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On human horror, human nobility and Rosemary Taylor


Of the thousands of Vietnamese children placed in adoption by Rosemary Taylor, few came to Australia due to her frustration with negative attitudes among the local immigration and welfare authorities. However, she made an exception in the case of one couple, Dr Brian and Susi McGowran, whom she agreed to meet on a visit to Adelaide in 1971. Rosemary arranged for them to adopt five girls. Dr McGowran wrote this tribute.

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‘Governments and politicians will never save this world with bombs and missiles but maybe the small daily efforts of little people, working everywhere without fanfare, may shed a little light and love and promote the creation of a more harmonious world before we reach everywhere the point of no return.’
Those privileged to know her will not be surprised to learn that this was Rosemary speaking and writing, with principles and moral clarity and a marvellous way with words, as she did for more than half a century. One still reads that she was a nurse and/or a nun. The reality was that with a BA degree in English, Latin, Mathematics and Physics and fluent in French, she worked in Alaska before plunging into the chaos of 1960s Vietnam. Frustrated by the Australian Council of Churches, rejected by Catholic Relief Services, working out of the big Phu My Orphanage in Saigon, she set about rescuing abandoned and dying babies, saving their lives in five nurseries, restoring their health and placing them in adoption, thousands of them, between 1968 and 1975.
And five of them with us. It was one of those telephone calls that you make quaking at the knees, so much was hanging on it. Susi and I had made enquiries in America about adopting an abandoned baby and the VN Embassy in Washington, experienced and prepared about such matters, had promptly sent us ‘How to adopt a Vietnamese orphan’. That was in 1968 and this was 1971 back in Australia, where the war was big in the media but the abandoned children were not, and there was no helpful leaflet. But we saw in the newspaper that one Miss Rosemary Taylor was briefly back in town to raise funds for her work in Vietnam, we made the phone call, we got the meeting and we got lucky.
Rosemary could deal pleasantly and successfully with Vietnamese and Americans, diplomatic, military, media, civilian. It was not like that in Australia, and she was reluctant to get involved in her homeland. What with the White Australia policy and a vague policy which amounted to “keep them in their culture”, Rosemary and we were in unfamiliar territory, and it took nine long months from being given Fiona at two weeks to collecting her. Vanessa did not survive an infantile epidemic. Precedent established though, Heidi, Lisi and Rosi were processed quickly.
Rosemary attracted funds brilliantly and distributed moneys carefully with utterly minimal managerial costs, focusing on children and their multitudinous needs—survival, health and hygiene and nutrition, education and development, all best done growing in a family which was simply unavailable in Vietnam. She attracted dedicated and competent and brilliant people to her Friends for All Children, including Ilse Ewald, chief nurse and medical administrator, was identified by US pediatricians as the most competent person of her kind in all of SE Asia, Margaret Moses, gifted educator and writer and the ultimate people person and persuade. It was our immense privilege and great good fortune to count Ilse and Margaret as our personal friends. (Margaret died in the crash of the Galaxy in April 1975.)
South Vietnam collapsed and the incoming communists immediately appealed for help with the thousands of prostitutes and babies whose very existence they had been denying so strenuously whilst placing Rosemary on their vengeance list, but Rosemary had left. She had a couple of years’ sabbatical, writing books and learning Hebrew, as you do, and returned to SE Asia in 1979. Herself based in Bangkok for 35 years, her efforts running FFAC are felt in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Burma. Opposition is endemic and ranges from governmental sloth, via corruption and simple greed, to instances of quite evil malice. Disappointment, discouragement, despair: she plodded on (her standard words!), she never gave up. She kept on supporting such titans of their communities as Sister Elizabeth in Vietnam and Sister Cecile in Cambodia, and we must mention Irene Duarte, worthy successor to Ilse and Margaret, who cops the brunt of the appalling civic culture in Vietnam and who, if she can stand it, is the face of the future FFAC.
In 2015 Rosemary closed her office and residence in Bangkok and worked from Adelaide with quick trips to the field for a year or two more. And work was what Rosemary Taylor AM did right to the end.

Brian McGowran was vice-president of FFAC for several decades. His full tribute can be found here.


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