Gwen Cupper: an enriched life well lived
26th March 2023

GWEN CUPPER April 3, 1946-February 17, 2023

Gwen Cupper was born with severe intellectual and physical disabilities after a long and difficult labour. Her parents, Jack and Mavis, did not initially realise this “quiet, placid baby” was disabled. When the medical specialist informed my mother, he told her to “put her in an institution and forget her”.

That our parents decided instead to give Gwen the best life they could have enriched many lives.

Gwen grew up surrounded by family: two younger brothers and a sister, and often one, two or even three cousins as our mother helped other young families cope with their circumstances. Hearing of Gwen’s death, one cousin recounted how she had “spent my first school year living at your mum and dad’s” and recalled that each afternoon as she stepped off the school bus, Gwen would run from behind the house to welcome her.

Children attending kindergarten was not the foregone conclusion it now is, and in the early 1950s it was no easy task to take two small children – one disabled – to the nearest town’s kindergarten, with another baby in tow. Gwen attended Merbein kindergarten and went on to seven years primary schooling at the Lake School, near Mildura. This was long before it became trendy to integrate students with learning difficulties into mainstream classrooms, but those three teachers rose to the task. Recently, a woman who had sat alongside Gwen in the classroom for most of those seven years spoke of the privilege it was and how much she learned as a result.

From the age of 12, Gwen mostly stayed at home and helped with numerous domestic tasks in our busy home on a horticultural property at Yelta, near Mildura. Our mother, in particular, was determined to make Gwen as independent as possible so that she was skilled in personal care and everyday living. Many visitors remember the outstanding cleaning and especially ironing; she was a perfectionist. One cousin commented how she longed to “have Gwen cleaning out my cupboards now”. She was renowned also for her jigsaw puzzles.

Gwen Cupper

Gwen spent a year at the Mount Eliza Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital, where she made friendships that continued years after her return home. Fifty years later, when I showed Gwen a newspaper article about the “now-dilapidated and disused” hospital, she immediately recognised the building in the photograph. “Mount Eliza,” she exclaimed.

For much of her adult life, Gwen daily attended Mildura’s Christie Centre, where her skills and independence were further developed. She often travelled – trips to Perth, Queensland, and in later years, Adelaide and the Grampians. There were many day trips to sites around the Sunraysia, where Gwen joined community exercises such as tree planting; she was a volunteer worker at the Merbein Op Shop. Gwen loved to swim, and for many years enjoyed annual visits to beach holidays at Port Elliott in South Australia and Forster, NSW.

With the support of the Sunraysia district’s Supported Residential Services and daily carers, Gwen was able to live independently in a small unit. In 2018, she moved to Chaffey Aged Care, Merbein, and continued her enthusiasm for daily exercise and activities. Until recently, she easily remembered events and people from all periods of her life.

In the past weeks, many of Gwen’s former carers and staff at her supported residences have commented how much they loved her company. “We will miss Gwen,” said one carer.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,

Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;

Along the cool sequester’d vale of life

They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Thomas Gray,

An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1750)

A life well lived: a credit to our mother, who taught Gwen so much, and our father who ensured funds were available to support the development of specialised facilities in the Sunraysia.

Gwen is survived by siblings Pam, Mervyn and Lindsay.

Pam Cupper is Gwen Cupper’s sister and wrote this tribute from Gwen’s own “memory books”.

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