By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
BlueCross Willowmeade’s oldest resident Shirley Dally may have turned 106 this week, but she’s as bubbly and gregarious as a 16-year-old.
“I don’t like a lot of fuss,” Ms Dally told the Review ahead of her birthday celebrations.
“I just can’t be bothered, old age is creeping in.”
All evidence to the contrary, Ms Dally is still able to walk and stand freely, clean her room, make her bed and remember her youth with laser-like detail.
Born in 1915, Ms Dally’s birthplace is unknown as she was adopted from foster care before being raised in Fitzroy, Melbourne.
“I was adopted by Mr and Mrs Curry who had a grocer’s shop in Gertrude Street [Fitzroy] and went to school in Cambridge Street, Collingwood. I grew up there til I was about 13 or 14 and I cleared off,” she said.
A progressive and independent woman, Ms Dally bordered with friends and worked several jobs through her teenage years and early 20s.
After working in her parents’ grocery, she secured a job as a conductor on double-decker buses and trams in Melbourne during World War Two.
“I’ve done the drunks’ run with the other conductresses on a Saturday,” she said.
When asked if she had to help the intoxicated passengers from the trams and buses, she answered:
“No, I push them off! I’d be on the corner and say, ‘listen, you haven’t paid your bloody fare now get off, there’s a pub there!’
“I had a lot of fun with the girls, the conductresses, ‘cause the men were at war you see, and we had to work.”
During the Great Depression she became jobless, knocking on the door of a nearby slipper factory in Preston everyday to ask for a job.
One day when she arrived in the rain with holes in her shoes and in her straw hat, the owner finally said yes.
From there she was then introduced by her friend Gwen to her first husband, Clem Thomas.
“Gwen and I got on pretty well and she introduced me to Alan’s [her son’s] father. We knocked around together, we had motorbikes, that’s how I got all these bloody scars,” she laughed, pointing to her chin.
The pair married in 1936 when she was 21, had their first child two years later and their second 10 years later.
Her eldest son died at age 74, but she remains close with her youngest son Alan Thomas.
Now Ms Dally is the head of a family that spans five generations.
“My brother’s son Robbie has three kids, and they’ve got one [two-year-old] and another one on the way, so there’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren,” Mr Thomas said.
After Clem died, Ms Dally remarried at age 50, but was widowed again later in life.
“I lost two husbands, I could’ve had a third but knocking off two I thought I couldn’t knock off a third one so I knocked him back,” she said, laughing.
Now in her 11th decade, Ms Dally said she was ‘battling on’.
“I carried on, worked hard, helped a lot of people and swore my way through life,” she said.
Ms Dally came to BlueCross Willowmeade, Kilmore, when she was 99 after living in a granny flat at the back of Mr Thomas’s house in Macleod for 20 years.
When Mr Thomas and his partner retired and moved to Kilmore’s Kingsgate Retirement Village, Ms Dally moved into Willowmeade – though not without protest.
Mr Thomas said that, at first, she wanted them to swap places.
When asked if she now liked living at Willowmeade, she said she still didn’t like living in an aged care home.
“The girls are nice though,” she said, referring to the staff.
Ms Dally turned 106 on Monday, celebrating with all five generations of her family over the weekend, and at BlueCross Willowmeade on the day.