By Isaac Murphy
ANZAC hero James Cameron was one of the lucky ones to make it through the First World War, but perhaps there was a saintly hand guarding him from the whistling bullets.
“Lucky Jim”, as his fellow diggers called him had a close connection with a woman who would become Australia’s first saint.
James was the cousin of St Mary of the Cross and shared even closer ties with Mary’s sister Annie who was his godmother.
This close connection led to James inheriting two of St Mary’s Church medals when he travelled to Sydney in 1917 in preparation for his deployment, Sister of St Joseph Anne Marie Power made a special trip to deliver the medals from the MacKillop family.
Humbled by the gesture, James went on to keep the medals in his top pocket over the duration of the war and according to his grand daughter Karen Robinson, credits MaryMacKillop with getting him through the war.
“He was always a man of the Church, a true believer that never missed a day in his life,” she said.
“He had so much respect for Mary’s virtues and knew that she would pull him through.”
The connection between the MacKillop’s and the Cameron’s has been fostered over many years and multiple continents.
The families were relatives who both emigrated from Scotland in the early 1800’s.
The MacKillop’s would stop to settle in South Australia, while the Cameron’s continued their journey across the Tasman to the south island of New Zealand.
Despite their temporary separation and Sr Mary’s fast growing Catholic teaching legacy in Australia, the two families never lost touch and were re-united when Mary and her sister Annie visited Sister’s of St Joseph’s first New Zealand foundation in Temuka, in 1894-95.
Sr Mary and Annie always ensured visiting the Cameron’s on this trip, often staying at Thomas’ farm, where they were embraced as ideal role models for Thomas’ young children, one of whom was James.
Upon the birth of James, Annie MacKillop, who had been spending a considerable amount of time at the Cameron farmstead, was asked to become James’ godmother, a role she would perform dutifully, filling him with faith and virtue.
The family bond formed through the series of circumstances continues to endure within the Cameron family today.
“Whenever one of our family has gone through a time of hardship, Pops taught us to always pray,” Karen said.
The Cameron relatives were visited by Jesuit Father Paul Gardiner in 1985, when he was in the process of writing an ode to Mary.
Although James’ had passed away five years earlier, they spoke openly about the storied history of the families. I was from this time the Cameron’s were made aware Mother Mary would eventually be made Australia’s first saint.
“It was just fantastic for the family, the connection and everything Mary had given us and it was also great to have a Saint down under,” she said.
Karen insists that St Mary’s protection of her pops throughout his service was not the only miracle she performed for their family.
Fifteen years ago, after giving birth to her youngest daughter, Karen encountered severe complications, which threatened to take her life.
She credits St Mary for watching over her when it seemed unlikely she would pull through.
“I felt a stroking and patting sensation after one of my operations on my hand, I thought it just had to be Mary and Pops,” she said.
St Mary MacKillop’s legacy of care, faith and spirituality touched the lives of the Cameron relatives.
Karen has passed her stories of faith onto her children and says her oldest daughter is in touch with the historical significance of her family and Australia’s first saint.
“It means the world to our family that Pops story has been preserved and passed on,” she said.
Though he respected his call to arms and went to war for his country, James Cameron was not a man of violence, he was a family man, a man of faith and a man of peace.
After the surviving the war, James returned to his home town Oroua Downs, resuming his calling as a dairy farmer and a father who made his children acutely aware of the power of the Church and the legacy of Mary MacKillop.
In many ways, James’ story of a good man serving his country while always respecting the importance of others epitomises the spirit of the Anzacs, as the centenary of the Gallipoli landings approaches.