IN the Dwyer family Christmas is all about presence with a “c” not presents with a “t” and this year Mary and Brian are looking forward to enjoying the day with all their children and grandchildren.
Both are keen to point out however that every Christmas is special and a time to gather and celebrate both God and family.
And it is a big family. Married at St Joseph’s Church in Dalby on the Darling Downs of Queensland in 1956, Mary and Brian have eight children and 23 grandchildren.
They both agree that God has had a guiding hand in their lives from the very early days when they fell in love outside the Dalby church.
Brian was working in the Commonwealth Bank and had been transferred to Dalby for three months.
He would see Mary (Cantwell) while walking to daily Mass and said he fell in love with her then.
Mary had also noticed Brian during the walks and thought he was a nice young man.
She said it wasn’t until their eyes met across the crowd outside Sunday Mass one morning that she knew he was the one.
“I was talking to this old fellow and I could feel someone looking at me and I looked up and I looked straight into his green eyes across the way and I’d never been dumbfounded before but that was one day I was gob-smacked,” she said.
What followed was a brief courtship at Tugun, on the Gold Coast, where Mary went to work for her sister.
Brian was also on his way to the Coast for an Easter break and the couple had a 10-day courtship, peeling potatoes outside her sister’s fish and chips shop each day before Brian was transferred to Collinsville. “We decided when he went that we were going to write once a week. Well, within two weeks we were writing every day,” Mary said.
She said in one of those letters Brian asked her if she would like to get engaged for her 21st birthday and, via more letters, they settled on a ring design that Brian had delivered to Mary.
“I promised him I wouldn’t wear it until he could put it on my finger and Mum was very good – she held it.”
The couple began their married life in Laidley another of Brian’s banking posts, west of Brisbane, and by the time they left three years later the eldest two Dwyer children Patricia (Trish) and Michael had already arrived.
Brian’s work took the family to Tweed Heads, in northern NSW, for five years where Mary Jane, Geraldine and Cathie were born.
With Mary already pregnant with Judy, the family was posted to Quirindi, in NSW, where Judy was born.
Then came a move back to Brisbane where the family bought a house in Camp Hill that was to provide a 23-year kaleidoscope of endless family memories including the birth of John and Ali.
“We had six-year-old parties, we had ten-year-old parties, we had surprise thirteen-year-old parties, we had fifteen-year-old parties, we had eighteen-year-old parties, we had twenty-first parties, we had a wedding – it was just one of those homes. It was just lovely,” Mary said.
With three of their girls diagnosed with scoliosis, Mary went to work for Queensland Ambulance as a “message taker” in the switch room where she stayed until God gave her and Brian a new direction.
Brian, who by then was the bank’s chief auditor in Brisbane, woke one morning and out of the blue told Mary he had decided he wanted to retire to the mountains.
“It’s funny how God leads you in life. It’s just beautiful because that same day they advertised land for sale at Mt Tamborine,” Mary said.
The couple bought a block and had a house built, planning to spend regular visits but as Mary said, “It’s funny how everything works”.
She lost her voice and was told it could take up to five years to get it back so Brian took some long-service leave and they moved to “the mountain”.
Mary said “an old nun” had spoken to Brian about his plans and asked why he picked Mt Tambourine.
“He said he didn’t know and she said ‘God’s leading you there and you’ll find out when you get there what you are up there for’.”
The couple bought a taxi to keep them busy and said they were not on the mountain long before meeting Margaret and Bern Foley, the instigators of the Rosary bouquet.
“They were so keen to get a church or a shrine of some sort to Our Lady and, driving them to Mass one weekend, Margaret asked me if I knew anyone who could put up a priest brother and laymen for a few days,” Mary said.
This led to the Dwyers providing accommodation to Pauline Fathers Augustine and Gabriel when they visited the area looking for land to establish a shrine that was to eventually be moved to Canungra and become Marian Valley.
“And we began to see then why God had told Brian he was going to the mountains to live,” Mary said.
It was the start of many years’ “work” within the Mt Tamborine Catholic community and the Pauline Fathers’ shrine but the couple enjoyed it immensely.
“People used to say (to us) ‘I thought you came up here to retire’ and I would say, ‘not everybody gets asked to work for God’,” Mary said.
As they got older Mary and Brian eventually returned to Brisbane to be closer to medical support which also brought them back much closer to their family.
“We went up to the mountain with two grandchildren and, please God, next year we will have 24,” Mary said.
These days the Dwyers spend their time quietly passing on their lifelong love of God and family to those grandchildren and a big part of that is the Christmas Day get-together.
Brian said gone are the days when Mary “did the lot”, with Christmas these days a joint effort.
“Nowadays whoever is having it (Christmas lunch) at their place sends out a list for everyone to bring and we bring what we are told,” he said.
Mary said the thing that gave Brian and her the most joy was to see the bonds between the next generation and to know they had done something right.
“I have yet to see a fight amongst our grandchildren,” she said.
“They are not afraid to tell you that they love you and that, to me, is family, that’s very important.”
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