Remarkable shot of history, friendship
WHEN Sandy Bay’s Pat Hefter saw an old picture of her good friend Mei Ling Niel reprinted in the Mercury’s Pictures of our Past series this week, she immediately took a photograph of the page and sent it to Mrs Niel.
Mrs Niel, of Melbourne, was equally surprised to see the photograph of herself as a newborn being held by her mother, which was originally published in the
Mercury in 1940. Mrs Niel and Mrs Hefter were born one day apart at Hobart’s former Queen Alexandra Hospital in August 1940. They both grew up at Sandy Bay and went to Fahan School.
“Everybody’s parents knew everybody’s parents; we were all friends,” Mrs Hefter said.
Although they have lived in different cities, Mrs Hefter and Mrs Niel, who both recently celebrated their 77th birthdays, remained friends and have shared many of the ups and downs of life with each other.
“It’s really lovely to think we’ve been friends for 77 years,” Mrs Niel said.
Two days after the old photograph was reprinted, Mrs Niel arrived in Hobart for a 60-year reunion with her Fahan School classmates.
She and Mrs Hefter keep in touch by telephone, but saw each other on Thursday for the first time in a few years.
Mrs Hefter said friendship came easily between her and Mrs Niel.
“You can’t know Mei Ling without being great friends with her,” she said.
Mrs Niel, born Mei Ling Chung Gon, was the first baby of Chinese heritage to be born at the Queen Alexandra hospital.
“People went in to see Pat [when she was a baby in hospital] and they said, ‘oh, did you see the lovely Chinese baby next to her?” Mrs Niel said.
Mrs Niel’s grandfather owned the Chung Gon g reen - grocer in Launceston, and her father owned the Peking Gift Shop in Hobart. Mrs Niel’s mother was from Adelaide where she also owned a gift shop. Mrs Niel married her husband, a fellow Tasmanian, in Melbourne in 1964. She said Hobart, which had a very small Asian community when she was a girl, had changed significantly during her lifetime. “It’s very cosmopolitan now,” she said.