As a prolific reader, Celie Curtis is half-way through Anton Chekhov's The Lady with the Dog. Reading is one of her great passions and she always has a novel on the go and devours books on her next great passion – archaeology.
At 101-years-of-age, Celie says she just doesn’t feel that age.
I really don’t feel any different to how I felt 20 years ago. The only time I feel old is when I’m reminded that my oldest child is 78; that’s so old, she jokes.
The mother of four, grandmother of four and great-grandmother of one, says being surrounded by supportive family and friends means she can still live independently in her unit. Until recently she was doing her own housework, but now she has a cleaner “who only does the floors”. Celie still likes to do the washing, change the sheets and cook.
I am very lucky that I am healthy, which means I can still do these things, she says.
As a school girl, Celie dreamed of being archaeologist, but her parents couldn’t afford to send all six of their children to secondary school. She left school at the end of grade 6 as did her two sisters, and got a manufacturing job in Flinders Lane. Celie says that although she had won a scholarship, her parents thought it wouldn’t be fair if she went to school and her two sisters didn’t.
Celie’s sharp mind and winning sense of humour adds depth to her wealth of stories as a living witness to Melbourne’s past. Celie shares story after story – the “dunny man”, the innovative hose from the icebox to the garden her husband devised to make things easier, boiling the copper to do the washing.
Celie has many poignant memories of times when Melbourne was affected by world events during the Great Depression, when in 1932 the Australian economy collapsed and unemployment reached a peak of 32 per cent. And during World War II when many Australians, including Celie’s husband Tony, fought in conflicts on foreign shores.
Her memories during the Great Depression include men coming to their door to asking if they had any leftover stale bread, and walking to work from Kew to Flinders Lane past hungry people with no shoes. It wasn’t unusual for Celie to arrive at work having given her lunch away to children along the way.
We forget, but there was no dole, people were starving and they had to rely on charity, she recalls.
Earlier this year, Celie was invited to Stomping Ground Brewery in Collingwood to help them celebrate the launch of their 100th beer the “Celie’ Centenarian Ale” a beer created from a 100 year ago recipe journal. Celie who enjoys the occasional glass of beer with her grandsons enjoyed a brewery tour and lunch with her family.
And her secret to living a meaningful and happy life at 101?
You’ve got to have other interests beside yourself; you need to stay interested in the lives of your family and their friends – particularly the younger generations, she says.
You also need to stay interested in what is happening in the world – I always watch the news, I read a lot, I go out a lot with family and friends, and I do the crossword every morning.