Marjorie Jean Lyon.

Heroine’s name put forward for new seat

A former Northam resident's name has been submitted as an unsung local hero deserving of an electorate named in her honour.
July 4, 2024
Anita McInnes

MARJORIE Jean Lyon, who was born in Northam in 1905, is one of the alternative  names put forward for the new federal seat in Western Australia.

In May the Australian Electoral Commission’s redistribution committee proposed the new federal seat to the east of Perth to be named Bullwinkel in recognition of Lieutenant Colonel Vivian Bullwinkel (1915–2000), a civilian and military nurse who was the sole survivor of the 1942 Bangka Island massacre and a prisoner of war.

Members of the public were invited to submit written objections to the proposed redistribution between May 31 and June 28.

John Lyon was one of the people making a submission objecting to the name Bullwinkel.

While acknowledging the worthiness of naming an electoral division Bullwinkel somewhere in Australia Mr Lyon said there had been no reference to her Western Australian connections.

“I agree with the proposal to honour a female war hero who provided critical health care in and near Sumatra in World War II,’’ he wrote.

But suggested his surgeon aunt – Dr Marjorie Jean Lyon (1905-1975) – a woman with strong connections to the area should be considered.

“She was selected from over 4000 proposed entries by the Australian Bicentennial Authority as one of 200 unsung heroes and heroines.

“In 1946 she had been awarded the OBE by the King for her work.’’

Mr Lyon said what made his aunt a more appropriate woman to have the electorate named in her honour were the facts that “she was born in Northam, the heart of the proposed subdivision, went to school there and that her family lived there for 60 years or so practicing law.”.

“Significantly she visited every school in the electorate checking on the health of children for about 20 years,’’ he said.

“In 2017 the middle school of MLC Claremont was named in her honour.

“Marjorie went to school there after her primary schooling at Northam state school…the Northam high school was not built when she was a teenager.’’

Extracts from her entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography say on July 30, 1937 his aunt joined the Malayan Medical Service.

“She was stationed at Johore Bahru in January 1942 at the time of the Japanese advance,’’ the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry said.

“Ordered to Singapore, she joined her English friend Dr Elsie Crowe at the general hospital and took charge of the shock ward.’’

When they were evacuated their vessel was sunk by bombers near Pompong Island and although injured herself Lyon swam 400m to the island, treated Crowe whom she saved from drowning and cared for others who had been wounded.

“Days later she, Crowe and others were rescued by the ship Kafuku Maru (Krait) and taken to Sumatra.

“Although the arrival of the Japanese was imminent Lyon chose to remain as a prisoner of war.

“She assumed medical responsibility for about 50 British and 25000 Dutch women and children, initially located at a Salvation Army hospital, then at a Catholic monastery and later at a gaol.’’

Eventually they were moved to a jungle camp where due to her care only 160 deaths were recorded.

Although only a small woman she ‘gave the Japanese hell…always demanding medicine and getting slapped for asking’.

After the Japanese surrendered Lyon was evacuated to Singapore where she met Lady Mountbatten who described her as ‘an outstanding woman doctor’.

Dr Lyon practiced with the Malayan Medical Service until 1950.

Following a brief period as a private specialist she joined the Western Australian Schools Medical Services in 1951.

She retired in 1970 and died in March 1975 at Nedlands.

On July 2 there was still no indication from the Australian Electoral Commission of when the final electoral boundaries will be announced.

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