90-year-old holds a torch for victims of abuse

By Hannah Norton

Jessie Feeney Moriarty has a lot to say - verbally and in writing.

The difference is, this founder of the National Organisation for Child Abuse pipes up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Whangarei resident Jessie turns 90 next Tuesday, with the celebration tomorrow to be attended by Mayor Morris Cutforth.

She's dedicated more than half her life to children, and animals, using the rare commodity that was spare time to write short stories.

Jessie was born in West Auckland and grew up on a farm in Wellsford.

She moved from Whanganui to Whangarei in 1960 to work as a child welfare officer, then became a senior social worker, a role she held for more than 27 years.

She also started the National Organisation for Child Abuse, something she wishes to see resurrected.

Of the abuse figures today in Northland, she said: "It brings tears to my eyes, and I feel I should be working again. I'm so sorry I can't."

"We seem to be able to say 'four children are abused each day' - and live with it.

"If you knew all of what was going on, you'd be very worried. But it's all very hard to control.

"We've got to understand - all of us - and watch out for our next-door neighbours.

"Everyone has to speak up."

And that's not the only thing she feels strongly about. Her husband, Syd Moriarty, said she had a huge passion for animals.

"She's in the Forest and Bird Society, and is good friends with Whangarei ornithologist David Crockett.

"She's always been interested in birds, interested in anything to do with nature. She won't even kill a spider," he said.

This might explain where the idea for an award-winning short story she wrote, A married woman, came from.

It's about a "cow falling into a swamp and the struggle to get her out", set on her Wellsford childhood farm.

"These days people might not even think about helping this poor cow out of the swamp, but this family did."

For this, she won the 1984 American Express Short Story award, which accepted entries from Australia and New Zealand, and was judged by Kiwi writer Janet Frame.

"And I remember reading this story to a packed Octagon Theatre back in 1984," she said.

So after all those years of speaking for others, it was a time she got to tell a story she'd written herself.

- Northern Advocate

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