HOLY Spirit Sister Reinfredis Wehry, Jim McDonald CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George) and Joan Whallan may come from diverse backgrounds and careers but they all now have two things in common.
All live at Holy Spirit Home, Carseldine, on Brisbane’s northside, and all are over 100 years old.
Joan, the youngest of the group, celebrated her 101st birthday on April 27 with 9am Mass in the Holy Spirit Home Chapel followed by a special morning tea for friends and family.
Joan, who was born in Goulbourn, NSW, in 1910, has four children, seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren but, with many spread from Victoria to Cairns and in Europe, only a handful were able to make the latest celebration.
All made sure they were present last year.
She trained as a nurse after completing her schooling and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force once World War II began.
She believes the secret to long life is to do everything in moderation.
Hearing some of her exploits, however, leads one to believe Joan’s idea of moderation may differ to that of some of her peers.
In her 50s, Joan bought herself an exercise bike that her children believed she would never use and started riding 10km every morning.
She continued to ride each day until she fell ill in February this year.
Now that her health is on the mend, Joan’s hoping to pull the bike (her fourth one, having worn out three already) back out of storage and get back in the saddle.
“You need exercise – mentally, as well as physically,” she said.
“If you are doing exercise mentally you feel you’re doing the right thing.”
Joan’s daughter Jill Bruhwiller said her Mum was a bit of a daredevil in her later years.
“At 87 she went out on the back of a big motorbike, at 90 she went up in a Wirraway (training and general-purpose military aircraft) that she used to know during the war and when she was 99 we went up in a helicopter over the Sunshine Coast as she’d never been in a helicopter before,” Jill said.
Joan was quick to point out that the helicopter was “very tame” although she did admit she found the motorbike ride a bit daunting.
When it comes to the recent preoccupation of many with preparing a “bucket lists” (things to do before you die) Joan’s advice is not to wait.
“Any money that my husband and I had, I said (to him) we are getting old, we may as well spend it now, don’t put it off,” she said.
“I’ve no regrets.”
She and husband Guy, who died five years ago, took to travel in later life, with Joan’s last trip being a driving holiday around New Zealand with one of her daughters as a 90-year-old.
“I’ve been to Hong Kong about four times and Singapore about four times. I like the Asian countries,” she said.
Sr Reinfredis was 103 on October 12 last year and, while she has been a resident of Holy Spirit Home since 1994, she has never hung up her pastoral-care hat.
The German-born Holy Spirit Sister still visits many of her fellow residents on a daily basis, and said she had always wanted to be a nun.
“That was my wish when I was young, to enter the convent and go on mission far away,” she said.
Her first mission posting was to an orphanage in China where it took her two years to understand enough of the language to communicate with her charges and where she was to spend the next 18 years.
“That was my big wish, I had the children around me – blind, deaf, and lame – from as early as three months and that was my work in China,” she said.
“I loved China, the children were so happy (although) they had nothing.”
Sr Reinfredis, along with her fellow religious sisters, were forced to flee China in 1951 due to internal conflict and she came to Australia at the beginning of 1952.
She had planned to stay for a year to wait for the situation in China to settle down, but although she would have liked to have gone back to China that wasn’t to be.
Sr Reinfredis was convinced by her colleagues to turn her hand to nursing.
“I was ten years, from ’55 to ’65, in our hospitals and then I came here to Brisbane to the old peoples’ home and I nursed for 20 years,” she said.
“That’s my life and (it was) a happy life.”
Sr Reinfredis will tell those people seeking the secret to a long life that all you need is happiness although she does admit the rest of her family all died relatively young in their 60s and 70s.
“There was only one brother after me – he was 84 – and here I’m 103,” she said.
“We had a great family at home with 10 children, a happy family, a very happy, content family.
“We had very good parents and they really looked after their children.”
Jim McDonald, the oldest of the three, will be 104 on September 26 and is proud to be the only native Queenslander.
With five children, 17 grandchildren and “getting up around the 30 or so great-grandchildren”, the McDonalds have now spread far and wide from their roots around Mackay and Cloncurry.
“I’m a true Queenslander. Our ancestors came out here in 1827, and we’ve always been in cattle,” Jim said.
His advice to people seeking to live a long life was to enjoy life and eat whatever you like although he does admit he never drank or smoked.
“You talk about longevity, I’m a cattle breeder so the gene plays most of it but otherwise if you want to be like Omar Khayyam he would say, ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’, so eat whatever God provides whether it be witchetty grubs with the Aboriginals or carpet snakes, it’s all good tucker,” Jim said.
He said the world had changed considerably in the past century particularly life on the land.
“The way life has changed in my hundred years is almost hard to believe,” he said.
“I saw the first car ever to go to Proserpine in 1914 and the first time I went to Townsville was 1914 in horse-drawn buses.
“The world has changed.
“In our industry it was all horses when I was a young man. Now we own four helicopters and we go out now and use two helicopters in a pair and the boys load their horses on a truck and go out a greater road 14 or 15 mile and then the choppers just bring the cattle in and you’re back home, and you don’t miss the wild cattle.”
Jim, as with his fellow centenarian Joan, is a seasoned world traveller and was still living independently until just a few weeks ago when he joined the Holy Spirit Home community.
“I’ve travelled the world quite a few times and there’s very few parts of the world I haven’t had the fortune to be and I’ll tell you one secret. Out of all the world that I’ve been the best city in the world in the world to live is Brisbane, Queensland.”
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