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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Moses, Margaret Veronica (1940–1975)

by Suzanne Edgar and Carmel Floreani

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Margaret Veronica Moses (1940-1975), Sister of Mercy, teacher and orphanage administrator, was born on 5 February 1940 at Launceston, Tasmania, second of seven children of Australian-born parents Harry Moses and his wife Margaret Elizabeth, née Bourke, both schoolteachers. Margaret attended St Thomas More's parish school, Newstead. Following her parents' separation, her mother took the children to Adelaide. Margaret was taught (1955-56) by the Sisters of Mercy at St Aloysius' College, Wakefield Street. In 1957 she entered the Convent of Mercy, Angas Street; professed on 16 January 1960, she took the religious name Miriam. She studied French and English at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1963). After graduating, she was sent to Mater Christi College, Mount Gambier, where she proved a gifted teacher. In 1968, exhausted from overwork, she left the Order.

At first, Moses had difficulty in adjusting to lay life. Although bandy-legged and pigeon-toed, she was an attractive, vivacious woman, with pale skin, black hair and grey eyes; her thoughtful manner and cultured voice impressed people. She was employed (1968-70) at Port Adelaide Girls' Technical High School; there she encouraged her pupils—many of whom came from disadvantaged backgrounds—to express themselves through poetry and diaries. In 1970 she was appointed to two of the Public Examination Board's subject committees, which developed an English syllabus that included less literature and more popular material. Moses was motivated by a strong sense of social justice, and saw her role as pastoral as well as educational, an attitude that was not approved by the South Australian Education Department. Disillusioned, she resigned.

In March 1971 Moses joined her friend Rosemary Taylor, who was based in Saigon running orphanages for an American organization, Friends of the Children of Vietnam. It had been formed to rescue children who were orphaned or abandoned during the Vietnam War and to place them with families in Western countries. Taylor found 'Margaret's organizational talents, her eloquence, her humour, and her very good French' real assets. Moses came to know plumbers and politicians, military police and milk-distributors; she interpreted for English-speaking nurses and French doctors; and she escorted children to Europe and the United States of America. She was best-known as a mediator who was diplomatic and charming, but able to discern hypocrites at a glance. Throughout her life she expressed her philosophy and her doubts in letters and poetry. Some of her most poignant verse, written while she kept vigil over sick babies, was to be published in Turn My Eyes Away (Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A., 1976). She wrote: 'I never got over the horror of children who had never lived, dying'.

As the communist forces drew closer to Saigon in 1975, Taylor and her colleagues evacuated children from the four orphanages in their care. On 4 April she accepted an offer of 250 places on an American airforce Galaxy C-5A. In a last-minute switch of responsibilities, Moses boarded the aeroplane. Soon after take-off the aircraft lost its cargo door and crash-landed, killing seventy-eight children and their seven escorts, including Moses and a South Australian nurse, Lee Makk. Lockheed, the aircraft's manufacturer, made a settlement which provided money to the prospective parents; the relations of the dead volunteers received lesser amounts. Mrs Moses used her settlement to establish the Margaret Moses Memorial Fund which helps mothers in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia to raise their own children.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Strobridge (ed), Turn My Eyes Away (Boulder, Colorado, US, 1976)
  • R. Taylor, Orphans of War (Lond, 1988)
  • Education Gazette (South Australia), Apr 1970
  • Newsweek, 14 Apr 1975
  • News (Adelaide), 4, 5, 7 Apr 1975
  • private information.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar and Carmel Floreani, 'Moses, Margaret Veronica (1940–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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