Geraldine Byrne Receives OAM

We’d like to congratulate Geraldine Byrne (Class of 1960), who was awarded an OAM in the Australia Day Awards this year for her services to the community and history of Western Australia.

We asked Geraldine to share some of her stories.

What does receiving the OAM mean to you?
I was delighted to receive the award but also quite humbled to be recognised for something that has been my passion my whole life.

Could you tell us a little about your time after Santa Maria College?
I went into the workforce and, fortunately, worked for someone who encouraged me to pursue academic qualifications in history. I was one of the foundation students in History at Murdoch University and the first (while still an undergraduate) to have a book published, Valiant Women – Letters from the Foundation Sisters of Mercy in Western Australia 1845-1849 (1981). After graduating, I was invited to go to London to help establish the Australian Studies Centre at London University. I worked at the Law Society of Western Australia when I returned to WA. When leaving, I was the only non-lawyer to be made an honorary member of the Law Society in 70 years. During this time, I completed a master’s degree. I was then invited by the Vice Chancellor of Notre Dame University to be the project manager, setting up their Law School.

You’ve written a book about the Sisters of Mercy in WA titled Valiant Women. Can you tell us a bit about the book? 
Sister Mary Raphael Coady RSM approached Professor Geoffrey Bolton at the Battye Library and told him she was looking for someone to write a book using letters about Ursula Frayne. He immediately thought of me, as I had two aunts who were Sisters of Mercy and as I had also attended Santa Maria College. After that conversation, Sister Raphael always referred to Professor Bolton as an Angel of the Lord.

What inspired you to write this book?
I was very comfortable working with Sister Raphael and interested in Ursula Frayne, who was only 28 years old when she came to Western Australia.

What do you believe is your most outstanding achievement and why?
My most significant achievement is publishing seven books and being a godmother to 19 children!

 What is your favourite memory from your time at Santa Maria?
I made beautiful lifelong friendships.

What was your favourite subject?
My favourite subjects were History and English.

Do you feel that your time at Santa Maria has influenced you as an adult?
Yes, I do. As an only child attending boarding school, it was a great experience and very formative. The role modelling provided by the Sisters demonstrated such great leadership qualities. Many of the Sisters were brilliant women who encouraged the girls to think that the world was their oyster and that anything was achievable if they wanted it.

What keeps you busy now?
Researching and writing still take up a lot of my time. At the moment, I am writing two books on the history of Western Australia.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Geraldine.

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