Development & Alumni Relations Office 

 

Elsie Phenix, BSc, BA. (Died 30 November 2021, age 75).

 

Obituary by Gerry Bell, friend and travelling companion.

 

Elsie was born 14 May 1946, grew up in Bainesmore Drive, off Springfield Road, and went to Grosvenor High School. She was at Queens 1964-67, a very different place then, with only a sixth of the current student population and, as near-contemporary Austin Currie said,getting there at all was an achievement and a privilege.’ After graduating BSc in mathematics, she worked as a computer programmer for the next four years, first for IBM Dublin, then Queens Belfast, and Nestlé in Vevey.

 

She had a boyfriend with a Queens Geography degree and they set off overland to India, October 1971. There was no Lonely Planet or Rough Guide then, so they packed a few pages from an old school atlas as their guide. Their plan was a two month trip before returning home, but they met other travellers coming in the opposite direction on the hippie trail”, all the way from Australia, and decided to keep going. They hitch-hiked across Europe, took public transports through the Middle East, India and south-east Asia as far as Singapore, and from there sailed to Fremantle, arriving six months to the day after leaving Belfast. They were thrilled to hear a kilted piper playing on the wharf, surrounded by crowds including Elsies cousins Vi and Tom, come to meet the Kota Singapura. Welcome to Australia.

 

Travel and adventure were in Elsies blood. She spent Queens summer vacations waitressing a tea house in Port Isaac; was skiing in Switzerland Christmas 1970; a year later, in friendly but cold Kabul, she bought wood to light under the hotel boiler for hot showers; and Christmas Day 1972 she was enjoying the sun and surf on Perths Cottesloe beach.

 

Australia was a different world. She became naturalised and worked with computers in Perth, Sydney, Port Moresby in newly independent Papua New Guinea and the University of New England, Armidale. In 1979 she enrolled as a nurse at Armidale Hospital, following in the footsteps of her nursing sister, and was judged best student of her year. But when it ended she gave up nursing, working briefly in an Armidale bookshop and as a bank teller, before returning to computing with BHP, the big mining company, first in Groote Eylandt then Melbourne. Life was varied in Australia, the land of opportunity. Her father, Sam, said she had charisma, and with her Queens degree she had no difficulty finding jobs.

 

She gave up computing in 1984 and began a four-year BA, Ceramic Design, course at Chisholm Institute of Technology. Wearing knaki overalls, hands covered in slip, she learnt to use a wheel, glazed and fired her own work. For the final year catalogue, she included a quotation.

 

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding.

 

Elsie had opportunities to return to computing but never did. She went on holiday to Bali, 1987, and met the man she was to marry. She started painting, enjoyed the freedom to work creatively at home, and had her Elna Lotus to make her own clothes.

 

She loved the outdoors, went swimming, cycling and bushwalking as often as she could. Bloody Bridge was a favourite hostel and she joined thousands of others on a Mourne Wall Walk, 1971. Five years later she trekked to Everest base camp in Nepal where at higher altitudes she needed a heavy expedition sleeping bag over her own as ice formed inside her tent.

 

Later that year she was in tropical jungle on the Kokoda Trail and spent a year in PNG before returning to ‘the mainland’. Wilsons Promontory, with its bush, long sandy beaches and sea, was a favourite getaway. She camped among gum trees, heard the sound of the sea and colourful birds calling at dusk as they bedded down, and dawn when they awakened.

 

Elsie returned often to Belfast to see her parents and siblings. After her father died she brought her mother to Melbourne for six weeks on two occasions and Violet loved being with her daughter. But when she died Elsies visits to her brother and sister, Samuel and Hazel, and their families, became fewer. She settled in a Melbourne beachside suburb and made trips with her husband to the mountains of his native Germany. She never changed, never lost her Belfast accent. Her new home, surrounded by tall trees and flowering bushes, was a little piece of Belfast in Australia. However, her later years were blighted by illness, eventually dreadful motor neurone disease. She loved conversation but couldnt speak in her last year, and succumbed two years after its diagnosis.

 

Elsie was much loved and is greatly missed.

 

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