Resting now in God’s garden

A former editor pays tribute to a noted Catholic journalist.

by John Coleman

Barbara Mead will be remembered by a legion of fans for a beautiful and evocative column she wrote for The Catholic Leader, entitled God’s Garden.  The column reflected her great love for the environment and wildlife, for all creation.

Barbara’s home was on acreage, on Brisbane’s southside, and she drew on her surroundings for the column, writing about everything from butterflies, flowers and trees to dewdrops and spiders, and always with a gentle spiritual message. The distinguished Queensland poet Bruce Dawe told me he looked forward to Barbara’s 500 to 600 words each week.

Barbara died earlier this month (July) after a long battle with myelofibrosis, a disorder of the bone marrow.  She was 67.

That title God’s Garden spoke of Barbara’s deep spirituality, exemplified by her comment to me about a prolific lemon tree that sprang from a seed at her back steps: “God grew it,” she explained simply.

Slightly built with enormous energy and dedication, Barbara was more than a lyrical writer – she was a gifted journalist who produced memorable exclusive stories during my editorship of The Catholic Leader, then a national newspaper, in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Her most stunning exclusive came in the 1980s when we campaigned for the release from jail of the Australian Columban missionary, Fr Brian Gore, who was in jail on trumped-up charges, under the Marcos regime.  Each week we telephoned the Philippines to focus on the story – and were amused by the echoes on the lines as the spooks listened in. Barbara, amazingly, managed to persuade Fr Gore’s jailer to bring him from his cell to the phone – and he talked at length.  The national media joined the campaign. It was supported by the Australian Government. And Brian Gore was acquitted. 

The Catholic Leader, and notably Barbara’s efforts, were acknowledged with the Inaugural Human Rights Commission Award presented at the National Press Club, Canberra. 

Barbara wrote many other exclusives for the newspaper - on the plight of street kids, refugees, the poor and disadvantaged, Aboriginal issues, Indonesian oppression in Papua and Timor, and human rights abuses during the apartheid era in South Africa. Those efforts contributed significantly to the award of the United Nations Media Peace Prize to The Catholic Leader’s editorial team in 1989.

Barbara also took a personal interest in the cause for sainthood of Mother Mary MacKillop, destined to be named Australia’s first saint. The Catholic Leader was in the forefront in promoting that cause and it was Barbara who pioneered that coverage.

Barbara (nee Parker), at barely 21, was already a star reporter, especially for human interest stories, when I joined Brisbane’s major daily The Courier-Mail in 1959.

Women journalists were then comparatively rare, apart from specialised areas like “women’s interest”, but, given her track record, Barbara was fully accepted in the male-dominated newsroom.  She brought all those talents to bear in the service of the Church in the best traditions of professional journalism.

Barbara was born on July 31, 1938, at Surfers Paradise and educated at Southport State High School. She met her husband Gary, a compositor, when they both worked for The Courier-Mail.

Despite journalism’s demands – she worked long hours at night and weekends for The Leader – Barbara Mead was a devoted wife and mother, showering the same fierce dedication and loyalty on her husband, three children Chris, Barbara and Damian, and grandchildren Corinne, Bradley and Chloe.

May she now find rest in God’s garden.

John Coleman was a highly-respected, long-time editor of The Catholic Leader, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Brisbane.  He now lives in northern New South Wales and continues to write on a freelance basis.


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