The recent passing of 102 year old Margaret Ada Rose of Toowoomba, a former resident of the Sunshine Coast and Yuleba in South West Queensland, severed a living link with the past. The fourth of six children, Ada was one of three to attain adulthood, all of whom made their nineties. Born at the start of the 20th century, at the end of the First World War, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, The Spanish Flu, she died at the beginning of the 21st century, in the middle of another deadly pandemic.
She lived longer than any forebear and by straddling two centuries in an era of enormous progress and radical change, experienced greater impact and alteration to life, than had once occurred in a thousand years. Ada's grandparents had moved north through Victoria and New South Wales to establish a sheep run at Walgett. Her father crossed the border, married her mother and took up land at Yelarbon where Ada started school. As a small child in the Depression she was taken to Walgett in an old Chev, a road trip of epic proportions, camping on the road, boiling drinking water from creeks. It was the only time she met her grandmother. A diphtheria epidemic stole an eight year old brother and ten year old sister in the space of a week at Yelarbon, after which the family moved west to sharefarm at Gunnewin. The remainder of her schooling was via correspondence lessons, around kerosene lights, milking and the filling of a water tank by passing trains. She moved to Yuleba with her parents in her teens, got a job as a housemaid and was down on her knees on a weekly basis, scrubbing raw pine veranda floors until they gleamed. She worked as a cook and waitress at a hotel opposite the school, attended dances and at the start of the Second World War met her first husband, Pat.
His mother, a convert to the Catholic Church, strenuously opposed the match. Ada belonged to the Church of England and never the twain should meet. Without conversion, the church wouldn't marry them. With conversion, they could only marry in a demeaning fashion in the vestry. The 20 year old's took matters into their own hands, catching a train to Roma and marrying in a registry office. Ada had no wedding dress, only a white linen suit her father bought. No photos, something she later mourned, and no witnesses, except her dad, who'd come to give her away. He returned to Yuleba by train and she spent her wedding night squashing the bedbugs that crawled from a hotel mattress to feast on her flesh. The next morning she and her husband took a train back to Yuleba, to sharefarm for Pat's Uncle Willy. They had £10 between them.
When Pat died of a sudden heart attack, Ada had a fight on her hands to find a Catholic priest to conduct the funeral. In the eyes of the church, he and she, as husband and wife in a mixed marriage, a legal marriage, had lived in sin and their five children had been born out of wedlock. A relative of her sister-in-law, a Catholic priest, was persuaded to do the deed. Ada never forgave this religious wrong and for the remainder of her life only set foot in a church for another's wedding or funeral. In doing so, she stood outside the societal norms of her time, an independence of thinking she carried to the grave.
Through the match-making efforts of her sister Hazel and brother-in-law Eric, Ada after nine years as a widow, met Eric's old army buddy, Ron. They'd served together in New Guinea in the Second World War. He admired her tremendously, wooed her successfully and for fifteen years supplied fun, companionship and adventure. An old dog always willing to learn a new trick, Ada did a caravan trip around Australia in the early eighties in Ron's Rusty Di. A yellow Daihatsu with a huge hole in the floor at her feet, travelling the country with nothing but a square of carpet separating her carefully placed feet and the road.
A broken hip in her early nineties and the threat of a nursing home, impelled her to fight through the pain of rehab and learn to walk again. After months in a Brisbane hospital, she returned to her unit, having defied all the naysayers and odds. Forced to accept Blue Care house help, she sacked them for shoddy work after a week, saying her robot vacuum cleaner did a better job. Her attitude for 101 years was unfailingly inspirational. A 'How are you today?' was always met by, 'Well it's no use complaining! No one wants to hear that anyway!' and instead of blaming everything on the woes of the past or being mired in hardships and things that went wrong, her mantra was always, 'Every day is a good day! No matter what happens, they're all good days, as long as a day comes around!'. She once commented, 'I wouldn't like to go through all the tough times again, but if I had life over, if I could turn back the pages and start again, I probably would!'.
Her hair, silky and white, was the one thing that had to be right. She couldn't miss a perm, even in the middle of a pandemic. When challenged by her granddaughter at the start of Covid about what mattered more, her hair or her life, she replied, 'the hair of course! You have to die sometime!'
Covid knocked her for a six, ruined her comfortable life, thinned the flow of visitors, placed her in lonely lockdown. She blamed it for everything and couldn't see past it, to a world that would go on. Her worst fear of ending up in nursing home, not in control of her life, was realised. A thing that through age, came to be. All who loved her feel grateful she died naturally, not fighting for every breath she dragged in. She loved and was loved deeply and will forever be sorely missed.
By Roslyn Stemmler