If there’s an elixir of youth then Flora Relph of Springwood has probably found it.
She turned 102 on Monday and still, very much, has all her marbles.
In a conversation with the Blue Mountains Gazette a few days before her birthday, the sprightly centenarian regaled tales of wartime, of watching the Sydney Harbour Bridge being built and life as a Sydney nurse working alongside the now famous husband and wife doctor duo Catherine and Reg Hamlin before they left Australia to set up a fistula hospital in Ethiopia.
She’s outlived two sisters, a husband, her parents and these days has a “wonderful life” at Buckland Nursing Home in Springwood where she receives regular visits from her loving daughter Jean, her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“I was in Springwood Hospital waiting for a bed after being in Nepean,” Mrs Relph said. “I had had a fall at my home but this is what they have done for me. I’ve been here five-and-a-half years and I feel great, this place is wonderful,” she said with a beaming smile.
Mrs Relph (nee Henderson) grew up on the NSW South Coast in Moruya. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and she remembers clearly at seven years of age ringing the church bell when the Great War was over. She also remembers donating her money boxes to the Red Cross.
“During the war my family were members of the Red Cross and we had to knit socks for the soldiers and I’ll tell you about something funny, at one of the meetings we were asked what would we like to give to the charities and we children said we would give our money boxes and someone said “Well, three cheers for the Henderson children” and a couple of weeks later we said to Dad “When are they going to give us three chairs?”Poor Dad had to go up to Sydney and get us three deck chairs.”
Flora Henderson went to school a year earlier than her parents planned.
“I missed my older sister Alice so much, the school was across the road and I used to sit up at the gate and wait for her to come home —the teachers asked if I could come to school early so I went at six, when it was seven back then.”
Fast forward many years and she ended up a secretary, and then a Sydney nurse, watching the famous coathanger come to life.
“In my lunch hour we would always go down and have a look at the Harbour Bridge and wonder how it was going to join up, but it was perfect” she said.
She later worked alongside the Hamlins at Crown Street Hospital before they left to do lifesaving work in Ethiopia helping thousands of women suffering with fistulas from horrendous childbirths.
She remembers them as “two wonderful people”.
Her soldier-husband “changed forever” after being part of the occupying forces in Japan and they parted when he returned home. Her mother helped her raise her only child. “Jean’s been better to me than I ever was to her because I had to work — my mother was so wonderful bringing her up.”
Mrs Relph isn’t sure about the secret to long life, but counts the lessons learnt as a child as the most valuable.
“I don’t think there is one definite thing. Part of Dad being a minister of the church meant we never had much money and therefore we never had money to spare, my mother grew all the vegetables, we had a cow, the butcher was good to us, giving cuts of meat that weren’t popular but he’d give them to us cheap.
“I think the simple life and plain food and we were all happy together, very happy children and family.”
Daughter Jean has planned a special birthday celebration this week at her Springwood home. Was she excited about the event?
“It’s wonderful ... I just take it all as it comes,” Mrs Relph said.