Coralie Mead was born in 1918, making her 102 this year. Although, Coralie may be 102 this year her memory is sharp as a tack and she can recall the amazing life she had led in remarkable detail. The following story is written in Coralie’s own words and scribed by our Communications Manager, Jamie Langdon.
Coralie Mead’s Life Story
I was born in Murray Bridge South Australia on the 2nd of May 1918. I was the youngest of three children, with my older sister Doris and bother Lance. I think my parents took one look at me and said, “Oh well that’s it, she’ll be enough trouble.”
Sadly, both my brother and sister have passed away, but both lived good lives well into their 80’s and 90’s.
When I was little my Father worked at the Railway in Murray Bridge, as a train driver. That was why he wasn’t called up to the First World War, because he was driving out to the border of SA to pick up the crops that were needed for the War. He eventually left the Railway when we moved to Adelaide. I don’t know why he ever did leave the Railway, I think he wanted to move to the city to live and thought it would be easy to transfer, but when we moved they weren’t hiring country drivers.
We moved to Adelaide in 1922 and built a house in Cowandilla, a suburb outside of the city next to Richmond. I can remember Adelaide back then, the city was just a square mile with a big wide area of parklands all around, it still is today. After the parklands that’s where the suburbs started. They’ve kept the greenspace even to this day and you can’t build on them. They had everything on those parklands, like Horse Riding and even Motorcar races.
Adelaide was a very nice place to live. It’s not too big, like Sydney or Melbourne, I couldn’t live in a city like that. But the traffic was horrible just like everywhere else. Even so, we had everything we needed in Adelaide, and whenever we could we would go out to the country.
When we moved to our new house and I was about five or six, I remember the Doctor coming to our home to remove my tonsils. He put me up on the dining table and removed them right there in the kitchen. I think he may have cut a hole in my throat too, because I’ve always had a sensitive spot right there. Can you imagine a doctor coming to your house these days to take your tonsils out?
When I was five, I started school. As a little girl I was always left-handed, but back then they didn’t ‘let you’ be left-handed, so I spent all my time at kindergarten being taught how to be right-handed. To this day I still can’t tell the difference between my left and right without looking at them.
I enjoyed school and we only lived five minutes away which was good. My siblings and I would walk together and when we got home, we would go to the creek. We were lucky we there was a creek that ran from the foothills right down to the coast and it ran one street away from where we lived. All the kids used to swim there after school and on weekends. Back then nobody worried about people falling into the creek, if you fell you fell, and you just had to find your own way out.
Then the Great Depression hit, and my parents had it very tough. We lost the home we had built because we couldn’t pay our bills. But all the men still had to go and work for the Council to pay their rates, they weren’t going to let them get away with not paying it off. But once it was over I remember the days after the Great Depression, there was a lot of music being played and carefree days to be had once we were finally on the other side.
My father got a job after the Depression, as a Storeman. While he was at work, he met someone that was giving up their house to shift somewhere else, so we were able to rent there. The only downside was that it was on the other side of town to what we were used to.
Once we moved, I went to high school with my sister, and my brother went to a technical school. He was always very good with his hands. Back in those days we didn’t have counsellors telling us what we should do or what we should study, so I took the homemaking course because it meant it could do things with my hands as well. I liked to sew, and I would even make little clothes and things like that for my Teddy Bears. My sister, however, well she could talk to anyone. She was one of those people who always knew the right thing to say. She had a wonderful nature to her.
I was very lucky with my family, we had two parents who never quarrelled. Yes, they had their differences, but there was never any yelling or shouting in our house, they were always very civilised. I was quite the little mouse though, I never had much to say, but I could always do things with my hands.
When it was time for me to get my first job I went to work at the Printing and Publishing company where my sister worked. She was the Reader, she would proofread all the manuscripts that came in from writers, which was a hard job back then because their handwriting was so hard to read. I was a messenger and would deliver letters to people all over Adelaide. My wage was seven and six pence a week. Can you imagine living off that nowadays? When my future husband started his first job, as a Type-Writer mechanic, he was on eleven and six pence a week. It was a very, very different world then what we live in now.
When the Second World War broke out, I was 21, and I joined the Army. I was in the Army for four years during the war. I enjoyed it a lot, I was quiet of course, but I was able to learn a lot. But I still couldn’t do a drill without keeping a finger out on my right hand to know which way I had to turn. I was worried about how I was going to shoot with my left eye closed, but they didn’t even bother teaching the girls back then.
I enjoyed my time in the Army, they were nice people. As I was stationed in the barracks in the main area of Adelaide, my job was in the printing shop where the important notices got published. I had to be very careful that none of the secret stuff I saw got out. But I was very careful, and I even got to be a Sergeant after a while, but that didn’t put my wage up by much.
In those days the Government had a list of soldiers you could write to as Pen Friends, and I made a lot of friends through that. There are quite a lot of things you can find out about people when you write to them. I had a friend in Denmark - who even knitted a little outfit for my son when he was born - someone in Peru, Iceland and even Nova Scotia, Canada. It was quite wonderful you just picked people from a list and wrote to them. My sister and I both enjoyed writing to our pen pals and she even went on to meet one of the men she’d been writing to when he came back from Greece. He had to travel from Greece, through the Mediterranean to Malta and then on to Australia. But when he got home and they met it took a lot of his problems away, because they just clicked, and they ended up getting married in 1943.
I met my husband during the War as well, while I was in the Army. He was up north when the first Japanese air raid hit, they all went to the trenches and a lot were injured. After that they brought them back to Adelaide for a time, and that’s how we met.
After the War, I left the Army, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I did know I wanted a dog. We had always had dogs right from when I was a baby. Because we always lived with dogs, I wanted one, and I wanted a dachshund, which I finally got. I brought this dog off a doctor who had joined the air force and had to give away his dog. He was a little German dog that nobody wanted. His name was Kleiner, which meant small. Kleiner was my first dog in a series of dogs, and they were all dachshunds.
We lived at home with our parents, after the War, until we could afford somewhere else to live. I had already brought land at the end of the War, but it took quite a while to build the house. My sister even brought the block next door, so that whatever happened we would always be next to each other.
My husband and I were married in 1947 and our son, Glenn, was born in 1950. We also moved in 1950. Up until then my parents, sister and her husband, and my husband and I had all lived together then once we moved mum and dad went to live with my sister.
By that time, I decided to get a dog for my little family. Glenn was 18 months old and I thought he would be old enough to have another dog under foot all the time. My big plan was to have kennels, and to show dogs and even sell them. But first I had to tend to the garden because we had a fairly big block. My mother knew more about gardening, I just followed along. It took a while, but I finally sorted out what I would plant or where I would plant it.
While I was finishing the garden for my Kennel, I met a dog breeder from Victoria. She had come over for the Adelaide show. She had lots of dogs and had brought several over to show. After we met, I decided I was going to have one of hers to have a breeder with our dog.
Well I finally finished the gardens; got the dog and I was going to start this Kennel. The first time the bitch came in season I kept her inside with our dog outside panting and waiting and waiting. The next time she came in season I couldn’t have been as careful keeping her in, because she got out to the back lawn one day and that was it. He must have thought, “here it is finally”.
She ended up having nine puppies, and that was the start and the end of my Kennel dream. You don’t realise how much work nine of puppies are. The endless mopping up all the time, even though you’d put newspaper down, it was a lot of puppies. But they were all beautiful. Some were black and some were tan.
I still remember that time as how we came to get in and out of the dog world, rather quickly I might add.
Although, we did continue to show dogs something terrible ended up happening to one. I don’t know if it happened in our yard or at a show, but this dog was starting to win a lot of shows someone baited him. It must have been meat with glass in it, because he got very sick and sadly lost him. It put me right off even wanting to show dogs after that. To think that people could kill dogs to get them out of the road. That’s no way to run a world. But we kept some of them and we always had about 2 or 3 dogs in the yard as companions, but that was the last time we went to a dog show.
I had really taken to gardening by this point and had planted flowers, vegetables, and even trees. We had a huge Liquid Amber Tree. They are big I can tell you that. I had to eventually have it taken out once it had grown its full height, because the roots had gone under the neighbour’s fence. So that was it, it had to go.
In the meantime, the other big tree that I had planted, which was a golden elm had begun to grow. Well I had no idea that this little golden elm would grow from a few feet high, up to heaven. It was a huge tree and it was beautiful, with all its golden leaves. Even though we had to sweep them up every day. That tree stayed in the yard until after we sold the house, and we had lived there over 60 years.
By the time we had grown old, my husband had several mini strokes. He would be in hospital perhaps a day or a couple of days, but he was still driving a car at this point, which wasn’t a good idea. But we got to travel Australia on Safari trips. I didn’t actually want to because I had done a lot of camping in tents when I was younger, and I wasn’t too keen on living in a tent, but we did end up seeing quite a bit of Australia.
We drove up to Darwin a few times, then he would go off and do some work for the Church at Milingimbi and out as far as Alice Springs. He would be gone for several weeks, doing book work and helping with the communities, and I would stay in Darwin. Not in a tent.
We had our first overseas trip in 1971, that was the time they were just starting out doing short trips. The lady I got my first breeding dog from, well she wanted to go over to the East, so we did 10 days in Bangkok, that was a wonderful trip. It was my first overseas trip, and it was the wonder of it all. As little as I was, I could end up in another country and it was the most wonderful feeling I’ve ever had, that I could do that and get out of Australia.
Later in 1977 we had saved enough money to go on another trip overseas. First, we went to England spent a few days in London. I couldn’t fight the weather though, you just had to put up with that weather. I don’t know how English people live with it; every time you’d make plans it was raining. The last day we were to be in London we were going out to Q Gardens and of course it rained all day. So that ruined that plan.
We then went by hovercraft over the English Channel to start our trip in Europe, and we ended up going to Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Austria. I was most excited to go to Vienna as I had always wanted to go. But the rest was equally as beautiful. We travelled up the Rhine, and here I was thinking we’d see all these castles on the hillside, but it rained all day. You just can’t beat the rain. We’d have to stand in the doorways or at the windows and watch from inside. But I’ve learnt you can’t do a thing about the weather, except grizzle.
When finally made it to Italy and went to Venice to see the canals, filthy things they were. But we went on a gondola and did all of the things that you read about, like walking through St Mark’s Square. We saw the Vatican and went to Rome, where it was 40 degrees and boiling hot. But we still sat on the Spanish Steps, and threw coins into the Trevi Fountain, like everybody else. Then we moved onto France. Well that was beautiful scenery especially going along the Mediterranean coast. We travelled back to Paris, it even though it was 1977 there was still marks of bullets from the War in some of the buildings.
We ended our tour in Europe, but we went on to spend a week in the south of the UK and Scotland. My favourite bit was when we went out to the Isle of Skye, back then you had to take the ferry because they didn’t have a bridge, and that was rough as rough. I was a good traveller, but my husband was always feeling sick, so he’d have to take tablets to stop any travel sickness. I could travel anywhere though and still be fine, I was lucky like that. We got to Skye and saw all the beautiful mountains; it truly is a lovely place. The scenery is so peaceful, you’d wonder how the Scots ever lived there, because they were always fighting in the old days.
The tour was going great until I was getting of the bus at a lookout and I slipped in a tire track from a tour bus before us. Straight away I heard a crack, and I had broken both bones in my ankle. Of course, they couldn’t take me to the hospital with a bus full of people, so I waited to get back to the hotel to see the hotel doctor. He strapped my ankle the best he could, but the pain was still horrible.
The next two days were fully booked so I didn’t go to the hospital again. But finally, they dropped us off at the Edinburgh Hospital and went on their way. My husband got a hotel room nearby for the week and I stayed in hospital. I still remember having to get myself in and out of bed with my cast on, to get over to the wash basin or otherwise you just didn’t wash. They weren’t hearty people the Scots. But I learnt not to complain though, one poor lady in the ward was always complaining and they would leave her until last because she was ‘the complainer’. I learnt to keep my mouth shut and I got looked after alright.
When it came time to go home it was only about 4-5 days after my surgery. I finally got myself home after what felt like a trip and a half whilst flying. Just to get into the plane I had to be lifted by the Sky Chair, which was like a crane in those days. It lifted you up and swung you onto the plane, it was quite the ride.
Once I got home, I patiently waited the 6 weeks before I could get my cast off. I went to a popular doctor, but he had no bedside manner, and told the nurse “She’ll be in a wheelchair in ten years,” and I thought to myself “no I will not”, and even at 102 I am still walking. I finished that holiday and was left with one screw in my leg to remember it by.
After that I went on gardening at the house which by then I had lived in from 1950. In that time my sister had had a stroke and she had been in hospital for three years. I said to myself I wasn’t going to leave Adelaide while she was alive. But then she died in 2010.
Glenn and his wife Emily were living in Darwin at the time. They were willing to come back to Adelaide and live in my sister’s house if we didn’t want to move up to them. But Glenn didn’t like the cold weather, it was far better to upset us at our age then to upset them with all their friends in Darwin. My husband didn’t want to leave Adelaide, but I told him if he didn’t leave I would, and I knew he would come with me then.
We finally packed up and left. It was a very sad thing to leave my house with all its gardens, and I still had that big golden elm tree that was crusting the earth. But we eventually moved here to Rockhampton. We moved in with Glenn and Emily as they had left Darwin and brought a place on the Northside which was big enough for us to move into.
My eyesight started to get worse while I was living there, and I nearly lost my vision completely, but the doctors at the Rockhampton Hospital were able to save it with multiple surgeries when I was 100. I even got my picture in the paper.
I finally moved into Benevolent in 2017 from my son’s house. Glenn is the best son in the world, but he is also the biggest tease in the world. He doesn’t let me get away with anything. When I’m a bit down he teases me out of it, and I don’t have a chance, which I love him for.
I’d just like to say I’ve had a very good life; I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve got cross and annoyed but overall I have been very lucky.