Born during the Great Depression, the second eldest of five siblings, Lew Rice’s childhood was defined by the events of World War 2. His father, who worked for Queensland Railways, was responsible for organising troop carriers throughout Queensland. Lew recalls climbing fences and playing in the grounds of St Laurence’s College and Somerville House, both schools having been taken over by the Australian Army, and the American troops respectively. He was fascinated by the anti-aircraft guns installed in the school grounds, and was rarely halted in his play by the troops working in the area. Blackouts and air raid warnings were common occurrences and Lew remembers his parents being warned because a chink of light was seen through their windows. Lew’s fascination with things military lasted for many years.
A Varied Career and Increasing Responsibilities
Having passed the Junior Certificate, he obtained a job at the Commonwealth Bank at his parents’ instigation. Lew would rather have joined the Merchant Navy, and so, to compensate for his thwarted ambition, joined the Naval Reserves. Over time he achieved the rank of Lieutenant, and had many interesting experiences with the Australian and British Navies. In the early 1950s he volunteered to the Navy crew sent to observe the first of British atomic explosions in Australian waters, off Western Australia. The British later followed these tests with further horrendous nuclear tests at Maralinga. Many of the serviceman exposed to the nuclear fall-out later developed cancers, including Lew, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer. In his fight for justice for these men, Lew became, and remains, the National President of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association, and the Atomic Ex-Servicemen’s Association.
Meanwhile, his career with the bank progressed, and with a sound future to offer her, Lew married Shirley Quinlan in 1959. He was transferred to the head office of the Reserve Bank in Sydney where he stayed for 10 years. Their daughter Carolyn was born in 1964. They moved to Tasmania, and Paul and John were born in 1969 and 1971.
Whilst there he instigated in his children’s school a Parents’ and Friends’ Association. This led to the establishment of a Tasmanian non-government school Parents and Friend’s Association. Lew was the foundation President. This led to his appointment as National Vice-President of the national body – The Australian Parent’s Council.
After 10 years in Hobart, the family moved to Port Moresby where Lew worked for the International Monetary Fund managing Papua New Guinea’s Central Bank with a staff of 130 and training a local person to take over from him. They left their daughter boarding at Brisbane Girls Grammar, but took the two boys with them. The boys attended St Joseph’s International School in Moresby run by the famous Sacred Heart Sister Flavian. She had spoken with the Principal of the Hobart School, Sister Eileen and asked Lew if he could set up and chair a Board of Management to assist with the administration of the huge school of 1700 pupils.
The school was teetering and took about as much effort as did his bank job.
Life in New guinea was dangerous and trying. So after one year Shirley returned to Australia with the two boys, setting up home at Mermaid Beach. Lew stayed on for another year to complete the project, but came back to Australia wherever possible to maintain contact with the family. Settling at Indooripilly, they concentrated on the children’s education.
In October 1952 at Monte Bello, Lew met and befriended a Royal Navy Commodore. They maintained contact and on several occasions Lew was asked to do some special tasks for the Royal Navy. It was just was not possible until 1988 when Lew retired from the Reserve Bank. He set up a Travel Agency in Brisbane’s China Town and once it was running, moved to Hong Kong to set up a branch of Marco Polo Travel in Yeon Long in Hong Kong’s new territories near the Chinese border. China was keen to build up a Tourism Industry and gave Lew a multiple entry Visa enabling him into China whenever he liked.
In the back of the Agency Premises the Royal Navy installed direction finding equipment. It was the days of the Cold War and the Taiwanese were paranoid that the Chinese would build up an army around Amoy and dash across the Straits of Formosa. With the Yen Liong installation and several like spots the Royal Navy was able to trace movements of Chinese Army groups all over Asia. Any suspicious build-ups resulted in AS and British Missile Frigates from Sasebo in Japan, or Subic Bay in the Philippines, steaming among the fishing boats in the Straits. Lew regularly sailed in the SS Shanghai from Tai Kok Tsui on the 60 hour trip to Shanghai with a small direction finder in a camera case. During this time Lew learned Japanese and basic Chinese Mandarin and was able to communicate sufficiently to survive his operations into mainland China. For his covert work in Hong Kong, Lew received the SAS Medal known in the Services as the “Oblique”, Latin for covert.
Lew retired when aged 55 with bowel cancer. Whilst in remission he continued to fight successive governments, including the Rudd government, for justice for the victims of the 1950’s and 1960’s nuclear testing. As National President of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association, he served on a number of committees and Consultative Forums in Canberra, and still continues in this role to negotiate with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for justice for the widows of victims of the nuclear fall-out from the British tests in Australia. Britain has never accepted responsibility for the impact of their nuclear tests.
Lew and Shirley started coming to the St Mary’s Church during the final days of the church community in the old church prior to our final eviction by the Archbishop. He was State Treasurer of the St Vincent de Paul Society for some years, and whilst working in this position became disillusioned with the Church. The catalyst was the wasting of over $100,000 of the Society’s money on legal fees in a ridiculous internal internecine power play between two groups of prima donnas who were seen as the State’s leading Catholics.
Lew and Shirley gave up church attendance .
However, they say Peter and Terry as two of the few priests in the Archdiocese who were on the right tram. When the attacks on St Mary’s started they joined the group which was destined to become St Mary’s in Exile. They stayed.
Lew and Shirley have been married for 55 years, and are proud and devoted parents of 3 children, 10 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. As a strong family man, Lew is proud of his family, and is convinced that his children and their children are the greatest achievement in his very successful and generous life.
He is a friendly, warm, generous and enthusiastic man who enjoys the company of friends at the church and when sharing coffee at Cafe Briz. If you have never met Lew, you have missed a treat. Get to know him today – I’m sure there is a lot more buried treasure that you will discover.