Alice Springs community comes together to farewell long-time local identity during coronavirus


April 25, 2020 10:12:21

Marita Crowley battled cancer many times over the past 20 years, having had two bouts of breast cancer, bone cancer in her spine, bowel cancer, lung cancer, and 12 brain tumours.

Key points:

  • Alice Springs identity Marita Crowley passed away two weeks ago in palliative care
  • Her husband Mal wants to build an aquarium in her memory at the Central Australian Health Service
  • Her funeral will be held soon and broadcast via Zoom, amid coronavirus travel restrictions

“She was so strong and stoic. People used to tell me she was pigheaded,” her husband, Mal Crowley, said.

Sadly, Marita passed away in palliative care two weeks ago, after suffering a stroke.

Since Mal and Marita first moved to Alice Springs almost 30 years ago, she was deeply involved in the Alice Springs community, working for the CSIRO, the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association, and setting up the library at the Alice Springs Steiner School.

She was also relentlessly supportive of Mal across his many “dumb ideas”.

“About seven years ago we struck on an idea that we needed a Men’s Shed in Alice. Marita just backed me all the way, just supporting me all the time.”

After receiving a donation for flowers Mal decided he wanted to do something special to remember Marita and say thanks to the palliative care staff.

“The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and the Epworth Hospital have both got large aquariums in their waiting rooms and I thought what a great thing for palliative care,” he said.

“You’re on your last, but the fish are so calming.

“It’d be a nice tool to be able to use for the nurses there, to give people something rather than watching TV or just lying there.”

‘A special gift’

Mal’s fundraiser was quickly flooded with donations from across the Alice Springs community.

“From people around town that have known Marita for many years, people that hardly know her but know her through the Men’s Shed program or through her work,” he said.

Local pet store owner Robyn Mander was more than happy to get onboard with the project after Mr Crowley approached her.

“It’s a really special gift that he’s trying to give to Alice Springs … and that’s what I’m trying to give to Alice Springs as well,” she said.

In a statement, the Central Australian Health Service said it had been approached by Mr Crowley about the aquarium and, while it appreciated donations, they needed to meet infection control and safety guidelines before being accepted.

The health service said a risk assessment was being conducted to determine if the tank would be suitable.

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Not just offering to get the tank custom-made, the pet store would also take charge of the ongoing maintenance of the tank.

Mal said he hoped the offer would help get the tank approved.

“They don’t need, or want, the problems of having to maintain a fish tank. They look after people, not fish,” he said.

“It’s their hospital and they’ve got regulations and procedures; we’ve just got to make sure that it’s done to the best to meet their needs as well.”

After first planning to source the materials for the tank from suppliers, Ms Mander said she hoped to get the tank built locally in Alice Springs.

“Keeping the money in our little town, which we need to do at this time,” she said.

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Saying goodbye during coronavirus

With restrictions on social gatherings still being enforced, a return to traditional funerals is possibly still months away.

“The decision was made that we’d wait a month before Marita passed away, but that was before coronavirus,” Mal said.

Mal even abandoned plans to fly one of his daughters up from Melbourne before Marita passed away, after struggling to secure a compassionate exemption for her.

“We can’t bring our daughter home; friends can’t come up from down south,” he said.

Instead they’ll hold a small gathering and broadcast via Zoom, so family can say farewell sooner rather than later.

“We don’t want to be waiting too long as a family,” he said.

“But as far as having a wake or doing anything else, we’re pretty much locked out as is everyone else in Australia.”

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First posted

April 25, 2020 09:41:52

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