Life and times of modern, revolutionary mother

LAUNCESTON woman Mary O'Byrne chuckles as she remembers her sons' long summer of the orange and purple attire.

It was one of the interesting by-products of Mrs O'Byrne's radical ideas for the time on raising her children.

Mrs O'Byrne and her husband Tom wanted to bring up their four children to be self-reliant, independent thinkers.

One of Mrs O'Byrne's techniques was to help each of the children open their own bank account to save money to buy their own clothes from early primary-school age.

"Patrick and Thomas went shopping one day and Patrick came home with bright orange trousers and an orange shirt, and Thomas had purple trousers and a shirt," she says.

"They thought that they were so modern."

It only took a few weeks for the glaringly bold colours of the boys' new clothes to wear thin.

But they had to wear them for the rest of the season.

"It had to be borne and it taught them to make a careful decision next time," Mrs O'Byrne said.

"Yes, I've been called a closet revolutionary," the well-known Launceston matriarch says with a hearty laugh.

Mrs O'Byrne encouraged her children to go to the doctor on their own.

"Dr Spence told his wife that he was fascinated to see these young O'Byrnes coming in to see him without their mother," she said.

Each of the four children - Patrick, Paul, Josephine and Thomas - were sent to boarding school interstate when they turned 14, even though they grew up in a rambling family home in York Street, a couple of blocks from the Launceston central business district.

"I told Tom that I didn't mind if we sat on apple boxes, they were to go to boarding school," Mrs O'Byrne said.

"I think that the most precious thing that you can give your children is independence from you.

"I hated them going, but I wanted them to go."

Mrs O'Byrne's determination to produce a tribe of free spirits is all the more unusual when compared to her own childhood.

She spent the first 12 years of her life at Deloraine as a much- loved member of the large, but close-knit Sullivan family.

The Sullivans had a string of stores in the area, including an expanding business in Launceston, so Mrs O'Byrne's father gathered his family together and moved them into town, about the time she was due to go to high school, so that he could run the store.

"I had a tremendous family upbringing - we had grandparents on both sides and great uncles and aunts on both sides," she says.

It was her favourite aunt's life that first set Mrs O'Byrne thinking about how she would raise her own children when they arrived.

"My aunt never married ... it was taken for granted that she would look after her father," Mrs O'Byrne said.

"I remember how frustrated she was and how she suffered when her three brothers happily married with children."

Her aunt told Mrs O'Byrne that she would have loved to work in real estate or to have a little restaurant to run, but it was considered at the time that a family should be able to support a single daughter.

Mrs O'Byrne believes her innovative child rearing has been successful.

Her daughter Josephine has lived with her family in Brisbane for more than 20 years.

Her son Patrick, his wife and children live and work in Atlanta in the US.

Her son Paul has lived for the past four years in Japan and her other son Thomas has lived in the United Arab Emirates for the past seven years after six years as a journalist in China.

"I've missed having my grandchildren growing up around the corner - I love children," she says.

"But we keep in close touch - I write letters, I'm a great letter writer.

"I speak to the children at least on a weekly basis - sometimes we have face time.

"Tom, who is 12, in Queensland, loves growing vegetables so he takes me around his garden and shows me what he is doing on face time."


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