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The eulogy of Maree Syron: The matriarch of Flinders Street

February 24, 2014

By David Grove

Maree at her much used piano

Maree at her much used piano

This eulogy of Maree Syron was presented at her funeral in Newtown Sydney by David Grove. It is presented here in Mic Smith Geographic not just as a tribute to a great lady who touched the lives of many people in Sydney, but as a valuable cultural document, that characterises the spirit and values of Darlinghurst life in the 20th century.

“I arrived at what I’m about to say by talking to people about Maree and remembering myself. Apologies if I got something wrong or forgot to mention someone”

David Grove, friend and former tenant/flatmate of Maree Syron

Maree Jane Syron. Dear Maree. With her big hair, her big boobs, those big eccentric hats she wore with those big long ornate hatpins… The big sunnies she wore when you took her out for lunch. We called them her Dame Edna’s and she’d laugh that wonderful raucous cackling laugh she had.

But mostly I think we’ll remember that great big heart she had.

Maree undeniably had class. A style all her own.

Maree inhabited herself with a sort of commanding presence you couldn’t ignore and naturally respected. She could be tough but compassionate, a very loyal friend. And no matter how long you left it, when you phoned it was always the same.

“Yes,” she’d say in that very offhand world weary way.

Then when I’d say, “Hello darling it’s me,” down the phone would come a huge, “Ohhhhh Hello!” and the biggest explosion of love over the line that you could imagine.

Unless… You phoned in the morning… She could be a bit grumpy in the mornings.

Maree was born in December 1926 in Brisbane. Her father’s occupation was listed as “Carter”. Maree’s mother died when Maree was quite young so she ran the house for her father and brother. Her father was quite strict. He would use the strap she said.

I remember Maree talking about Brisbane in WW2. American servicemen, fights in the dance halls. She was a young woman in those years. Did she sneak out, go to those dancehalls? She must have, being Maree.
In 1947 she married Neville a Naval sailor, both 20, Maree working in a milkbar. She had a strong right arm from scooping icecream. They had a daughter Loraine, she was living with her father still, she described hanging out nappies alongside her father’s work clothes. Bloody hard work with Neville at sea six months at a time. I wonder if she got much sympathy from her father and brother at this time.

She left.

And went to Sydney. Brave move for a young woman at that time. Lorraine stayed in Brisbane with family. The great great sadness of Maree’s life was the loss of Lorraine in a road accident while she, Maree, was in Sydney.

She didn’t speak often of Lorraine but she must have thought of her every day of her life.

Talk about the old days in Sydney with Maree, and I never got much detail. She seemed to know a lot about the Abe Saffrons and Kings Cross characters of the day. Glamorous and street smart she would have been quite a gal. She did mention dealing cards at a baccarat school. Story about climbing out a window and hanging onto a drainpipe when the place got raided.

Could believe it of Maree, very worldly, very accepting, nothing surprised her. Down in Sydney, Maree met the man who would become the love of her life, Brian Syron. Brian’s sister, Sue, tells the story of the first time Brian brought Maree home. She came home and said “Mum how come Rita Hayworth is sitting in our kitchen,” she was so gorgeous and glamorous.

Maree, older than Brian was probably called a cradle snatcher, probably called a lot of other things as well for moving in with an Aboriginal man. The measure of the woman was that she saw Brian for the man that he was. And a very good looking man too.

Sue tells of how Maree encouraged Brian to pursue his acting, helped him get to New York to study. Brian went on to produce the first Aboriginal play to be produced in Australia. And Maree never asked nor was given the credit due to her for helping Brian achieve what he did.

Brian's sister Sue (R)

Brian’s sister Sue (R)

Maree bought a Ford convertible and Brian drove them round in it, what a beautiful couple they must have been swanning around The Cross, moving in the world of acting and the theatre. She knew John Hargraves and she had stories of being in a Jacuzzi with Robert De Niro.

So Brian and Maree jumped the broom together, shared a flat in Neutral Bay, and Maree became Maree Syron.

I first met Marie at Flinders Street her little boarding house oasis next to the Taxi Club. She made a fabulous eccentric landlady. She’d be out there poking around the garden with the massive monstera wearing one of her funny hats, she loved life around Darlinghurst, the gays, the eccentrics; She’d let the homeless people use her address for Social Security to send their cheques, but she saw through the ratbags and you couldn’t put one over her. The Dragon Lady of Flinders Street they called her.

(To be continued)

David Grove and Michael Smith had been friends for a year or so when David moved in to “Flinders Street around 1988. David is a sailor, songwriter and ukele player who now lives with his fiance Jo on their yacht.

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