Lorrae Desmond laid to rest at Welby Cemetery

Lorrae Desmond October 2, 1929-May 23, 2021

Lorrae Desmond October 2, 1929-May 23, 2021

In contrast to a star-studded funeral in Sydney yesterday, Gold Logie-winning actress Lorrae Desmond's burial at Welby Cemetery today was an intimate family affair.

She was laid to rest only metres from her parents, Des and Alice Hunt, and alongside her sister, Norma Williams.

Ms Desmond was born Beryl Hunt in Mittagong in 1929 and moved to the UK with her family at the age of 10.

Niece Lyn Perini, her huband Mike, and sons Simon and Jason, sprinkled petals into Lorrae Desmond's grave. Photo: Michelle Haines Thomas

Niece Lyn Perini, her huband Mike, and sons Simon and Jason, sprinkled petals into Lorrae Desmond's grave. Photo: Michelle Haines Thomas

Perhaps best known for playing Shirley in the long-running A Country Practice, she was also beloved among the Vietnam veteran community after making several tours of Vietnam during the conflict to entertain the troops.

This morning at Welby, local veterans formed a guard of honour as Ms Desmond's coffin passed into the cemetery.

Ms Desmond had no children but was close to her niece, Lyn Perini, who organised the burial and spoke lovingly of her aunt.

"She wanted to return to where her parents, Des and Alice, and my parents are laid, so she's back where she began, and so much has happened in between," she said.

She acknowledged the presence of Vietnam veterans, for whom she was affectionately known as their 'mother', following her perfomances during the war.

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"She loved you so much - thank you all for being here, and for loving her as you did," she said.

She played a recording of Ms Desmond singing 'Hold My Hand', a song she first heard at the age of five when her aunt's career was taking off in the UK, and that she sang with her aunt during her last visit, just days before her death.

"This song has now become a bookend to the beginning and the end of my life with her," said Mrs Perini.

"This song will always hold precious memories of that day with her...and all you here who have held her hands along the way."

Mrs Perini's husband, Mike, sons Simon and Jason, and daughter-in-law Jasmine also shared their memories of their beloved aunty, known to the family as Gabby (for Great Aunt Beryl).

Memories of Vietnam veterans

Among the Vietnam veterans who paid their respects this morning was Ernie Sparham, who previously lived in the Southern Highlands.

Vietnam veteran Ernie Sparham thought of Lorrae Desmond as a mother-figure, after meeting her on the docks as a Barnardo's Boy as he set out for Australia, and reconnecting through the Vietnam War.

Vietnam veteran Ernie Sparham thought of Lorrae Desmond as a mother-figure, after meeting her on the docks as a Barnardo's Boy as he set out for Australia, and reconnecting through the Vietnam War.

His memories of Lorrae Desmond stretch back to the tender age of seven.

"I came out to Australia as a Barnardo's boy in 1957," Mr Sparham said.

"Lorrae was at the dock in England - she was a huge star by then - and she gave all of us a koala bear and a bank book with £5."

Unfortunately, the koalas were taken from the boys when they went through quarantine in Australia, but he still has something else she gave him that day - a photograph on which she'd written, "Dear Ernie, I hope your new life is a successful one."

Many years later, Mr Sparham, knowing Lorrae Desmond was due to perform for the troops during his next tour of Vietnam, took the picture along with him and presented it backstage.

Ernie Sparham, Gordon McCreadie, Ray Kuschery and John Innes, all from Mittagong RSL, shared their memories of seeing Lorrae Desmond perform in Vietnam. Photo: Michelle Haines Thomas

Ernie Sparham, Gordon McCreadie, Ray Kuschery and John Innes, all from Mittagong RSL, shared their memories of seeing Lorrae Desmond perform in Vietnam. Photo: Michelle Haines Thomas

"She came running out, and told me I should visit her when we were home," he said.

"Of course, I didn't, but during the Welcome Home concert in 1989, I did the same thing and she wrote her address down and told me to come."

That began a deep friendship that lasted through her move to Queensland, and up her death on May 23.

"Every fortnight or so I rang and said hello," said Ernie.

"I talked to her the day before she died, and I was the second person they called when she died.

"She was my 'mum'."

Another veteran, Norm Austin, said he felt a sense of both duty and pride in commemorating her life.

He is proud to have been in a photo in the Australian War Memorial archives, showing Ms Desmond singing to a crowd of soldiers in 1967.

Lorrae Desmond sings to the troops in Vietnam in 1967, with Norm Austin in the centre of the shot, and fellow Mittagong RSL member Phill Moscatt at centre right. Photo: Australian War Memorial/public domain

Lorrae Desmond sings to the troops in Vietnam in 1967, with Norm Austin in the centre of the shot, and fellow Mittagong RSL member Phill Moscatt at centre right. Photo: Australian War Memorial/public domain

"Phill Moscatt and I were serving with headquarters 1st Australian Task Force at Nui Dat in South Vietnam at the time and attended the Lorrae's first concert there," he said.

"I have always remembered Lorrae and whenever she appeared on television I would always tell family or friends that 'I saw here in Vietnam'."

Lorrae Desmond's parents Desmond and Alice Hunt are also buried at Welby Cemetery, along with her sister Norma. Photo: Michelle Haines Thomas

Lorrae Desmond's parents Desmond and Alice Hunt are also buried at Welby Cemetery, along with her sister Norma. Photo: Michelle Haines Thomas

This story Gold Logie winner Lorrae Desmond laid to rest first appeared on Southern Highland News.