The family of Mary Menke, an ex-pat New Zealander killed in the MH17 disaster, have released a statement about her life with her Dutch husband Gerry in Australia.

The couple had celebrated Gerry's 70th birthday in France with friends and family and were returning to their home in Mallacoota, Victoria on the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down over Ukraine.

"Though Mary and Gerry Menke's lives may have been tragically cut short in the MH17 disaster, they will be remembered by everyone who knew them for the vivacity and spirit with which they lived," the family said.

Mary nee Bignell was from rural Christchurch. She was working and travelling around Australia when she met Gerry Menke in Mallacoota, Victoria in the local pub.


"She cancelled her travel plans and they rarely spent a day apart from that moment further," the family said.

Mr Menke had immigrated from the Netherlands and was beginning his career in the abalone industry.

The couple were married in New Zealand soon after.

The family described Mrs Menke as "a woman as colourful in spirit as she was in appearance".

"Her easy smile and laugh were as bright as the shock of blonde curls piled on her head," the family said.

"Always the centre of attention and the life of the party, you could hear her coming long before you could see her."

"Mary and Gerry were many things to many people: award-winning business owners, adventurous world travellers, and active members of the Mallacoota community."

The couple were parents to four children and "doting grandparents" to five grandsons.

The Menkes were active in the community in many organised groups and clubs including the soccer club, sports club, golf club, kinder, school, SES, Abalone Fisherman's Co-op, and the pony club.

Mary was active in the local music scene including teaching piano and playing for the kinder kids, the statement said.

In the weeks preceding their tragic accident, Mary and Gerry had been surrounded by friends and a large number of family to celebrate Gerry's 70th birthday in France.

"Those in attendance - spanning three generations and the majority having travelled from Australia - had never seen them happier."

Mary and Gerry are survived by Sara, Brett, Anna, Paul and their extended families.