Gwen, a Methodist missionary, was ‘mother’ (Missa) to hundreds of Indian-Fijian girls over 28 years at Dilkusha at Nausori, Fiji, from 1946 to 1974. Dilkusha, a Methodist home for orphaned girls or those given up for adoption, is still operating, providing a home for around 40 girls from babies to teens. Gwen was born in St Arnaud in 1918 into the Methodist parsonage, the third child of Rev Arthur and Millicent Davey. After attending the Methodist Ladies College, working at the Methodist Babies Home and training at Epworth Hospital, Gwen went to Fiji.
At the time Gwen was working there – and sadly still today – some Indian families rejected their infant girls or were unable to support them.
Gwen was quoted in a Fiji newspaper article: “I have seen a day old baby being fed with black tea because of the parent’s poverty. And brought children from homes that were worse than chicken sheds.
“We try to bring up the children at the pace of the general public, not giving them extra luxuries but forming them into ordinary citizens so that they don’t get the chip on their shoulders.”
Another newspaper article recorded: “Her day begins at 5.30 or earlier depending on what hour the hungriest of the new babies settles for its feeding time. The same hunger wails from the nursery break the night’s sleep as do any distress calls from the sick bay which opens off Miss Davey’s 10ft x 8ft bedroom.”
The article continued: “From 5.30am until after breakfast her routine follows much that of many other mothers with a young family.” Not many have families of 50!
The key to managing the daily deadline of getting everyone ready for school was the big and little sister system, whereby each girl over 12 years took under her special care one younger child over three years old. Big sister supervised the younger sister in her teeth cleaning, washing, dressing and bed making. When all the children were dressed and ready, morning prayers were held.
In 1974, Gwen received a certificate of honour and gold medallion from the Queen for “long and devoted service to the community”.
Gwen had a huge impact on many hundreds of girls that grew up in Dilkusha. She received many Mother’s Day cards containing messages of gratitude, saying what a wonderful mother she had been to them. Many of the girls now live in Australia, New Zealand and North America as well as Fiji. They visited Gwen regularly, some coming from interstate and overseas.
One of the ‘girls’ paying tribute at the funeral said: “Gwen so lovingly cared for thousands of children who needed to be loved and gave them a meaningful life.
“This gave Gwen (Missa) rich meaning to her own life as she closely watched all the children develop and she recalled with undiminished joy, the multitude of children she was privileged to love.”
Another sent a message from Canada: “We are what we are all because of you. You taught us how to be thrifty and charitable. It is because of you we were able to have careers and be successful in life. Because of you we are dedicated wives and loving mothers. We have in turn raised our children to be the same.”
Gwen retired to Ringwood in 1974 where she stayed until 1988 before moving to Salford Park Retirement Village. She enjoyed her time there where she spent the last 25 years of her life, close to her two sisters, Tasma and Win and their husbands.