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.

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