A FITTING FINALE: After years of not knowing where her father was buried, this week Warragul’s Margaret Cook, left, visited Mildura to see his final resting place at Nichols Point cemetery. She is pictured alongside daughter Jenni Hayden. Photo: PAUL MENSCH 

By JOHN DOOLEY

A DAUGHTER’S quest to find the final resting place of her long-lost father has ended in a happy and dignified way, with the location of his grave found at Mildura’s Nichols Point cemetery.

Margaret Cook’s search for her father’s grave began more than 20 years ago, and it was only the discovery of a death certificate among her late brother’s personal effects that enabled her to pursue her dream of finding her late father’s final resting place.

Margaret’s story is heart-felt, and although her three eldest brothers had some contact with her father, who was living in Wentworth, she never saw him again after he deserted his wife and family of 11 children to be with another woman 65 years earlier in the 1953. 

In 1959, not long before Margaret was to be married, news of her father’s passing came when her eldest brother, Lyle, came to see her mother to let her know that her former husband had died in Wentworth aged 59. 

“My father left home when I was 13, and I was his little shadow while I was growing up, and if I was missing, Mum knew I would be sitting outside his work waiting for him to come home,” she said.

“I always wanted closure, to know exactly where my father was buried, I didn’t know where he was, where he had gone, or what had happened to him and that prompted me to take action, initially in 1996, to find the answer.”

Pauper’s burial

After one of her other brothers had died, Margaret came into possession of some documents that led her to believe that her father was buried at Nichols Point Cemetery in 1959,  in a ‘paupers’ or common grave under the assumed name of ‘George Jones’.  

“It was when my brother Bill died and we went through his files, because he had a lot of investments and we had to wind his affairs up, that we found the death certificate, and that’s how I found out that he (her father) was buried up in Mildura and had lived under the name George William Jones.”

In April last year, Margaret made contact with Mildura Rural City Council’s Cemetery Support Officer, Kellie Ricardi, who searched the cemetery’s records and found that there was in fact a George Jones buried in a common grave at Nichols Point in 1959.

Given there was some family contact with Margaret’s father, how he ended up in a pauper’s grave is somewhat of a mystery.

To further complicate matters, Margaret said that her father’s actual name was Rupert Lyle Pullin, but that he had used his father’s name, George William Lyle Pullin to enlist in the army, because he was too young. 

Mr Pullin went on to serve as a signalman in both World Wars.

To be sure that the grave identified by the Cemetery Trust was Mr Pullin, a sample of the remains was exhumed, and a DNA test carried out, in March this year, which unfortunately was inconclusive.

However, a second test was undertaken, which returned positive confirmation that it was Margaret’s father, Rupert Lyle Pullin, and the welcome news was conveyed to her – aptly on ANZAC Day. 

“I felt very elated, I was very happy because I finally knew where he was, but I also felt sad because if I had known I could have come up here a lot earlier, but I didn’t have that information until my brother Bill died, and because my husband wasn’t a well man I had to focus on him,” Margaret said.

Margaret also wanted to correct an anomaly on her father’s death certificate, the personal detail of which focused mainly on him and his defacto, with few details of his actual family.

“I wanted to try to have the death certificate changed which is very difficult to do, but with the evidence I was able to provide Births, Deaths and Marriages with, they did agree to add an ‘also known as’ notation to the certificate,” Margaret said.

Fitting recognition

Margaret and her daughter, Jenni Hayden, travelled from Warragul, in Gippsland, to Mildura this week to see the plaque that has been placed on her father’s grave, which now reflects his correct name and war service.

“It means a lot to finally see this closure for Mum, it’s been such a long journey for her over so many years with lots of dead ends and barriers, so to finally have it verified and she knows where he is, is wonderful,” Jenni said.

“Having the plaque with his name and war service recorded is a dignified and fitting way for him to be remembered, and Mum has worked really hard to bring this outcome about.” 

Margaret said she had to seek permission from the DVA war graves office to put the plaque on his grave, which was organised by Ms Ricardi.

“I am very grateful to her for that,” she said. “It’s been a long journey and to finally have this closure is a relief and I am very happy and satisfied that I know where he is.”