A TAMWORTH woman who went halfway around the world for a family reunion more than 30 years in the making is hoping her story may reveal others with a similar tale to tell.
Brenda McColl was just three years old when her father, John drowned at Manly Beach in 1967.
He and new wife Sylvia had emigrated from Scotland to Sydney several years before, on a voyage that also doubled as their honeymoon.
When John died, Sylvia was 23 and Brenda’s brother Gavin, just four.
The family moved to the Central Coast for a while after John’s death before relocating to Manilla when Brenda was 10.
Sylvia finally remarried four years later, but while happily getting on with the next chapter in her life, she couldn’t help wondering about her late husband’s family.
John and his siblings had had a tough upbringing in notorious Scottish orphanage Smyllum Park, in he and Sylvia’s hometown of Lanark.
They had lost touch though with the brothers over the years, Sylvia last seeing John’s brother Eddie at their wedding in 1961.
The pieces started to fall into place on a trip Sylvia and sister Gwen took to Scotland about five years ago when they returned to Lanark and visited the old neighbour.
She started to send them copies of the local paper on their return to Australia and it was in one of the editions Sylvia saw an ad for a reunion of the children who’d lived at Smyllum Park.
John’s youngest brother Francis actually died at Smyllum after being struck in the head with a golf club in circumstances that are not entirely clear to this day.
Sylvia thought someone connected with the organisation of the annual reunion, which also doubles as a memorial day for the children who died at the orphanage, may remember the McColl boys and know where they were.
The hunch paid off – one of the organisers not only knowing the whereabouts of two of the brothers, but even having a phone number.
The call was made, the shock of recognition followed, along with tears, joy and the stories of more than three decades.
“We’d been looking for about 34 years, I suppose, when we finally found them,” Brenda told The Leader.
That was two years ago and this year Sylvia, who has since retired to Urbenville with husband Brian Mulcahy, decided it was time for a proper face-to-face reunion.
She, Gwen and Brenda booked tickets to Scotland and Eddie met them at Edinburgh airport armed with flowers and jewellery for his long-lost family.
“There were tears all round,” Brenda said.
“We couldn’t get our heads around it, that after all those yearswe’d found each other.”
They even attended this year’s Smyllum reunion with Eddie and another brother, Willie, organised by a group called Incas – In Care Abuse Survivors – who are demanding headstones be placed on the unmarked graves of children who died at the orphanage, which closed in 1981 after 117 years.
The graves of up to 158 children from Smyllum lie in mounds at St Mary’s churchyard in the town.
Brenda said the surviving McColl brothers had no idea where Francis was buried and the memorial service that was held to honour the children had proved an eerie experience.
“It was beautiful weather before the service began and then as soon as it started, it pelted down with rain,” she said.
“When it was over the sun came back out.
“Apparently it happens like that every year ... someone telling us she believed it was the tears of the children.”
Brenda is now keen to get in touch with any former Smyllum children who may now live in this region, and even put them in touch with Incas in Scotland, if they were interested.
She can be contacted on 6761 3604.