Resthaven Murray Bridge, Hills & Fleurieu Community Services client, Mrs Doreen Pope, will celebrate her 105th birthday on 12 May surrounded by family and friends at her Oakbank home.
Being descended from two of the first pioneering families of South Australia—the Dawkins of Gawler and the Maidments of Strathalbyn—Mrs Pope certainly inherited their adventurous spirit.
As a child, her family of five lived on a 1,700-acre dairy farm at Bowhill, on the River Murray.
‘Every day, my siblings and I would ride our horses a seven-mile round trip to school and back. Sometimes we’d come home and help dad by rounding up the cows for milking.’
Mrs Pope also remembers her Uncle Les, a returned serviceman who fought—and survived—at Gallipoli and came to live with the family for several years after the war.
‘Uncle Les was in the Third Light Horse, and he had only spent a week abroad before being very badly injured and shipped back home.’
‘I was only a little girl, but I remember him talking about “Shrapnel Gully,”’ she recalls.
Their blissful childhood changed when the Depression hit, which was, unfortunately, ill-timed with a drought.
‘I remember a 12-day heatwave, where it reached 117 degrees Fahrenheit. All that country turned to sand, and every farm went bankrupt,’ she says.
‘We more or less walked off the farm in 1936, and the house stayed empty for 70 years. Our family moved to Mount Barker and bought a small 32-acre dairy farm.’
‘I married my husband, Mervon, in 1942, and he returned from the war in 1944. We settled down and went on to have four children.’
‘We went through some tough times, the same as everyone, but we were a very happy family—always doing what needed to be done to enjoy life.’
Sadly, in 1978, Mervon died aged just 64. Her eldest son eventually took over the family farm, and Mrs Pope lived there until 1995, when she decided to sell it.
‘Mount Barker was growing, and the land had become very valuable,’ she explains. ‘So, I built my house in Oakbank, and my daughter, Margaret, built a house across the road.’
In Mrs Pope’s later years, travel became an important part of her life. She explains, ‘I quickly realised how much of the world there was to see, and that I had been missing out!’
Over the next few decades, Mrs Pope travelled with friends and family to America, New Zealand, and almost everywhere in Australia.
Mrs Pope also found an unlikely travelling partner in her grandson, Nick, who shares her adventurous spirit.
In 2008, when Mrs Pope was 90 years old, the pair travelled together for the first time to South Africa. Mrs Pope reflects, ‘Oh now that was a holiday to remember. I rode an elephant—it was incredible!’
Mrs Pope and Nick travelled back to South Africa in 2013, when she was 95, and they also visited Zambia and Zimbabwe.
‘One of the highlights of our second trip was visiting the burial site of Cecil Rhodes. I can still remember Nick and the locals carrying my wheelchair up a steep dirt path to see the gravestone.’
Their adventures didn’t stop there. In 2014, the duo attended the commemoration of the ANZAC Centenary in Albany, Perth.
‘I had this deep connection to honour my Uncle Les, and I’m so pleased I was able to pay my respects in that way,’ Mrs Pope explains.
‘It was a very solemn mood as we watched navy ships depart, re-enacting what happened 100 years ago, when the first convoy of Australian and New Zealand soldiers left for war from King George Sound.’
‘I couldn’t believe it when, the following year, I was chosen in the ballot to travel to Gallipoli for the 100th anniversary of the beach landing.’
But, after considering her options (she was 97, after all!), Mrs Pope opted instead for the comfort of a 36-day Anzac Centenary cruise on the MSC Orchestra, retracing the path of the first Diggers through Sri Lanka and Egypt. She was joined by her daughter, Margaret and son-in-law, Nigel, and Nick, of course!
Margaret, says, ‘We went on a ship full of dignitaries and celebrities, including Daryl Braithwaite, Kate Ceberano, Ross Wilson, Bruce Woodley, John Williamson and Normie Rowe.’
‘The ship was moored in the bay on Anzac Day, and we watched the ceremony from there. During the two minutes’ silence, there wasn’t a sound from anyone. The respect shown was incredible.’
‘Everyone on board that boat had a personal connection to Gallipoli, so we were a unique group of people, who never would have met, usually.’
‘She was the queen of the ship—everyone wanted to talk with her,’ Margaret remembers fondly. ‘It was truly the holiday of a lifetime.’
Margaret adds, ‘Mum has always been a lifelong learner, and she showed me that age really shouldn’t stop you from doing anything. If you can do it, do it!’
Longevity certainly runs in the family, with Mrs Pope’s mum living to 95 and her dad to 99. All three siblings, and several cousins, lived to beyond 100.
When asked if she has a secret to her long life, Mrs Pope laughs and says, ‘Stay curious—an adventurous spirit will keep you young!’
Many happy returns, Mrs Pope.