Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Mary Newell Zwolsman (1913–1987)

Newell Zwolsman died on August 4 in Brisbane.

Unassuming, modest, gentle, Newell, who probably never made a speech or wrote an article, nor even attended many meetings, nevertheless was unswervingly devoted to the Communist Party and all it stands for. A very hard-working and artistic woman, whose hands were never idle while her health was good, sewed, knitted and crocheted beautiful things which brought money for the Party.

Born in Sydney in 1913, on the eve of WWI, she went to work fairly early in her life. She trained as a nurse in Sydney Hospital, then married early.

Her first marriage lasted only two years: her husband died young.

She was 30 years of age when she married again to Jan Zwolsman, who came from Holland. A very active Communist, he soon won her interest in and helped her to join the CPA. Their work and interests took them around Australia, making friends and kindling interest in the working class movement along the way.

Jan had served in the army, leaving him with many health problems. He retired to Womberal (near Gosford) where he ran a hire boat service and Newell conducted a business from home selling baby wear made by herself.

When they sought more sunshine they moved to Bowen in Queensland. Newell's competence in cutting and sewing led to her appointment as manager of a local shirt factory, a position she held until it was destroyed by fire. They then moved to Cairns and later to Brisbane where Jan died in 1969 in the Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital after an operation.

When Newell's closest friend in Brisbane, Annis Sutherland, lost her husband, Newell moved to Brisbane to stay with her. The two party women combined their talents spending much time and devotion to produce all manner of goods for the Party all year round.

After Annis' death, Newell moved into a war widow's unit, not only retaining all her old friends, but also devoting time to her sister Bess who had come to live in Brisbane. Bess provided support for Newell during the time of her declining health in recent years.

In keeping with her wishes, Newell slipped away as unobtrusively as she had lived. She had willed her body to the University. There was no memorial service, not even a notice in the daily press. However, all those who had known her and loved her feel her death keenly and will keep her memory alive for a long time to come.

Tribune extends its sincere sympathy to Bess and her family.

Original publication

Citation details

'Zwolsman, Mary Newell (1913–1987)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Cowley, Mary Newell
  • Stokes, Mary Newell

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


4 August, 1987 (aged ~ 74)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Political Activism