“Now why are you interviewing me? What’s all the fuss about; I’ve done nothing but live my life!” these words spoken in a beautiful English elegance all of its own mystified me. This outstanding woman whom I’d heard so much about wondering why she was so special! Well after a mere hour of chatting with her, I knew she was most definitely an amazing woman. Not only has she made it through to an astonishing ninety-nine years of age and is still going strong, but she has shown throughout these years a remarkable and continuing passion for helping others. This kindness for others shown through her countless years of nursing, and dedication to ‘mothercraft’ where helping new mothers adapt to the pressure of the great depression whilst raising a new born was so desperately needed; as well as volunteering with Wesley Dalmar house and even now at the Wesley Rayward centre in Carlingford.
Born 1914 in England, Betty was surrounded with family and friends. She came to Australia and proudly lived through the great depression. She professed to live a simple life in depression, everybody was the same, and each maintained a veggie patch sharing what was needed. War was rarely mentioned in her community. As a child she was given 24 pennies’ a week; with a very matter of fact tone she stated “if you didn’t have two pennies left for the train you’d walk to school!” A sacrifice she made quite often, ice-cream being the more important expense than transport!
She spoke candidly of her work as a nurse at the Prince Henry Hospital during the War, her time there being referred to as ‘four years hard labour’; although a few stories did leave a smile on her face. Many nights she woke to see a ring of “big ugly toads” (spoken with absolute disgust) surrounding the camp light, “I didn’t want to wake anyone so I kept my screams inside!” she joked causally. Betty also studied obstetrics at King George hospital, adding to her countless years and practically a lifetime of helping mothers, babies and children alike. Helping others is clearly in her blood, her father a soldier, also trained young men at university for the battlefront; and her brother who also shared this love for helping others; a fifth year medical student until he was tragically taken by pneumonia at twenty three years of age.
She described her life as being ‘beautifully simple’; her kind and dedicated nature something often seen by others but so modestly denied in her own words. As a young woman she described memories of an adventurist lifestyle; she lived and breathed the hospital life but in spare moments loved to get out and about with friends. Betty climbed a then trackless Cradle Mountain in her mothers’ shoes, although too big she wore thick socks to make up the size difference. An Australian at heart, she frankly said “I don’t mind being poor in Australia but I shall not be poor AND cold in England!”
Once married in her early thirties, Betty settled down to start a family with her soul mate, George. I asked of memories of her husband George; of whom she effortlessly spoke of with words so clearly taken from a memory well passed in time; tainted with a heart heavy from a love now lost from her side. Sharing the sweet story of how they first met, having their beautiful children and countless years of bliss together as a family. Once their children were all grown up, Betty and George moved to the Alan Walker Village; the Wesley Mission Aged care facility in Carlingford. She proudly notes she and George were the fourth to occupy a unit, and George was the first male resident of the Alan Walker Village! Once settled in, Betty decided to put all efforts into volunteering with the children of Wesley Dalmar House; during the mid 80’s she volunteered at ‘the library’, the old dairy now converted into study hall for the children at Dalmar. Each child received a tutor in the hall and was given one on one help with homework, study, as well as art class, sewing skills and other activities; Betty describes her time there as “a friendly simple thing”. She was fondly known by the children as Aunty Betty 2 alongside her good friend Aunty Betty 1. She continued her voluntary service for almost ten years until all the children were living out of Dalmar house and the program had closed.
Betty continues volunteering with Wesley Mission to this day; she still lives very close by in the Alan Walker village and comes over to the Wesley Rayward to play scrabble and help the residents with their skills. It may not seem like much but this simple effort brings so much joy to the residents’ hearts; allowing them not only an afternoon of fun but someone to talk to, someone to listen to their stories and share in their lives.
I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to meet Betty; my time with her was most certainly not long enough to comprehend her amazing life of service, kindness and dedication to helping others. Thank you for sharing your story Betty!
By Shannon Barsby