Queensland’s oldest living person, Mary Atkinson, celebrated her 105th birthday last week with family, friends, gifts and a small drop of wine.
Hosted at TriCare’s Cypress Gardens Aged Care Residence in Gold Coast last Tuesday – where Mary has lived since 2018 – she had special visits from two of her daughters, Helen and Janet and two of her 15 great grandchildren, Tiana and Brooke. Mary is also the grandmother of four-time Olympic rower, Duncan Free.
As a young girl, Mary had her own brush with the spotlight. While working the hops fields of Hobart, Tasmania, 16-year-old Mary won a picking competition and had her photo in the local newspaper, catching the eye of a young Hollywood producer who wanted to poach her for the silver screen. These were the very same fields Mary met her late husband, Alf.
“She was one of nine and was looking after a lot of the younger sisters and brothers… things were different back then.”
Marrying Alf in 1937, the couple bought a caravan and travelled around Australia before calling sunny Queensland home in 1979 with their three daughters.
Helen remembers the compassion and caring nature her mum had while she was a child, recalling her home being a “halfway house” for those in need of shelter, care or a shoulder to cry on.
“She was always a very gentle, kind person,” said Helen.
“It started when I was about eight and she’d have people staying with her and would feed them. She was a caregiver.”
A fan of the British Royal Family – having seen two royal coronations in her lifetime – Helen organised a special letter for Mary’s 105th birthday from King Charles and Queen Camilla. Mary also received recognition from the Australian Prime Minister, the Australian Governor, and the Queensland Governor General.
Mary’s party had a display of old photos and birthday cards, singing happy birthday, cutting birthday cake and enjoying a glass of white wine. While Mary doesn’t speak much these days, Helen said she could tell her mum was overwhelmed and happy to be the centre of the celebration.
“Inside I know she’d be thinking, ‘Oh, this is so lovely’.”
And Mary’s secret to a long life? Regularly eating fruits and vegetables and having a strong faith.
“She just loved the Lord with all her heart all her life so that was very important to her,” said Helen.
“I believe he looked after her.”