Visitors to Norfolk Island will comment that it must be the stress-free lifestyle that has produced six residents since the arrival of the Pitcairners in 1856 to reach the rare age of 100 years. I tend to agree, along with probably a healthy daily dose of hard work, good humour and an embracing sense of community support. We still value our older people. And when someone reaches the milestone of living for 100 years, the community acknowledges them in a special way. One hundred plants will be planted somewhere on Norfolk in their honour. And finding these commemorative plantings – along an avenue, at a lookout or a garden – can be a great way of discovering our Island.
Our first centenarian was Jemima ‘Aunt Jemima’ Robinson, who turned 100 on 13 September, 1970. As you drive down Country Road towards Kingston, near Watermill dam, you pass 100 Norfolk Island pines along the roadside, planted in her memory. Now a stately 45 years old, these pines form a lasting tribute to her long life and first forged the concept of planting 100 living things as a celebratory tribute. A plaque marking the occasion can be seen beneath the last pine, in Kingston across from the Cenotaph.
Aunt Jemima’s surviving daughter, Audrey Scott, herself a healthy 98 years old, remembers her mother as a loving, yet forceful and determined person. A teacher by training (and a mother by vocation, raising eight children), with a beautiful, clear multi-octave voice, Audrey recalls the time when Jemima, wanting to get an urgent message to her husband, Enoch, thought to be on Phillip Island, put her kids into a boat and rowed across the 6½ kilometre channel – only to row back when she found he wasn’t there. Like so many of our centenarians, Aunt Jemima was a person of abiding faith. Some in her family believe she may have been singing a hymn when she died.
Charlotte ‘Mum’ Bailey was born on 3 March, 1885, and 100 years later on that day she planted the first of the 100 commemorative Kentia palms that align the entrance to the Norfolk Island Hospital. News accounts of the event report her great delight in the day’s festivities. Yet she must have been quite a modest person. When her great-niece, Mary Christian-Bailey, praised the birthday acknowledgement she had received from the Queen, Charlotte merely replied, “It’s just because of my age, you know”.
Mum Bailey was a talented pianist and music teacher. Raised with fine English manners who at the same time could torkbroad Norfuk, she is remembered for her exceptionally detailed crocheting into her 80’s and 90’s. It exemplified her great skilfulness and patience.
The third person destined to become a centenarian on Norfolk was born on 6 September, 1892. Gordina ‘Aunty Gordie’ Beveridge, OBE, was the matron of the Norfolk Island Hospital and her charm is still mentioned and feisty independence still laughed about to this day. It was not unknown to see Auntie Gordie with a hammer in her hand doing her own maintenance well into her 90’s. Keith Bishop, who at 97 years old is Norfolk’s oldest living male, recalls helping Auntie Gordie remove a large amount of ash that had deposited in the trap beneath her fireplace. The original home builder had sworn to her the space would never fill-up in her lifetime. Little did either of them know how long she would live. You can see Auntie Gordie’s avenue of 100 White Oak trees along New Farm Road in the Longridge area, between the road and the runway, across from what was her family home.
When Ruby Matthews, our next centenarian, turned 100, on 28 April, 2006, I gave her as a gift a copy of the telegram she sent to Aunt Jemima congratulating her for turning 100 in 1970. I almost didn’t give it. I was imagining Ruby in 1970 never thinking she would be reaching this same august milestone and I wasn’t sure if the memory would be too bittersweet. She was thrilled.
I first met Ruby several years earlier. She was an avid reader and exceptional conversationalist, always smartly dressed. And as with so many older people, and especially centenarians, talking with Ruby could be a wonderful leap back into time. One of the most referenced Pitcairn Island histories, ‘The Story of Pitcairn Island by a Native Daughter’, was written by Rosalind Young and published in 1894. Rosalind came to Norfolk from Pitcairn as a three-year old in 1856 and returned to Pitcairn with her family in 1864. Her insightful first-hand account of Norfolk and Pitcairn life during these seminal years is essential reading. Ruby, on one occasion casually mentioned chatting with Rosalind in the early-20th century during one of Rosalind’s later return visits to Norfolk. Through Ruby, I was suddenly only one person removed from a historical figure born in 1853. It was a one-of-a-kind, truly marvellous afternoon.
Rather than an avenue of trees, a commemorative garden was planted for Ruby overlooking Kingston, where she was born. You can find ‘Ruby’s Garden’ and enjoy a picnic at one of the tables there behind the hedge along Rooty Hill Road. It’s down from Queen Elizabeth Lookout, above Quality Row. Ruby, at 104, was the longest living person of the Pitcairn era.
And then there’s the remarkable Hazel Martin. It would have been enough of a life achievement that Hazel was married to her loving husband, Alf, for 65 years. But Hazel also turned 100 on Norfolk, on 1 June, 2009.
Hazel has been described as a “mover and shaker”. Both she and Alf were past presidents of their respective Lions Clubs, the Norfolk Island Bowling Club, and both were fond of moonlight swims in Emily Bay. ‘Peacehaven’ was the name of Hazel and Alf’s home and is the name of the garden at the Airport Terminal where the first of 100 endemic Norfolk Island plants were planted to celebrate her day.
Our last person to date to have become a centenarian on Norfolk Island was the daughter of our first. ‘Girlie’ Nobbs was Aunt Jemima’s sixth child. Born Sylvia Esther on 18 March, 1910, Girlie would have seven children herself and become the matriarch of quite a number of Norfolk’s present-day business and community leaders. One of the cheeriest, most positive people one could meet, she was an keen gardener and sportswoman who could be seen zipping down Taylor’s Road almost until she reached her milestone birthday. On that day in March, 2010, 100 Norfolk Island pines were planted along the road leading down to Crystal Pool in the Rocky Point area where she grew up.
Her son, Ken Nobbs, remembers giving his mother a four-stroke rotary hoe for her 90th birthday and her giving it to another son because “car go fars ‘nough” (Can’t go fast enough). That was Girlie. Her avenue of pines, similar to her mother’s, will be a lasting memorial to her indomitable personality.
So, I suppose the underlying questions become: Is six centenarians in 159 years a large number for our small population? Are there attributes of the Norfolk lifestyle especially advantageous to longevity? I couldn’t say. But I can say that few communities will surround their elders with greater affection and support. Oh, and it might help to be female
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 06 Issue 01, 2016. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.