It seems there isn’t a community group in the town of Warren that hasn’t been touched by the caring hand of Ascham Old Girl Pat Irving (Walker 1951). In recognition of this significant contribution, earlier this year Pat was awarded a prestigious Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the community of Warren. From boarding at Ascham in the post-War years, to her leadership roles in the CWA and other community organisations, Pat shared her life story with us.
Twelve-year-old Patricia Walker started boarding at Ascham in 1947. Young Pat had a happy yet somewhat lonely and isolated childhood growing up near Mullaley, beyond Gunnedah, during World War II. Petrol rationing meant that there was only one trip to town per month. Clothes rationing meant that her mother had to save and borrow coupons to ensure she had enough to buy her new Ascham school uniform. Attending primary school via correspondence meant the opportunities to interact with other children were rare, and when she arrived at Ascham she had never before seen the inside of a classroom. Learning about life by reading books, Pat found that the move to boarding school was not quite the ‘Enid Blyton experience’ she expected, and yet she soon found her way, appreciating the opportunity to learn and mix with others of the same age.
Throwing herself into life at Ascham, Pat participated in athletics, played Tildesley Tennis, and adapted to the Dalton Plan using the independent learning skills she had developed from correspondence schooling. She thrived and in her final two years earnt a place on the School Committee. Unfortunately, her hopes to attend university, were dashed in her final year of school when her father died. She returned home to help her mother and younger sister on the farm as soon as she had completed her Leaving Certificate. After some years on the land, Pat moved back to Sydney where she studied to be a Tresillian (mothercraft) nurse in Vaucluse. Then followed some busy years helping families with their babies. She met her husband, David Irving, who had been a bomber pilot in the War, through mutual friends. Coincidentally, David’s mother and cousin had attended Ascham. In 1956 David and Pat married and moved to Warren.
It was not long after the move to Warren that Pat’s entry into the world of community service began. She chuckles remembering her stern mother-in-law taking her to her first Country Women’s Association (CWA) meeting. At the time the CWA was the main point of social interaction and connection for country women. It wasn’t long before the skills Pat developed as Secretary of the School Committee at Ascham were noticed, and she became Secretary for the Warren CWA branch. Pat said ‘I gravitated towards being Secretary as it was something I could do. I had experience and knew about meeting procedure.’
For over 50 years now, Pat has been an integral part of the CWA. In addition, she has been heavily involved with: the Warren Voice Interest Education for Women (VIEW) Club, where she was also Secretary; the Warren Show, where her ongoing organisation and contributions have seen her become Patron of the Warren Show Society; the Warren Hospital Auxiliary, where she sat on the Board; and the Warren Information Centre, for which she was responsible for setting the rosters, amongst other duties. Pat has also helped with other local endeavours, such as starting a recycling team in town and organising a bus that took blood donors to the Red Cross receival centre in Dubbo.
It’s evident that Pat is passionate and cares about her local community from the number of different groups she has served in. Her involvement with the CWA has been the most significant—she was elected to the State Executive for nine years, holding three different positions. Locally she held positions of Secretary, Treasurer and President in the Warren CWA branch for many years.
Throughout this time Pat also raised four children, Jane, Stephanie, Gordon and Audrey and supported her husband David on the farm. In the 1980s, when her children were older, she took the opportunity to study at university and fulfil the dream of obtaining a tertiary education, thwarted so many years prior. She now has two degrees, which she completed by correspondence—a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Social Science from the University of New England. Pat credits her study success to skills developed as a child learning by correspondence, as well as the discipline of the Dalton Plan at Ascham.
Pat is now 88 and lives on the same family property in Warren, with her son Gordon running the farm. Pat says she and her husband David sent each of their four children to different schools, to suit their individual personalities. Her daughter Jane O’Brien attended Ascham, graduating in 1976. Jane’s daughter Caroline Bowen (2003) also attended Ascham.
With her four children still in touch regularly, 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild, the many friends she has made in the Warren community and beyond, and now the recognition of an OAM, Pat is right to reflect that she has had a ‘great life’. Congratulations Pat!
Skye Barry (Edwards 1994)