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Abel, Sheila (1913–2006)

by John Farquharson, Chris Abel and Liz Abel

Sheila Abel was born in Musoorie, a hill station in northern India in 1913, the second of six children. Her father, Will Porteous, was a missionary doctor from New Zealand and her mother was a Londoner.

The family moved from India to their father’s home in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1925. There, Sheila went to high school and university, graduating in home economics from the University of Otago. In 1932 she spent a year in the United States as an exchange student at the famous Barnard College in New York.

On returning to New Zealand she had a variety of jobs before she and her sister decided to venture to Sydney 'to seek their fortunes'. There she met her future husband, Russell Abel, who was down from Kwato Mission on furlough. Russell returned to Kwato without a commitment from Sheila. Thanks, however, for Russell’s talent for writing interesting and poetic letters, he eventually persuaded Sheila to marry him.

They were married in Kwato in 1940, but married life was cut short in 1941 by the threat posed by the advancing Japanese army. When order to evacuate to Australia came, Sheila made her way to her parents’ home in Dunedin where her first child, Christopher, was born in 1941.

Sheila and Russell, now with two children, returned to Port Moresby in 1945 aboard Burns Philps’ MV Montoro. As they had a Milne Bay woman, Olive Lebasi, travelling with them, they were segregated from the rest of the passengers and moved into a hot, cramped cabin in the crew’s quarters.

Back in Kwato after the war, Sheila spent the next 20 years teaching primary school classes at Kwato and in schools around Milne Bay. When Russell died in 1965, she returned to her family in New Zealand for a year before moving back to Port Moresby. Initially she taught at Hagara Primary School, near Hanuabada, then at various vocational schools around Port Moresby. Her last job was teaching home economics at Port Moresby’s Teachers’ College.

Retiring to Australia in 1981, Sheila bought a house in Buderim on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. There she became involved in the fledgling Immanuel Lutheran College when her grandsons, Charles and Owen, came to live with her and attend that school. Two years later, they were joined by their brother, Jeffrey. Looking after three teenage grandsons was heavy work for a 70-year-old not used to housework. However, that involvement helped her to adjust to her new life in Australia after 40 years in PNG.

Sheila was also active in the Buderim Uniting Church, where she made many friends and was an Elder for many years. In recent years Sheila was cared for in her Buderim home by her daughter Liz. Earlier this year, the family decided to move her back to Alotau rather than having her go into a nursing home. Sheila experienced a marked physical improvement for a short time, enabling her to celebrate her 93rd birthday surrounded by family members, including eight great grandchildren, who helped her blow out the candles on her birthday cake. She died peacefully two weeks later and was buried beside her husband in the church grounds at Kwato, where other Abel family members are also buried. Her three children Chris, Liz and Murray, who all live in Alotau, six grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren survive her.

Original publication

  • Una Voce, December 2006

Citation details

John Farquharson, Chris Abel and Liz Abel, 'Abel, Sheila (1913–2006)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/abel-sheila-7/text7, accessed 8 December 2019.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2019

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Porteus, Sheila
Birth

1913
Mussoorie, Uttaranchal, India

Death

23 June 2006
Alotau, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation
Key Organisations
Key Places