CELEBRATIONS: Middle: Catherine Annie McCarthy with her step-daughter Sandra Maynes (left) and step-granddaughter Jeanette Maynes (right) who will help celebrate Cath's 100th birthday on April 29.
CELEBRATIONS: Middle: Catherine Annie McCarthy with her step-daughter Sandra Maynes (left) and step-granddaughter Jeanette Maynes (right) who will help celebrate Cath's 100th birthday on April 29. Jodie Callcott

The Story Of: Cath McCarthy - two grand loves

CATH McCarthy watched as young men ran around throwing watermelon scraps at each other.

She was sitting with two friends at a school picnic at Innisfail when she was blind-sided.

A man rushed over and apologised.

"He got me fair in the side of the face with a lump of watermelon," Cath said.

"When I looked up and saw those lovely brown eyes, I really fell for him.

"The thought going through my mind was 'I've found him'."

It was about 80 years ago and the dark and handsome man with the deep brown eyes was Juan Porqueras, a Spanish cane farmer who had been naturalised as a child.

He took Cath to dances, the theatre and sightseeing in his sports car.

They were engaged in February 1941 and married four months later on June 6.

 

Cath McCarthy and Juan Porqueras on their wedding day, June 6, 1941.
Cath McCarthy and Juan Porqueras on their wedding day, June 6, 1941. Contributed

Juan was 12 years older. When they'd first met Cath was 22 and already a working woman.

She graduated from Herberton College as a qualified pupil teacher but, being the height of the Great Depression, there were no vacancies.

Instead, she used another scholarship she had secured to complete a business course at the newly built high school in Innisfail.

"I obtained a job in an office," Cath said. "I went back and forth to work on the rail-motor every day and I thoroughly enjoyed it."We were called bookkeepers in those days. I started off as a cashier and worked my way up. "I enjoyed the work so much that when a pupil teacher's job was finally offered to me, I refused it."

The war started in 1939 and Cath recalls being restricted by censorship and rationing of petrol, tea, butter, sugar and clothing.

Cath remembers when conscription was brought in but Juan escaped the war.

He failed the medical test because he had suffered rheumatic fever.

Instead, he found work at the Newcastle steel works and Cath, who was four months pregnant with her firstborn John at the time, joined him.

"We were there about nine months when Juan's father become ill with throat cancer," she said.

"It was a long, cold trip back north with a three-month-old baby.

"The trains were crowded and there were no sleepers because so many trains were needed for hospital or troop trains.

 

A 31-year-old Catherine during a family holiday to Luna Park.
A 31-year-old Catherine during a family holiday to Luna Park. Contributed

Soon after they arrived back at the family farm in Innisfail, Juan's father passed away.

Cath said after seven years of working a three-man farm mostly on his own, Juan contracted another bout of rheumatic fever.

"We used to get very wet seasons at the time," she said.

"After a spell in hospital, Juan's doctor advised him to get out of Innisfail and to a drier climate."

The young family planned to move to Mount Isa for 12months until Juan's health improved.

Cath said before they left for the "rather primitive town", her mother insisted she first see a gynaecologist.

"During the years on the farm I had two miscarriages and one major and one minor operation," she said.

"The gynaecologist asked me to go to the hospital with him overnight so he could examine me in theatre under anaesthetic.

"Afterwards he said 'Were you confined by a doctor or a butcher? I don't know how you didn't bleed to death'.

"I told him for days after John's birth I was tied to the bed to restrict movement while sitting in a pool of blood."

Cath expressed her desire for another baby, but the gynaecologist advised her to at least wait a few years.

"John was nearly 11 when Marie was born," she said.

"She was the prettiest little baby I had ever seen.

"I think we were so proud of her, we couldn't resist spoiling her."

After 10 years in Mount Isa, the family of four moved north to Townsville.

Juan worked as a crane driver for Brambles Steel Construction and Cath worked part-time to help with expenses.

It was during this time that Cath's world fell apart.

"When I was 49, I received a phone call one morning from the hospital who asked me to come up. I guessed immediately what had happened," she said.

"All week I had a premonition of disaster and all I could do was warn him to be careful. "I was met by the work's casualty officer who said 'he's dead'. Just like that.

"I don't think I will ever get over that shock."

After five years as a widow and longing for company, Cath finally agreed to join an indoor bowls club.

It was there she met Stanley McCarthy, who she married in 1974.

 

Stanley and Cath McCarthy were married in Townsville in 1974. It was both their second marriage after Cath lost her first husband to a tragic work accident, and Stanley lost his first wife to cancer.
Stanley and Cath McCarthy were married in Townsville in 1974. Contributed

Cath said meeting Stan at that point in her life was the best thing that could have happened.

"He had a traumatic time witnessing his wife's battle with cancer and subsequent death," she said.

"We seemed to have an instant rapport.

"After we were married, a friend said she noticed there was a mental telepathy between us.

"In other words, I would think it and he would say it.

"I can't explain that, I'll leave it to the Irish. They call it fey - 'second sight'."

Cath and Stan used to holiday in Hervey Bay every year and decided to move here in 2007.

After more than 35 years of marriage, Stan passed away in 2008.

"We were so happy that our two families blended so well," she said. "We had 35 years of family visits, hours on the bowling green that kept us fit to old age and we watched our grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up."

Sitting in her room at Bolton Clarke Baycrest Retirement Village, Cath said she was excited to celebrate her 100th birthday on April 29.

She will be surrounded by family from Tasmania and locally and friends from Baycrest.

"My doctor said my sharp memory has kept me going and willpower," she said. "I don't like anything to beat me."