Parents stayed as kids flew
John and Natalia Gemmell whose father Nick Norris died on MH17.

"Don't call because we don't know how to talk about it" was all Rin Norris and Anthony Maslin could manage to say to their family in a text message after their world fell apart.

The Scarborough parents found out yesterday in Amsterdam that their three children - Mo, 12, Evie, 10, and Otis, 8 - died along with Ms Norris' father Nick when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed.

Ms Norris' sister Natalia Gemmell shook with shock and cried with disbelief as she talked yesterday about the tragedy that has devastated her family.

But the 43-year-old wanted to pay tribute to her "amazing" father and her "very clever and very beautiful" nephews and niece.

Mr Norris and his grandchildren boarded MH17 to return home to Perth after a two-week holiday in Amsterdam.

Ms Norris and Mr Maslin planned to have a few days longer on their own in Amsterdam, where the family used to live, before returning to Perth on Monday. "I don't know how they are going to manage on their own," Mrs Gemmell said.

"It's terrifying, absolutely terrifying and it doesn't make any sense." She said her sister Kirstin Norris, who is based in Sydney with the Royal Australian Navy, phoned her at 6.15am yesterday with the news.

"She called to say that she'd seen it on the news. She knew that dad was travelling Malaysia Airlines and coming home today. So she rang DFaT and they confirmed that he'd cleared customs," she said.

Mo, 12, Evie, 10, and Otis, 8, died along with Ms Norris' father Nick when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed.

She said her sister Rin, 41, a photographer, and her husband, a stockbroker, had travelled the world, living in Amsterdam, Hong Kong and the Maldives.

They returned to live in Perth 18 months ago. Mo was a pupil at Scotch College. "He was a clever, artistic boy," Mrs Gemmell said.

"I think Evie would have been an incredible artist. I mean she's 10 and she's done this watercolour. And Otis, he loved nature."

Nick Norris, 68, father of four, was a consultant who ran a company called Collaborative Systemic Change, which worked to help organisations and communities, particularly indigenous ones, manage change positively.

"He changed a lot of lives," Mrs Gemmell said.

"He did a lot of good."

"He's just got a very big project working with the Martu people and he was helping to facilitate cultural change and develop the skills of the Martu people in terms of being able to manage change in the community.

In 1996, Mr Norris was instrumental in setting up a program to give indigenous children the capacity to do their homework, which they previously did not have and which was hampering their education.

"That program is now running in 70 schools in Australia," Mrs Gemmell said.

"One of the first kids to go through that program was named indigenous lawyer of the year about two years ago."

Mr Norris, married for 31 years to his wife Lindy, a senior lecturer in education at Murdoch University, was also a former teacher, a lieutenant-colonel in the Army Reserve and a consultant for the education and health departments.

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As well as running his company, he was a keen sailor. Speaking on behalf of Ms Norris yesterday, South of Perth Yacht Club manager David Harries said the club was "an immense part of the family's life and extremely important to them".

"Nick and Lindy are well loved and respected members of the club who contributed selflessly as volunteers for yachting regattas and events," he said.

Mr Norris had been a member of the club for 16 years, while Mr Maslin, Ms Norris and their three children joined more recently.

Murdoch University vice-chancellor Richard Higgott said the loss was tragic. "Nick Norris was a member of the Murdoch University community between 1991 and 2006 and the news of his passing has deeply saddened staff," Professor Higgott said.

"The Murdoch University community is devastated for our colleague Lindy who has been a part of the Murdoch fabric for more than 20 years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lindy and her family at this very tragic and devastating time."

Dr Alec O'Connell, headmaster of Scotch College said: "This catastrophe is a family tragedy of the highest order. The college community shares in the family's grief and has lost a valued student in Mo Maslin, and an Old Scotch Collegian, in Nick Norris.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Maslin and Norris families and the families of all of those who perished as a result of this senseless act."

Mrs Gemmell said her father's motto was "do good, have fun, make money".

"He had a lot of fun and he did good around the world," she said.

"I feel incredibly grateful to have had the dad that I had, and to have had those beautiful kids."

Mr Norris and his grandchildren were among seven West Australians who died when MH17 crashed in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine after being shot down. Yvonne and Arjen Ryder from Albany and a staff member at a Catholic school also died in the tragedy.

'It's terrifying, absolutely terrifying and it doesn't make any sense.' " *Natalia Gemmell *

The West Australian

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