the noughties I treated Shirley’s dogs, so I can tell you first hand that she is just as pleasant and just as unassuming as you might expect. An ordinary person doing something truly extraordinary. She gave my eldest son a cuddly toy. Struck immediately by a lady, even then in her early eighties, who gave so much of herself to help others; I wrote a piece about her in the practice newsletter. It may have had a loyal readership in single figures, but one of my readers walked passed Shirley on the footbridge one day, exclaimed “Oh, you’re the lady he was writing about!”, opened his wallet and put a $100 note in her tin. I have never been able to trace that gentleman, though I would like to, but I thank you sir. As Giovanni Guareschi, the author of the Don Camillo stories, wrote in far more momentous circumstances “then for a moment I thought that rather than an unimportant fool I might be one of some little importance”.

Of course, the other $1,699,900 had nothing to do with me. I haven’t seen Shirley for almost seven years. During which time she will have raised over $450,000 to help the homeless. I’m not sure I’ve spent that time as productively. But surely, surely, Colin, Malcolm, the governor, governor-general or whoever else reads the blog of a suburban vet – give the lady an Order of Australia, name a park after her, name a new suburb after her but for God’s sake (and I am not blaspheming here) do something and do it soon!

Shirley, if you read this: a very happy retirement from my family and all of us at Millpoint.




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