HIDING in a toilet cubicle, Mary Farrow explains that she has taken the phone into the bathroom to get some quiet time. The busy Emerald Community House isn’t a good place to tell her story.
Violence and random crime in the United States drove Mary to leave her home in San Francisco and find peace in Avonsleigh. Smitten with how Australians valued life and encouraged volunteering, Mary chose to make the lucky country her new home.
“I was looking for a place that was freer and a safer society for my children,” says Mary, who came to Australia with her husband and two sons in 1996.
“I spent two years researching with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and it doesn’t compare with the random violence in the US.”
Mary chose to live here rather than her husband’s native England because there were fewer break-ins and less crime, and children didn’t get attacked or kidnapped as much in Australia.
The family spent time in Sydney before making their decision to move Down Under. She wanted to come to Australia because there were less guns and general violence than other places in the world.
“Sometimes I think of us as refugees when you think of where we came from,” says Mary, who despises guns and anything to do with them.
Guns are strictly avoided in Mary’s household; she’s always been pretty strict about the “gun thing”.
“I don’t like talking about them, don’t want them around, I wouldn’t even let the boys have squirt guns in the pool.”
Coming from an aggressive culture, Mary abhors violence and works hard to raise children who have respect for all people. Her boys grew up listening to her mantra “look after those who can’t stand up for themselves”. As a redhead, Mary is very aware of the torment children suffer at the hands of bullies.
“I think it’s about looking after the underdog and not thinking you’re such a big shot like they do in America.”
Her boys measure over six feet tall and are prepared to fend off thugs and stand up to bullies. They have been taught to treat all living beings with respect and look after animals. They make sure spiders and ants make it out of the house alive. Mary believes it’s the Australian culture that has allowed her to raise children who oppose violence and respect life.
Mary fell into a career in information technology in 1977. She was one of the first women in California to work for AT&T as a technician. With only a high school diploma, Mary climbed the ranks until she was manager of IT at the San Francisco branch.
When they arrived in Australia the family drove from Sydney, along the coast, looking for a place to call home. They looked at the Tamborine Mountains and Hobart among other places. “We knew we wanted to live somewhere with trees, not too humid, and we wanted rain in the summer,” says Mary.
A short stop at a caravan park in Beaconsfield confirmed that her life was destined to be lived in the local hills, and she’s never looked back.
“The people I have met here, the friendships I have forged make me feel like I was on a journey to get here my whole life”.
After arriving in Australia when she was 44, Mary fell pregnant with her third child and dedicated herself to the role of full-time mother.
When Mary needed a break from her youngest son, the only member of the family born in Australia, she visited the Emerald Community House. Their childcare facility allowed Mary to take a break from being a mother and go shopping.
“I needed to park my kid with people who would understand,” says Mary. It was a good place, a place where she wanted her child to spend time. The community atmosphere and friendly environment continued to draw Mary back. She was on the committee of the community house for years, before becoming chairman for two years.
Mary became the co-ordinator of the house in December last year and a paid employee. “I’m funded for 20 hours a week and I work about 55 hours,” says Mary and she’s there all the time. Living six kilometres away makes it too easy for Mary to go in to work on the weekends as well.
“When you’re here and working it energises you.”
“We have people who have been working here since the Stone Age because they love working here”.
Mary has played a key role in expanding the services available at the Emerald Community House. She loves getting involved in the community and says that one of the things she really admires about Australia is the “culture of volunteerism”.
“We’re about getting people skills in the local community,” says Mary. The committee has helped get the Emerald Business group up and running and now offers Adobe InDesign training. Mary organises grants and donations so that the local people can learn skills and receive training.
The Emerald Community House encourages a strong community atmosphere and Mary works hard to provide as many opportunities as possible to the locals.
“It’s part of my DNA, to get involved in the community,” says Mary. “We are so solution oriented here; there is nothing we can’t do.”
As well as being a mother to three boys aged 12, 16 and 19, and co-ordinator of Emerald House, Mary also runs a catering business on the weekends with a friend.
They have been running the Mexican catering business for three years. Called Cantina Dos Chicas, which means kitchen of two birds, they cater for birthdays, weddings and special events on weekends.
Mary’s determined spirit was evident on Black Saturday when the pair catered an outdoor wedding. Not knowing how the fires were going to impact the local area, they kept the party going and didn’t falter in their duty as caterers. Later they found out that the town nearly went up in flames.
The experience hasn’t affected Mary’s enthusiasm for her adopted country. Her respect for firefighters is greater than ever and she’s blown away by the efforts of the volunteer firefighters.
“Australians value life, but in the US life is cheap – if you can’t afford medical insurance you just die.”

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