Kiwi victim went to TGHS

Mary Menke
Mary Menke

Angry relatives of Kiwi MH17 disaster victim Mary Menke want those responsible brought to justice but are sceptical a fair investigation can be carried out.

Mary Menke, 65, and her husband, Gerry, were among 298 passengers and crew who perished when the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot out of the sky by a missile while flying over Ukraine on Friday morning (NZ time).

The couple was returning home to Mallacoota, about 500 kilometres east of Melbourne, after celebrating Gerry's 70th birthday in Europe. They were then to head to Timaru to attend the funeral of Mary's aunt, Rata Smith, which was held yesterday.

Nephew Hayden Tocker, who lives in North Canterbury, said the worst fears of his mother Ann, Mary's younger sister, were realised when she checked an email Mary had sent her days before the flight containing the couple's travel plans.

Her New Zealand-based family was "pretty shocked at the moment" and Tocker was unsure if or when they would travel to Australia.

He was keen to see those responsible brought to justice but remained skeptical after reading recent media reports.

"That [justice] would be nice, but the feeling is that it is going to be very difficult to pin down anyone with the site not being secure for the investigation," he said.


The Kiwi victim aboard the shot-down Flight MH17 was an "outstanding" student at Timaru Girls' High School.

Originally from Oxford, Menke, whose maiden name was Bignall, attended Timaru Girls' High School between 1962 and 1965.

Those who knew her during her school days said she was outstanding at school: musical, very bright and a top tennis player.

Timaru Girls' High School principal Sarah Davis said the school will remember Menke during an assembly.

"Mary was both talented academically and musically and will be mourned by the Timaru Girls High School community," Davis said.

She went on to train as a dental nurse, but her cousin Margaret Smith thought she could have gone on to be a top model.

"She just was the most talented, good-looking, amazing girl I've ever met ... She just stood out and had a beautiful personality."

Smith also attended Girls' High and although she was in a different form to Menke, they spent a lot of time together growing up, often visiting Menke's Timaru-based grandmother on weekends.

Mary married Gerry Menke, a Dutch-Australian paua diver 40 years ago. He was also killed on the flight. They moved to Victoria, Australia and lived in the fishing village of Mallacoota, 514km east of Melbourne.

The small town with a population of 1000 suited Mary very well because of her country upbringing, Smith said.

"She didn't have the big city mentality, she didn't have a head for big bright lights."

The Menkes ran an innovative abalone pearl producing company, Mallacoota Abalone Pearls Australia. The pair were seen as very community minded.

Her mother Elizabeth (nee Smith) was also an old girl of Timaru Girls' High School, as was Menke's sister Ann. Her father, Bill Bignall, turned 91 last month and lives in Oxford. Betty and Bill Bignall were both teachers in Oxford, while Menke's uncle Noel Smith ran a coolstore business in Timaru.  

The Timaru Herald