A woman known as Mother ANZAC was a well known resident of Narrandera. Mrs Isabelle Mitchell was the widow of the late Dr James Mitchell, a well respected medical practitioner in the town. She died at Lethbridge House in the early hours of Tuesday October 4 1944 at the age of 78 years.
Mrs Mitchell was born at Goree, where her father, the late Mr John H Spiller, was manager of Tubbo, which also included Goree station at that time. She was educated at the Ormiston Ladies College in Melbourne, a college that has since ceased to exist.
She was married at Tubbo to Dr Mitchell and came to Liberty House, Narandera, to reside. At that time Dr Mitchell had his practice in Narrandera. However, he died in April 1895 and Mrs Mitchell resided in the old home in Victoria Avenue for the remainder of her life.
Mrs Mitchell was a member of one of the old pioneering families. Her father, besides being manager of Tubbo, acquired South Yathong in the fifties of last century and also a property in the Wagga district. He later acquired Somerset Park near Narrandera, where he resided until his death in February 1907.
Mrs Isabelle Spiller survived him for some years. One of the grand old pioneers of Riverina, she died at Somerset Park Estate near Morundah. She was married in the early sixties to John Henry Spiller, who had settled in Riverina as early as 1856, having made the journey from Sydney to Wagga by bullock waggon. The late Mr Spiller, who died in 1907, became associated with the late John Peters and assisted him in the management of Gumly Gumly, Big Springs, Sandy Creek, and Tubbo Stations.
Tubbo was highly improved and a fine flock of Merino sheep established under the supervision of Mr Spiller, who afterwards bought North Yathong and Somerset Park Stations. Mrs Spiller was 93 years old when she died and left four daughters to mourn her loss, Mrs D L McLarty of Bundure, Jerilderie; Mrs C R Rawlins of Uroly Narandera; Mrs Boyd Macleod of Tumbarumba and Mrs J Mitchell of Narandera. Mrs Spiller was buried beside her husband in the Jerilderie cemetery.
She was born near Inverness in Scotland and came out with friends to Australia in her early youth and married young. Her early married life was spent at Goree and then at Tubbo, where the Spillers lived many years. Later they moved to Yathong, where sadness came with the loss of two daughters, who died within six months of each other, and where their only son returned from school to die at the early age of 17 years.
In the early Tubbo days, in spite of the great distances, there were rare district gatherings of people whose names and memories are household recollections. Along the river the Robertsons were at Toganmain, the Clarks at Kerarbury, the Learmonths at Groongal, the Mills’ at Uardry, the Baillies at Benerembah, the Waughs at Gogeldrie and the Douglas’ at North Yanco. Further east, Frank Jenkins owned the wide areas of Buckingbong and away south were Samuel McCaughey at Coonong, John McCaughey at Goolgumbla, David McCaughey at Coree, Angus, Duncan and James Robertson at Yarrabee and Goree, the Austins and Millears at Wanganella, the McLartys at Bundure, the Falkiners at Boonoke, the C M Lloyds at Yamma and the Cochrans at Widgiewa.
Mrs Spiller rode or drove thousands of miles to nurse the sick or wounded amongst her bush friends or relatives. A noble woman, she spent all her talents in good service. She had a very great regard for the late Sir Samuel McCaughey and mourned his loss that robbed her of one of her few remaining friends of olden days. They were both devoted to the Riverina.
Her daughter Mrs Mitchell was not only a well known and widely esteemed resident of the Narandera district, but her fame as a benefactor of returned soldiers and others in need of help was statewide. She was well known to many returned soldiers residing in all parts of Australia. She had an extraordinary amount of energy and enthusiasm and attended meetings of the various organisations in which she was interested.
She made several trips to England, both during the period of the Great War, and was a generous supporter of most of the patriotic, religious and charitable organisations in the district and also the principal charities in this State. She was also a supporter of the Narandera Citizens Band for very many years. All women’s organisations claimed her as a member and generous supporter. In fact there was scarcely anyone worthy of support that did not receive assistance from her in those early days. She was a devoted member of St Thomas’ Church throughout practically the whole of her life and regularly attended services.
But it was her work for the soldiers of the Great War that won her thousands of friends in England and she gave her time and money to help the sick and wounded. Throughout the years after the signing of the Peace Treaty she retained her interests in the men who served their country on that occasion. In England she was widely known as ‘Mother ANZAC’ and after her return to Australia the boys knew her by no other name.
She was never happier than when she was giving the returned soldiers a helping hand and her help to the Narandera sub-branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League was known throughout all soldiers’ organisations.
In recognition of her great services to returned soldiers the State branch of the HSS and AI League of Australia conferred on her one of the highest honours that the League could pay any individual. At the annual conference in September 1943 the State President of the League presented her with a certificate of merit that had been awarded to her by the annual State Congress. The day she received the certificate was one of the proudest in her life.
She travelled to England at the start of the Great War and with other women started the ANZAC Buffet in London, where she worked for most of the war. All diggers referred to her as Mother Mitchell but she later became known as Mother ANZAC – a name which stuck to her afterwards. She was instrumental in having St Dunstan’s Hospital established for blind soldiers, who never forgot her kindness.
She donated a considerable amount of money to welfare work among ex-servicemen over a number of years – all very quietly without publicity.
Mrs Mitchell furnished a room at the War Veterans Home and handed a valuable property in Narandera over to the trustees of the home. Indeed she was at the forefront of all patriotic movements and her cheque was always in her handbag when subscriptions were sought. Her greatest wish was that a home for ex-soldiers would be established in the country and she was willing to donate a very valuable piece of land with this project in view.
She was a patron of the Narandera Subbranch of the RSS and AI League for many years and attended the annual meetings of the League as well as other functions held by it. She gave generous support to the Seamen’s Home, Far West Children’s Health Scheme, Narandera Citizens’ Band, Inland Missions, Big Brother Movement, Red Cross, Comforts Fund, Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, British Orphans, Girl Guides and countless others.
Her only daughter Mrs Maud Christie predeceased her. Her faithful companion of 55 years was Miss Jo Gotch, who went to work for her as a schoolgirl. Originally starting as a nurse, Miss Gotch became a close companion to Mrs Mitchell and accompanied her to England. At the time of Mrs Mitchell’s death she recalled that the house Mrs Mitchell occupied was previously occupied by Dr Barber and was one of the first private houses in Narrandera.
Mrs Mitchell’s husband Dr James Mitchell, died aged 32 years on April 21 1895, at his residence in Twynam Street Narandera. He had commenced practice in the town 11 years previously. At the time he had only recently passed his degree at the Aberdeen University and his subsequent practice at the Narandera hospital greatly advanced his medical education as he was the principal attendant at the hospital. However he had not been in good health for a long time. Sadly at the time of his death Mrs Mitchell was under medical treatment in Sydney and could not be with him during his final days.
The Narrandera Argus would appreciate any information on the location of the properties referred to in this story, Liberty House and the medical practice in Twynam Street.