'Incredible coincidence' in twist to 66-year Mackay mystery
JULIE Ross never dreamed a quick stop in Mackay would add another piece to a 66-year-old puzzle.
The Townsville resident stopped for a coffee while driving from Bowen to Carmila Saturday, took a look at the Daily Mercury and spotted a photograph she had seen seen before.
The picture was of Paddy McBrien, a seven-year-old boy who had been hailed a national hero after saving three children from a burning house in Warracknabeal, north-west of Melbourne, on January 25, 1951.
Ms Ross said her stepfather, Neil McBrien, had shown her the photograph on many occasions and had often spoken about his brother, Paddy, rescuing the family.
So when she saw it in the Mercury, she was shocked.
"(I thought) what on earth was his picture doing in a Mackay paper."
She read the article while waiting for her coffee and learnt of Mackay woman Juanita Duncan's hope to track down Paddy McBrien after finding out only weeks ago that he had saved her from the burning house 66 years ago.
Ms Ross went to a nearby newsagency, found a phone book, contacted Mrs Duncan and told her of the "incredible coincidence".
According to Ms Ross, Paddy McBrien, his brother Neil and their younger brother had been taken to an orphanage at Ballarat.
She said he had been murdered, about 30 years ago.
Her stepfather, who moved north in the 1970s, now lives in a retirement home and suffers from dementia.
Yesterday, Ms Ross said she would visit her step-dad to ask about the fire what happened more than six decades ago, to try to shed more light on the mystery.
When Mrs Duncan found out about the fire, 66 years after it happened, she was "gobsmacked". "I was 15 months old and I am 67 years old now, so it took all that time to find out about it. My brothers have died and they knew nothing of it."
Mackay woman learns of tale of heroism and fire, six decades on
A MACKAY woman has lived most of her life unaware she and two siblings were rescued from a burning house as babies 66 years ago.
A seven-year-old boy carried them to safety and his heroism made front-page news in The Daily Mercury and around Australia, but Juanita Duncan only learnt of the fire two weeks ago when she received an email from a friend.
Just 15 months old at the time, Mrs Duncan has no recollection of the fire that destroyed the family's home in Warracknabeal, north-west of Melbourne, on January 25, 1951.
Her friend, a librarian and amateur historian, came across the clippings while digitalising old newspapers.
They detailed how the boy saved three young lives.
"I was playing at the back and saw smoke coming from the house," Paddy McBrien said after the blaze.
"I wheeled the baby off the verandah and then went inside, the house was full of smoke. I took another baby from a cot and carried it outside. Then I went back and found another."
The newspapers reported Mrs Duncan and her siblings were the children of an American ex-serviceman, Mr Letterman, and that their mother was at the neighbours' house at the time of the fire.
Mrs Duncan said she was "gobsmacked" to hear of the fire 66 years after it happened.
"How did my mother never tell me, how did I not know these things?" she said. "Whether mothers don't talk about things like that - but it's part of our history - or whether she was ashamed, I don't know.
"I was 15 months old and I am 67 years old now, so it took all that time to find out about it. My brothers have died and they knew nothing of it. My sister said that she knew that we lived in a house that had burnt down, but didn't know anything about the little boy that rescued us."
In December 1951, the boy received a Humane Society award to recognise "courage and bravery".
Melbourne's The Age reported, the seven-year-old who received the bronze medal "stole the show".
Before he received his award, the reason for his bravery was read to the crowd" "Paddy McBrien rescued Louise and Juanita Letterman, aged two years and 15 months respectively, from a burning house at Warracknabeal on January 25, 1951.
"Noticing the house on fire, he first wheeled a third baby (four months old) in a pram on the veranda to safety, entered the burning house, let down the side of one cot and carried Juanita out to the rear, and returned for Louise. He passed the flames four times."
Mrs Duncan, of Mt Pleasant, who arrived in Mackay in 1972, said she would like to trace Paddy McBrien, who now would be 73.