Know thy Friend: Pat Mavromatis

Pat Mavromatis

Peter Jones, Tasmania Regional Meeting

Pat Mavromatis comes from an illustrious Quaker ancestry as her great-great-grandfather, Henry Propsting (originally a Congregationalist from Middlesex), came out to Van Diemen’s Land as a convict around 1834 his offence was stealing two geese which had attacked him when crossing a common and having met James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, joined the small Hobart Meeting in 1836 where he became an elder. He spread his genes far and wide with 28 children from two wives and one of his daughters, Eliza, was Pat’s great grandmother. Henry ran into trouble for “marrying out” when he married his second wife, Hannah Cater, but soon afterwards, Quakers decided to drop this prohibition once English Friends had done so in 1859. Henry was subsequently part of the committee that organised the setting up of The Friends’ School (1887) and died in 1901 on his 91st birthday. One of his sons, William Propsting, became Premier of Tasmania (1903-4), continuing the family association with the Friends’ School.

 Pat’s mother, Nancie Hewitt, was originally a Methodist like her husband, Jack, but influenced by Bill Oats (headmaster of The Friends’ School from 1945 to 1972), became a Quaker. As a little girl, Pat attended the Hobart Meeting at the original Meeting House in Murray Street before it moved to its present site in North Hobart in 1972. Born in 1940, Pat was a boarder at the school for a while, when her mother was ill, and finished her studies there in 1956. She went on to study mothercraft then took up nursing before heading to England to take up midwifery in Oxford and Winchester.

 Pat attributes her career with children to enjoying books on children in other countries, especially the Jungle Doctor books by Paul White. She had met a well known Friend, Lucy Burtt (who had worked in China for many years), when she visited Hobart and later took up her offer to spend two terms at Woodbrooke College in Birmingham in 1964. Returning home via the United States she met with American Friends and undertook child health training. Offering her service to the London based Friends Service Council, she took up a position as nurse at The Friends’ Rural Centre in Rasulia in Central India, where she worked till 1972. Pat was the first Australian Quaker to be supported and funded by Australian Quaker Service.

 The Centre near the River Narmada and the town of Hoshangabad, was based on 35 acres of land bought by English Friends in 1900. Originally it was set up to meet the needs of local people at the time of a severe famine but since then it has undergone many changes. Donald Groom – first secretary of Australia YM till his tragic death in an air crash in 1972 – was based there with his wife, Erica, from 1940 to 1956, and Marjorie Sykes spent her latter years there till her return to England in 1994. Both had worked with Mahatma Gandhi and his successor, Vinoba Bhave, and the Friends Centre was heavily influenced by Gandhian ideas. When Pat was there, it had focused on rural development concentrating on fighting disease, poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. She had to learn Hindi to communicate with villagers and apart from running the clinic, Pat developed an early feeding programme for babies. She tells the story of how the authorities came to check if they were ‘missionaries’ but when asked for a definition of a missionary were told it was someone “who eats five meals a day and goes to the hills during the hot season.” While conceding they were Quakers, Pat and her companion, Dorothy Rule, said they certainly were not missionaries by this definition.

On return to Hobart, Pat met another Friend and health professional, Colin Wendell-Smith, and at his invitation, set out with him to promote family planning in Tasmania for the next twelve years, despite the usual opposition from more conservative forces in the island state. Her next change was to take up a position at the Botanical Gardens in Hobart to assist disabled people do some gardening, where she encountered another Friend and horticulturist, Sue Wells. Moving on, and after meeting Peter Mavromatis, who she met at Meeting in Hobart and where they got married in 1987, Pat returned to Aged Care as a nurse assessor for the next ten years. Her involvement with the local Meeting had continued after returning to Hobart where she took on the role of an elder and then as clerk, while also serving on the Board of Governors at The Friends’ School.

 Today, Pat lives at Derwent Waters on the Cadbury Estate overlooking the River Derwent and continues to attend Meeting in Hobart where she has so many friends going back a long period of time.

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