Helen's Story

Helen Lorraine Herrmann was born to Dan and Dot Melville, March 5th, 1954 at Stirling West in South Australia.

Helen spent most of her early years growing up in the Upper Sturt and Blackwood region, along with her younger sister Margaret. She saw her father as a strict but fair and generous hardworking man. Helen grew up amongst fresh garden produce, a passion of her father. Her Mother loved cooking. A skill unquestionably passed on to Helen. It was that skill that allowed Helen to so readily treat and often amaze her family and friends. There was rarely a time where Helen couldn’t whip up a meal at a moment’s notice. Her reputation for sweet slices gave her the name as the Queen of Slices.

Helen was more the silent achiever type who characteristically succeeded at what she set her mind to. She was a conscientious and studious student. Her first job as a 14 year old student was working at the local fruit and vegetable shop. Her father felt this was beneficial for developing both her interpersonal communication skills and work ethics. These proved to be invaluable life skills. Office accounting was her first full time job with an insurance company. These administration skills were central to her ongoing working career.

Helen loved to collect stamps and coins in her earlier years. She also played the piano accordion. However the hours of practice was much to her sister’s annoyance. One of her proudest achievements as a young woman was to be made a Life Member of the Blackwood Gymnastic Youth Club in South Australia. She progressed to an instructor. Helen was also actively involved with the Brigadoon Marching Girls for several years. Competitions regularly took her and her family all over South Australia. Netball was another activity she enjoyed throughout her school years.

Helen had a love for dancing. It was May 1975 at a dance in the Norwood Town Hall in Adelaide, where she met Chris who also enjoyed dancing. By contrast, he was more the easy go lucky type of country guy. It was Helen’s signature smile that attracted Chris. This however wasn’t necessarily a reciprocal attraction with her father. It took some time to win his support. Typically, on returning his daughter home at midnight, “Pop” could be heard hollowing from the other end of the house to the nervous bearded boyfriend, “What’s a matter whiskers, forget your watch!”
Despite this their romance flourished. Two years after meeting, Helen then aged 23, Chris aged 22, married on April 23, 1977 at the Blackwood Church of Christ. The reception followed nearby at the Belair Hall.

In many ways their 38 years of marriage was an adventurous one. After a honeymoon cruise around the pacific they moved in to their marital home in Hampstead Gardens, SA. Clearly her first challenge was, converting the well entrenched bachelor pad that Chris occupied for the previous two years into a more homely place.

Helen and Chris’s love for adventure and travel led them to some unique and exciting places in Australia and around the world.

Their next travels began 3 months later where they spent the next 18 months of their married life living in a comfortably sized caravan working around country South Australia. Helen picked up jobs at the local PMG Telephone Exchange switchboard. “Number please, connecting you now…” was her daily duty. Meanwhile Chris worked nearby that was effectively putting her out of a job converting the telephone system to automatic dialling.

Setting up home in Adelaide became their next priority. They flippantly reflected on this time as their nesting time. After three children, Nicole, Nathan and Travis now “nested’, with Travis just three weeks old, they packed up home to move on… this time to Darwin. “It was one of those crazy things you do without thinking and just make it happen”, Helen often reflected on the move from one end of Australia to the other with 3 kids under five. It was a great three years though with lots of fun and crazy memories. Like camping with three little children near the river’s edge at Adelaide River because there were snakes further up. The shining eyes of the crocs… friendly fresh water ones of course, at night became a lasting memory.

There were more adventures to come with an opportunity to live in Saudi Arabia as a family. Helen loved shopping in the wide variety of the souk markets with the other expatriates. She enjoyed the social aspects of life in their Riyadh expatriate compound, the many day trips and experiencing the diverse cultural differences.

Montreal, Canada provided a home for the family for the next three years. While she took all these challenges in her stride, there were however limits. Important to Helen with all their ventures were their three children. If it wasn’t for Helen, the kids would probably have ended up in in a French speaking school spending the next three years wondering what their teachers were talking about! Their departure was delayed a couple weeks until she was satisfied Chris had their schooling needs properly attended to.While never settled in one place for more than a few years, Helen always took on the role of managing their three children, moving and getting established. She made many friends all over the world.

Helen returned with her family to settle in Bellevue Heights, SA for the next 15 years, a real record for them, while their children completed their education. Helen managed the accounts and office administrative duties in their family business. It was her personable and caring qualities that created a family culture within the business that also lasted in the minds of many of their past employees to this day.

Unfortunately her biggest challenge was yet to come. Heart breaking news came in 2003 when Helen was diagnosed with a rare Multiple Myeloma cancer. Despite all the treatment her doctor commented how he didn’t know of another patient who just took it on the chin so positively. Nor did he know of anyone in Australia who had 3 stem cell transplants as she did over that time to increase her survival period.

What cancer anyway? Just months ago she was selected to represent WA in the Nationals Dragon Boat Championships. It wasn’t to be though. Instead the team raced in her honour the day after she died.

That sums up Helen in a nut shell. She was never out to seek sympathy. People who knew her for years never knew she had cancer. Whether it was enduring the often twice weekly injection of drugs, the chemotherapy intravenously administered treatments required for each of the stem cell transplants, she wasn’t out to make it known. She was in a sense a true survivor.
Helen’s children clearly inherited her love of adventure. After spreading out around different parts of the world and Australia, they all coincidentally ended up in Perth, Western Australia. While they all happened to be in the same city, Chris and Helen took a sea change opportunity to Perth that would also allow them to spend more time with their children and partners and grandchild. With just one grandchild when they arrived, three and half years later they were privileged to enjoy six grandchildren, Jarrah, Blake, Flynn, Chelsea, Emilia, and Lachlan.

There was however to be one final challenge. As a result of the cancer that continually confronted her body and bones, Helen had a minor fall, breaking her leg. Not deterred by the frustration, pain and crutches, she set off with Chris for a brief visit to Adelaide around Easter. It was however to be a final farewell to extended family members, close friends and sister in Port Lincoln.

On return to Perth, Helen’s life suddenly gave into an unexpected and rapid escalation of her cancer with her life passing just a week later on Wednesday 15 April, 2015. Although it was an extremely sad and confronting experience, there was however brief time for sharing some stories along with some laughs, cries, hugs, and kisses in her final moments. A lovely picture was left in the minds of her children, of the love Chris and Helen shared of their thirty eight years of marriage as Helen was hugged and kissed as her life was slowly taken away.

In her very final moments, holding her now unresponsive hand, Chris realised the following week was to be their 38th anniversary. He thought how this would be the perfect date for her funeral. With not a word spoken and no more than a thought, it was at that exact moment she finally took her last breath.

Helen, will be so sadly missed by her husband and family, her many friends and as a woman who had so much to give and was taken far too early. Her grandchildren will miss out in not having her as their Nanna, but I’m sure they have been touched in some way to be better off for having her in their lives as short as it was.

Rest in Peace Helen, Mum, and Nanna.