For Bolton Clarke At Home Support client Stella Clarke, who celebrates her 100th Birthday on 29 July, her garden is her greatest joy.
“Wherever I’ve got a garden, I’m happy,” she says.
It’s part of her secret to longevity, along with “eating lots of vegetables and fruit and keeping an active life.”
Born and raised in Tasmania, Stella walked long distances six days a week to get to school and Sunday school. She still keeps active by walking daily and nurturing the flower beds outside her unit in Golden Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
“I was worried last year that I might not be able to tend to the garden anymore, but they raised it for me so I didn’t have to bend over.
“My son tells me ‘Mum, you’re no longer a gardener, you just like playing in the dirt!’” she chuckles.
As a young woman she had an ambition to be a nurse, but her father was concerned she would not be strong enough for the job.
Instead, she volunteered in hospitals when she could, because “in those days, you did as your parents told you!”
When World War II came along she joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and received formal nursing training from St John Ambulance Association. After six months, she was posted overseas and spent two years working as an orderly in a hospital with dirt floors, living in tents with hurricane lamps and no electricity.
Despite the lack of luxuries, Stella has fond memories of the time.
“We were so happy. We had a good crowd of people around us and we didn’t care – we just loved what we were doing.”
She returned home and worked in North Queensland before being sent back overseas, this time to Borneo.
“That was the worst six months of my life,” she says.
“I was nursing the boys who’d been prisoners of war and they were like skeletons. I’d carry those boys like you’d carry a baby. Sometimes they’d ask a question and then break down and cry, and I just wanted to cry too. It was very tough.”
On her return to Australia she requested her discharge, but it wasn’t granted. The VAD wanted her to go to Japan, but she refused. Six months after the war had ended, Stella was still waiting – “they wouldn’t give in, and I wouldn’t either.”
Finally, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I went to my supervisor and said ‘I’m doing something that’s quite unforgiveable, I’m going to take a dishonourable discharge. You can keep my deferred pay. I’m going to walk away’.”
“My supervisor told me to come back in a month and when I did, they had all my discharge papers.”
After receiving her discharge, Stella and her friend Beryl, with whom she had shared a tent when they were nurses, decided to go to Canada.
They made it as far as New Zealand, visiting Beryl’s cousin and his friend. One year and one day later, Stella married Beryl’s cousin Jack, and Beryl married Jack’s friend!
“We’d tried to meet several times when we were in the VAD but our leave kept getting cancelled. Jack used to write to Beryl, and I’d write a note at the bottom of her letters. I thought he was cheeky, and he thought I was cheeky. And he told Beryl to bring that cheeky wench over to New Zealand!
“The year I married him was the best year of my life, I was so happy.”
Having shared a tent for four years, Stella and Beryl ended up as family, living about a mile apart and regularly baby-sitting each other’s children.
Stella loves to travel and visited many places including Jerusalem, Beirut on leave from the VAD and Italy with Jack.
“I feel lucky that I’ve been able to do all the things that I’ve done, and see all the places that I’ve been.”
These days she still travels, but closer to home.
When asked where is her favourite place to go, she smiles and says, “Bunnings.”
Pictured above: Stella sits in her beautiful garden