Trailblazing journalist conquered many career challenges

Obituary Morna Sturrock

By Meredith Fuller

First published The Age November 5, 2018 

With myriad concurrent careers, Morna Sturrock’s 65-plus-year career encompassed so many fields of endeavour. Still working up until the age of 90, Morna was a pioneering perfectionist in all she did. Clever, humble, and enthusiastic, she was so prolific and ahead of her time that she exhausted nearly everyone she influenced.

An inspiring mentor to people of all ages, she offered wise counsel to leaders in diverse areas. Morna generously shared her practitioner wisdom in journalism; public speaking; author of many books, historian, academic, spear-header of the ordination of women, creator of the Embroiderers Guild and ecclesiastical vestments for all denominations, local councillor and political agitator, and … the list is too long.

Cathy Condell, her niece, organised behind the scenes work for her Order of Australia for her contribution to embroidery – if Morna had received an AM for every outstanding contribution, she would have required 100.

Morna authored many books, including the history of the Brigidines, and was the editor of Gesher. Her legacy for all denominations was gratefully stressed at her funeral by Walter Rapoport and Sister Cecilia Merrigan c.s.b.

Morna, the exceptional wisepreneur of Melbourne, was my fairy godmother, and I felt privileged to give her eulogy.

We met at Rusden (now Deakin University) 40 years ago and worked together for over a decade as the psychologist and the journalist. Immediately on the same wavelength we quickly became friends; together we orchestrated huge events to publicise the university. We were both future-focused on informing and marketing; working hard to showcase our students to prospective employers.

The principal was suspicious of our ambitious innovations and then staggered by their success – he publicly bestowed upon us the title of fairy godmother and goddaughter. It stuck.

In the The Bigger M I wrote her story MORNA & The MELBOURNE HERALD, providing snippets of her colourful life:

Ever anxious to do well, with spirit and determination, Morna started the same day as Rupert Murdoch at The Herald; they sat beside each other, and she found him warm, friendly, and a tad bumptious. He was good-naturedly frustrated when the first story she wrote was published … and his wasn’t.

Her exuberance and genuine concern for all people defined her – she was known in her youth as the “swan” for statuesque elegance. Morna was the only overseas woman correspondent, based in Fleet Street after the call came in 1952 to “send Miss Condell to Britain to cover Queen Elizabeth’s coronation”. She spent time with Norman Hartnell at Buckingham Palace, who admired her purple coat.

She was electoral secretary to the leader of the opposition, Sir Billy Snedden, and edited the first community newspaper funded by the Whitlam Government.

Many people were intimidated by Morna’s exceptional ability, her ability to inspire, and capacity to change the world. Publicly seen as strong, she remained modest, humble, and kind. We had many cups of tea and cream cakes, where she was perplexed that people saw her as a high achiever. Morna was responsible for my love of fine bone china and making a proper pot of tea.

Morna touched every aspect of my life, and she took pride of place at every significant event.

How I met my husband was an example of her common sense advice. I was bemoaning the lack of good men and wondered how I could ever meet an intelligent, caring, decent man. “Well, dear. Think of a man you admire, with values and interests you like, and ask if he has a brother!” I asked a fellow graduate student that night. “Have I got a brother for you! ” I met my soul mate, Brian Walsh (also a psychologist) and we’ve had 40 joyful years together.

Her great love for her parents, husband, four children and grandchildren was paralleled by her passion for causes she believed in, her community, society and humanity.

Elegant, curious, and persistent, Morna’s legacy lives on in thousands of people. She was, indeed, exceptional.