100-Year-Old Living Treasure

HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY to Evelyn Whyte!!! Family and friends celebrated this amazing woman’s enthusiasm and ‘joie de vivre’ in the last week of January. And while the Queen, Prime Minister, Governor General, NSW Premier and Ballina Local Member were hoping for an invite to the party, they missed out but all did send their own letters of congratulations.

Evelyn’s descendants were convicts transported to Australia on the First Fleet, and Evelyn is a keen follower of her family tree. (That’s another interesting story left for another time.)

Evelyn was born at her parents’ home in North Parramatta in the days midwifery deliveries were the norm before hospital births. Evelyn’s had an older brother and younger sister and she recalls a childhood learning to swim at the old Parramatta Baths adjacent to the river and Lennox Bridge. After learning to swim they then would swim and play in the river near the location that would later become the home of her beloved Parramatta Eels Rugby League Club. Evelyn was to eventually spend the majority of her life (so far) living and working in Parramatta.

Walking everywhere was a part of life growing up in a time when automobiles were rare. Her dad worked for the railways and her uncle had the honour of driving Parramatta’s main street tram.

Evelyn laughs when reminiscing of their once a month ‘family treat’: “Imagine today an outing heading off with the horse and a sulky to ride all the way along Parramatta road to Paddy’s Markets in Sydney. Leaving home mid-afternoon we would return by about 11pm. Dad would even have to dismount on Parramatta Road at the Granville Railway Crossing to open and close the gate. It really wasn’t about stocking for supplies at Paddy’s, but just the outing itself.”

Evelyn accompanied mum to Friday night markets and misses the personal touch of essentials delivered daily, which made for a far greater sense of community than what we today call ‘the shopping experience.’ There was time on the rounds for everyone to chat to the milkman, baker, butcher and iceman. Evelyn says in amazement “we grew up with an ice-chest in the home, nowadays ‘smart fridges’ talk to you!”

Evelyn loved school and particularly excelled at maths and English, and carries these talents, along with her still sharp intellect and communicative social skills right through to this day.

Her first job was apprentice florist. Then in 1934 she started working in a big music store in Parramatta where she did everything, including all the ordering which all combined to later see her elevated to Manager. They sold the latest records, music sheets, instruments and music tutorial services. Evelyn herself was trained by the local convent nuns and played piano.

Working in the music store through World War 2 and with the American medical center stationed in Parramatta Park, U.S. servicemen would visit the shop. One day Evelyn recognised and greeted the famed American movie star tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers, who then put on an impromptu performance for Evelyn and anyone lucky to be in the store at the time. (Hey kids, the Nicholas Brothers performed a highly acrobatic technique, the original ‘Flash Dancing.’ Check out this link to see these super talented cool cats in action:  https://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/11436304645

Evelyn says the store was a unique social hub “we played records all day long, with Friday evenings a real social occasion with everyone gathering outside to listen and mingle.” It was here in 1941 where Evelyn met the love of her life, Frank, who had come in to buy some records.

Within a year they were engaged, and were married in 1943 going on to share a wonderful life together for 53 years until Frank sadly passed away after they had moved to Lennox Head.

In 1960, after the previous years raising her only child, daughter Lynne, and doing the occasional volunteering part time assisting in a private hospital, Evelyn now with more time on her hands started work again in a chemist shop. In 1963 she then got a job as receptionist for a group of eye specialists in Parramatta, working happily and content there for the next twenty years until her retirement.

Evelyn first sighted Lennox Head in 1946 when she and Frank were travelling to Queensland on a holiday. A number of times thereafter saw the odd visit and they eventually became permanent residents in 1991 following their daughter and son-in-law Gary’s sea change from Sydney.

She played sports and remained active all her life playing tennis, golf and later bowls for Lennox. She hasn’t played for years but still walks a great deal, and at pace that leaves others behind!

It’s almost unimaginable what Evelyn has witnessed and lived through during one of the most dynamic centuries of world history. Speaking in technological terms alone, automobiles and telephones were a rarity, black and white TV was not even invented, no planes, let alone commercial flights flew through the sky, and rockets that pierce past the earth’s atmosphere are now fact rather than fiction.

Evelyn is mostly positive about all the technological changes and says “no matter what, you just can’t stop progress.” But while a talking fridge maybe a smart idea, she cautions what she sees as the most staggering changes: “the ease of banking and instant credit seems to have overtaken the real value of money. Transactions can occur instantly with a card or phone without a 2nd thought.”

Her take always advice for us: “We should all be thankful that we live in Australia, and the absolute magnificent freedoms this country offers.”

A lady in every true sense of the word, she carries forward the best manners, honours and traditions of times, that seem to be lost in today’s super-fast paced modern world.

The Centenarian ‘tag’ doesn’t quite fit Evelyn, nor does it get anywhere near describing this amazing woman’s energy and enthusiasm for life…

Evelyn is a living treasure!

Some friends gather for just one of the celebrations in January cheering Evelyn’s 100th!!!
Photo courtesy of Tony Barnett

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