Mallacoota couple may be among those lost on MH17

Mary and Gerry Menke of Mallacoota in East Gippsland. Photo: Supplied
Mary and Gerry Menke of Mallacoota in East Gippsland. Photo: Supplied

Mallacoota couple Mary and Gerry Menke were on their way home from an overseas holiday when they boarded Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

The pair were prominent business owners in the small East Gippsland town of less than 1000 people, now struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

Mrs Menke and a daughter operated a hairdressing and beauty salon from a shopfront overlooking the sea.

Mr Menke was an abalone pioneer, thought to be the first in Victoria to establish his Mallacoota abalone pearl business in the late 1990s, having spent 30 years diving in waters off Mallacoota.

His company, MAPA Pearls, was acknowledged by the East Gippsland Business Awards last year, winning a judge's special award.

"Gerry and Mary were a wonderful couple and were delighted with the win, which cemented in their minds that what had begun as Gerry's hobby had turned into a unique and burgeoning business," executive officer of Business and Tourism East Gippsland Jeanette Seignior said.

"But it was far more than that. The Menkes were committed to giving back to the community and this year had committed to sponsoring business awards, which they felt had given them so much."

Ms Seignior said the couple was preparing to take their company to new heights.

They had recently filmed a segment for BBC program Coast that focused on the processing of culturing abalone pearls.

They were also developing ways to increase pearl production to meet the demands of their jewellery sales.

Mr Menke was also the director of the Abalone Fisherman's Co-operative.

Eastern Zone Abalone Industry Association chief executive Geoff Ellis said Mr Menke and his wife were dedicated to their family, community and the abalone industry.

"Gerry and Mary have for decades supported the Mallacoota community, and the local abalone co-op, now company, to their financial detriment," Mr Ellis said.

"They sacrificed higher prices achievable in Melbourne markets to ensure the viability of 'our Mallacoota factory'. It is in no small part as a result of Gerry and Mary's commitment to the local processing factory that it has remained viable, and now thriving."

Mr Ellis said the couple were "great community people".

"Mallacoota's thoughts, and prayers, are for the family and friends of such a wonderful couple," he said.

"Such 'givers' in small communities are irreplaceable."

Fairfax Media understands the couple had gone on an overseas trip to celebrate a milestone birthday.

This story Mallacoota couple may be among those lost on MH17 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.