Wed, 10 Feb, 2016
Mother goes on 15,000km journey to find war hero son’s grave
Louise Evans is a journalist and over a 30-year career Louise has worked around the world as a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and media executive. She’s been lucky to report on many great events and amazing people. But she never imagined one of the best stories she’d ever uncover would be hidden within her own family.
What would you do if you had 10 children and your abusive, gambling husband abandoned you and the kids with no means of support?
It was 1955 and after 30 years in a loveless marriage, Brisbane mother Thelma Healy could no longer live on her wits and the handful of shillings her negligent husband occasionally flung her way to feed and clothe their large brood.
So Thelma decided to take the then extraordinary step of going to court to claim maintenance and to weather the considerable shame it caused.
The case was a scandal of true tabloid proportions. The courtroom was heaving with sweaty spectators crammed into the stalls at the Brisbane Summons Court to hear salacious details of the neglect and beatings Mick Healy, a pious Catholic and bank manager, inflicted on his long-suffering wife and kids.
The story was splashed across the newspapers. It was shocking but Thelma won and for the first time in her married life she had a regular income to buy bread and milk, socks and shoes.
But Thelma wasn’t done fighting. She started saving for her life mission: to embark on a 15,000km solo voyage to Korea to find the grave of her war hero son Vincent, who died in uncertain circumstances fighting the communists in the Korean War.
The scandalous details of Thelma Healy's court case was fodder for the newspapers
Thelma Healy's solider son Vince on leave in Tokyo after World War II
Brisbane-born international journalist Louise Evans details the extraordinary life journey of Thelma Healy in a new non-fiction book Passage to Pusan.
Over a 30-year career Louise has worked around Australia and around the world as a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and media executive. She’s been lucky to report on many great events and amazing people. But she never imagined one of the best stories she’d ever uncover would be hidden within her own family.
Thelma Healy is Louise’s grandmother, who died when Louise was eight. The trigger to writing the book was reading Thelma’s travel diary which details in graphic page-turning detail Thelma’s brave self-funded journey to war-torn Korea in 1961 to say good-bye to her son.
It took Louise two years to research Thelma’s life from her origins in the quaint Brisbane bayside village of Sandgate to the civil unrest of Pusan (now Busan) in Korea where Thelma’s first-born son was buried in cold, foreign soil.
Passage to Pusan's heroine Thelma Healy holds her treasured travel diary in front of a picture of her beloved son Vince
Passage to Pusan takes you back to a time when life was tough, when war in Japan, Korea and Vietnam dominated the news, when food was rationed, when air raid sirens sounded over night skies and the threat of Japanese invasion and communist aggression was on Australia’s doorstep.
Compared to today’s generation of have everything, Passage to Pusan takes you back to the days of have less and have nothing, when people grew vegetables and raised chickens in the backyard to survive, when recycling was a necessity and a trip to the pictures was a great treat.
Thelma’s big family lived in rented old wooden Queenslander, the verandah was converted into bedrooms to accommodate her large brood, washing was done in the copper, wet clothes were dried on wire slung between wooden poles, perishable food was stored in the ice chest and the radio was the only post-dinner entertainment.
The book also takes you into the inspiring world of Thelma Healy, a strong, brave, loving and resilient woman to whom family was everything.
Thelma almost lost the will to live when her brave son Vince, her golden-haired boy, the father the rest of the kids never had, was killed in 1951. But she vowed that before she died she would find his grave and hopefully find some peace.
It took her another 10 years of slaving and saving before she had enough money to embark on that journey of a lifetime. She feared for what she might find and yet feared she might not find what she sought.
Passage to Pusan is an uplifting story of struggle, survival, resilience and redemption.
It is also a reminder of the character of people who helped make Australia great.
Passage to Pusan author and journalist Louise Evans
Passage to Pusan is now on sale, online and on Facebook.
To read more or to purchase the book visit the Passage to Pusan website here.
To see more pictures from the book, click on the Passage to Pusan Facebook page here.
To contact the publisher PB Publishing email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 03 5428 2201.
To watch Major General Paul McLachlan, AM, CSC, launch the epic new book Passage to Pusan by international journalist Louise Evans click here