Jan, who died in 2019, was a Dutch-Australian whose strong Catholic faith sustained her to campaign for the victims of rape in war. When the Japanese invaded Java in March 1942, Jan, her mother and two younger sisters were among 3000 women and children imprisoned by the Japanese in Ambararwa Prison Camp.
During her internment, Jan was forced into sexual slavery and for 50 years she remained silent about her treatment. However, in the 1990s she was inspired to help other victims and until her death Jan became a fearless advocate for these women.
Being held to commemorate the centenary of Jan’s birth on January 18 1923, the Lefevre event will feature guest speakers including Jan’s eldest daughter Eileen Mitton.
Describing her Mum as her “best friend”, Eileen said the prison camp changed her mother’s outlook on life.
“Her priorities were very different. People were much more important to her than things,” she said.
Eileen recounted a story that demonstrated her mum’s capacity to form friendships with people from all walks of life.
“As part of her volunteering with the Kingswood parish, in the late 60s/early 70s Mum would visit Shirley at what was later called the Julia Farr Centre in Fullarton,” she explained.
“Shirley had Cerebral Palsy and was wheelchair bound and Mum would go to see her regularly.
“Mum never drove so she would walk from our home in Tutt Avenue to Fisher Street – about 2.5km – to pick up Shirley and then would push her back in the wheelchair to our house. Shirley would spend the day with us, sitting in the kitchen and being part of a normal family.
“She would see all the chaos with my sister Carol and I, our friends coming over; Shirley would love it.
“At the end of the day Mum would push Shirley back to Fisher Street and then walk back home again.
“It just showed how Mum would go above and beyond – and in doing so she became friends with Shirley.”
Other guest speakers on the day will include Mgr Bob Rice, who will outline the friendship between Jan and Archbishop James Gleeson, and Fr Roderick O’Brien who will talk about Jan’s friendship with the young women who were enslaved with her.
‘Friendship in the Life of Jan Ruff-O’Herne’ will be held at the Lefevre Catholic parish meeting rooms on Sunday February 19, 4-5pm. A certificate is available for professional development. For more information contact Fr Roderick 8449 6378.
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