5 March 2023

English migrant's mission to preserve and celebrate Griffith history

| Oliver Jacques
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Sue Wade in front of airplane

Sue Wade loves helping people discover their history. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

When Sue Wade was growing up in Leicester, England, she never would have imagined the role she’d one day play in helping to preserve and celebrate the history of a small Australian town.

It was almost by accident that she discovered the Griffith Genealogical and Historical Society, a small co-operative that helps locals trace their roots and keeps old records, photos, headstone information and land titles relating to the region.

“My mum passed away in 2009,” she said. “I went to the UK and managed to be with her for a few days before she died. I was quite sad for a long time. I walked past this place [the society] a few times and one day I thought I’d pop in. I’d realised I wanted to find out a lot more about my mum and her history before she died. There were a lot of things I wanted to know. So, I started asking a lot of questions here to find out about my family history.”

READ ALSO Italian immigrant who helped build Griffith keeps working in his 80s

She quickly developed a knack of how to trawl through ancestry data and records, and wanted to help others do the same. The society also fostered her interest generally in the century-old history of the town she now resides.

“I enjoy helping people discover their past, it’s great when they come in. For me, coming to Griffith, I found the history here very interesting. I didn’t know about Don Mackay [a prominent politician who took on the mafia] and all that, so I started reading all these books. A guy I worked with told me all these stories, they were intriguing.”

Ms Wade, who celebrates 50 years in Australia in 2023, has a fascinating life story of her own.

“My now ex-husband and I emigrated to Australia in 1973, when my son was nine months old. We wanted to find somewhere else to live, for a while I was in South Australia and Victoria, we moved around quite a bit. By the mid-1980s, I’d moved to a small town called Boree Creek, between Wagga and Griffith, where Tim Fischer [the ex-deputy prime minister] was from.”

Black and white photo of young Sue

Sue Wade as a six-year-old in England. Photo: Supplied.

Life then got challenging as Sue’s marriage ended while she was living in Boree Creek, and she needed to stay to pay off her mortgage. As a single mother in a small town of less 100 people, she didn’t consider the possibility of rediscovering love, but fate intervened.

“There was a group called Parents without Partners. I wasn’t a member but they organised a party at Boree Creek and I went along. That’s where I met Ernest, who was a house painter from Griffith,” she said.

The couple married in 1991, when Sue moved to Griffith and got a job with Griffith Producers, a co-operative that sold fruit and vegetables.

“I started out as a casual, but ended up being there for 20 years; I worked as the invoice clerk.”

It was at her new workplace she met Patrick Keenan, a government fruit inspector who helped lift the lid on drug trade in Griffith when he reported an illegal cannabis crop to the police in 1974. [After being threatened by the mafia, an unrelated person who had the same name was found dead a few weeks later.]

“There were certain forms we had to do when we had to export fruit overseas,” Sue said. “Patrick would come and see the fruit and sign the form … he was a lovely guy, very proper with his job.”

Sue Wade, Clive Polkinghorne, Tom Sandberg and Anne Gribble

Sue Wade, Clive Polkinghorne and Anne Gribble help young Tom Sandberg trace his family roots. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

After the company she worked for changed ownership a few times, Ms Wade was eventually made redundant when aged 64.

“I decided to then retire, in about 2014, but I’ve been doing a lot since then.”

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At 72, she’s one of the young guns of the Griffith Genealogical and Historical Society, volunteering regularly to help keep the organisation afloat.

“I don’t think of it as work – I look at people like Anne Gribble [the society’s matriarch], she’s amazing how she keeps going.

“I’ve also joined a group called Red Fitness – we meet at Collina Oval to do exercise … and I’ve just started volunteering at the Salvation Army. It’s always good to keep your mind active.”

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