Firm friendships celebrated on International Day

As he approaches his 91st birthday, born and bred Queenslander Patrick Mason says one of his tips for a long and happy life is to stay on the lookout for new friends, regardless of age.

As he approaches his 91st birthday, born and bred Queenslander Patrick Mason says one of his tips for a long and happy life is to stay on the lookout for new friends, regardless of age.

The comments made by the Mercy Place Cairns (Bethlehem) resident and nonagenarian who, by his own admission, has had a ‘wonderful and colourful’ life in far north Queensland, come ahead of International Day of Friendship on Saturday 30 July, a day proclaimed by the United Nations to promote and appreciate friendships from all backgrounds.

“My advice is to be happy within yourself, to solve problems as quickly as you can rather than dwell on them, keep making friends throughout your life and, most crucially, find the right life partner,” says Pat, who freely admits he comes from a large family who has a habit of making friends with everyone.

Born in Cairns on 4 August 1931 at St Anthony’s Private Hospital, Pat was soon taken back home with his mum to Cape Tribulation to join his three brothers and a family that would rapidly expand to include seven kids.

When he reached school age, Pat was taught by correspondence (his school papers were delivered by boat every week) until the family moved to Cairns, to live in Freshwater, where his dad was a vegetable grower who offered a delivery service throughout the town.

After he completed his schooling, Pat began a building apprenticeship and later went on to start his own building company, a career path that would see him work extensively throughout far north Queensland.

“My greatest achievement in life was meeting and marrying my wife, Agnus Fraser,” says Pat. “We met at Edgehill Dance Hall on a Saturday night and were together for almost 60 years, during which time we had four children, nine grandchildren and more great grandchildren than I can count,” he laughs.


But in terms of career highlights, Pat points to his involvement in building a replica of the Carriers Arms Hotel – the first hotel in Mareeba – as something that fills him with the greatest pride.

“Our family lived in Mareeba for a while and we stayed in a room at the Carriers Arms until we could rent a house, during which time we made some great friends,” Pat recalls.

“In that time I grew a real appreciation for the place and thought it was the greatest thing of all time.  It was a watering hole for all types of people, people who rode a horse down the street, like they do in America, and people who even rode their horse to the bar.  It really was unique, and it was a sad day for the locals when it burnt down on May 1, 1952.”

Decades later, Pat met Mary Thompson, curator of the Mareeba Heritage centre, who explained a group of museum volunteers had conceived the idea of recreating part of the Carriers Arms as one of their displays, and she asked him if he’d be in charge of construction.

“I had lost my vision by that time but by then Mary and I had become friends and she wasn’t deterred.  She reassured me she’d get workers to help me out, and from there on I was known as the ‘blind builder with collapsible knees’ because, you guessed it, I had dodgy knees too.”

The process of building the replica hotel – which was completed in 2013 – is featured in the book ‘The History of the Carriers Arms Hotel in Mareeba, a book written by Pat’s close friend Mary Thompson, and one that he treasures.

“I have a friend here at Mercy Place Cairns who read the book to me recently. It took close to two days but oh, did we laugh,” says Pat, who has lived at the not-for-profit aged care home for the past three years.

“It brought back wonderful memories, and what’s more, it was wonderful to have a new friend here at my home to read it to me.”

Mercy Place Cairns (Bethlehem) General Manager Precinct, Zubair Coovadia, says friendships enhance and enrich our lives and International Friendship Day is a day for celebrating strong relationships, both new and old.

“Sound friendships are connected to emotional wellbeing and we’re fortunate at Mercy Place Cairns (Bethlehem) that many of our seniors, like our beloved Pat, have formed strong bonds with fellow residents and, of course, we very much encourage our residents to maintain their long-term friendships too,” he says.

“As a result we have a close-knit community where seniors genuinely enjoy each other’s company and friendships flourish, and we believe that is an incredibly important aspect of our residents continuing to live fulfilled, enriched and happy lives.”

International Day of Friendship is a United Nations day that promotes the role that friendship plays in promoting peace in many cultures. It is observed on July 30 each year.