Mary was the 3rd eldest child of Alma and Anthony Baynie and the first of their seven children to be born in Australia. From an early age Mary became involved in supporting her father in organising and coordinating the immigration of many family members and friends from their village of Bane. For many years the Baynie family provided accommodation, for these immigrants, in their own home and when that was full, in a converted building on the Sefton Rd farm. They stayed in the Baynie’s care until they were able to find employment, usually with significant assistance from Mary and once they become financially independent, most of these immigrants settled in the Hornsby Shire, in and around Thornleigh and Pennant Hills.
Mary and her sisters Emily and Deaby were excellent sewers and in the early 50’s they opened up a clothing factory at the rear of the family property at Thornleigh. It was called “Greenoak Manufacturing”.
This was a very progressive step to make in the 50’s – women establishing their own factory!
They had worked for many years in the city in the “rag trade” around Surry Hills area and it was Mary who suggested that together the sisters had the skills to “do it for themselves!” Not only were these Baynie women very industrious for themselves, but their motivation included providing training and temporary employment for many of the young Lebanese girls who arrived in Australia.
The factory could not have been established without the financial and physical support of Anthony Baynie, who gave the factory project his full blessing, literally!
Mary helped the families find homes to buy or rent, becoming a well-known personality to the local real estate agents and bank managers.
Once the children were at school age, she assisted their mothers to enroll the children into school – at one time, there were so many children of Lebanese background applying at the local catholic school, St Agatha’s, that they set-up a desk for her to handle those enrollments!
She helped them in so many ways; finding employment, completing immigration and government documents, navigating available Department of Social Security support mechanisms. She also helped the women find a doctor and/or obstetrician and a maternity Hospital to have their children (usually Hornsby or Ryde Hospital). It should be noted that many young Lebanese girls were named Mary in her honor.
Mary’s clothing factory was behind her parents’ home at 247 Pennant Hills Road Thornleigh. Her sewing machine was also her office and meeting room for the Lebanese and other local people who sought her help!
In the 70’s and early 80’s Mary also employed many Vietnamese women who had arrived in Australia as ‘boat people’ to escape the war in Vietnam – they too became “outworkers” for Greenoak once they had their children.
Emily, Deaby and Mary taught the young Lebanese women how to sew and once they were trained, they worked at the Greenoak Factory. When the women married and started a family, Mary would loan them an industrial sewing machine for their home, so they could continue to earn an income while they raised their children. Mary’s younger brother Peter would drop the unmade garment ‘parts’ to the outworkers (as they were known in the industry) and subsequently pick up the completed garments.
It should be noted that all of Mary’s work for those requiring assistance was provided ‘gratis’ as she never took a penny from anyone.
Mary also fancied herself as a match maker, which in turn lead to her organising weddings and during the 50’s – the 70’s, with her sister Emily’s skilled assistance, created most of the wedding dresses – all of them gratis. She even loaned her own wedding dress to many young Lebanese brides during that period.
Mary’s reputation spread far and wide throughout the Sydney Lebanese community to the extent that many Lebanese migrants from other Lebanese villages made their way to her and the Baynie family, looking for assistance in one way or another and it was almost always given!
Mary was supported in her extraordinary out reach by her devoted husband Frank and her six children. Frank was equally valued as Mary was by the Lebanese community, since they knew how significant his support of Mary and the household was in the charitable work she did.
In August 1987, Mary became critically ill with breast cancer, which soon spread to her liver. She was nursed and cared for at home by her loving husband Frank together with her children and Mary’s siblings.
To this very day, Mary’s children and grandchildren are still hearing stories, from many and varied sources, of how Mary Brown helped and served so many, within and beyond the Lebanese community.
In writing the song, Woman of Grace, on the eve of Mary Brown’s death on the 4th October 1988, Mary’s daughter Monica sings not of a pious aloof woman but of a woman who lived in very real practical ways, the Gospel values of compassion, justice and mercy. Mary was graced filled in the unconditional love with which she spent her entire life. She knew no other way to be or to live, other than simply being Mary Brown.
Just before her death, Mary shared with her family her motivation in all this.
“I am just an ordinary woman. I do not need any credit for what I have done. God gave me the incentive to do it all.”
(Mary Brown, October 1988)
Testimonials from Mary Brown’s Family, Friends and Colleagues
“Mary Brown was some lady! She had a heart as big as Phar Lap and I reckon she could run as fast. She was a doer, she knew how to get things done. She was a lady, an amazing lady that I will never forget!”
Doug Spencer – Solicitor
“Mary had time for everybody and when I say everybody, I mean it seemed like the whole world came to Mary when they had a problem and Mary always had time to solve their problems. She was very concerned about migrants coming to Australia, that they would not be put on the wrong track, that they would get a fair deal and that none of them went without, in love or material things.”
Sandra Dickons – Social Worker
“Mary, in her great hospitality, opened her home to me as she had done to some many others. Not only did she open her home and her family to me, but also to my own family and friends. She gave the support I needed to make to feel at home in Sydney. She did that out of the sheer generosity of her heart.”
Maria Frisch – Family Friend
“People say she’s a living saint and I can really believe that because she helped people even if it hurt her, and she loved people who didn’t love her… she was a real treasure.”
Mary’s 10-year-old Granddaughter
“Mary Brown, my mother was a devoted mother. She and our father, Frank Brown, exemplified their love for me and my five siblings. Mum felt deeply the Christian message to ‘go forth’; carrying out God’s work by always moving forward, which she certainly did with so much gusto, leaving her own concerns behind so as to ‘look ahead to what is to come’, always with the belief that ‘all is for God and is good’. In practical ways Mum lived out the Gospel values of “walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving the cloak of her back, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick.” Her experience of appreciating God in each person she met on the simple paths of her life, became her motivation, her purpose – her absolute ‘constant’ throughout her life, which sadly ended too quickly at the age of sixty-three years.”
Josephine Mary Brown (Bourke) – Mary’s Daughter
“I used to call her “Big Mare”, she was cuddly and soft. She was totally selfless. Her whole life was spent in giving to others. Through her life I understand what it means to love unconditionally.”
Peter Brown – Mary’s Son