The joy of being at Mrs White's 100th birthday party

I left the state of Victoria last weekend. Only temporarily but it felt significant.

My entire family flew to Queensland for an event we had not expected to attend – my mother-in-law’s 100th birthday! Everyone was delighted to see us. We Victorians had been invited back into Queensland finally, after a very tough period of lockdown and border closures.

We weren’t the only ones leaving Victoria. The flight was packed. I suspect there was not an empty seat anywhere. Such closeness to others was odd but there were bigger adjustments to be made once we landed. No-one in Queensland seemed to be too worried about social distancing. And people wearing masks dried up once we left the airport.

Melbourne diary

Penny Mulvey reports on life during COVID in Melbourne – from lockdown to vaccinations.

Still, there remains some anxiety about poor old Adelaide, as that was the one place we were asked if we had been during the past 14 days.

A shout out to all Adelaidians reading this. I know how you feel.

The birthday was wonderful. My adult children’s Nan is a funny, engaged woman. As she read the birthday greeting from the Prime Minister, Nan read out the postscript on the card: “Wishing you all the best for the future.”

She looked up at her audience, and with a wry smile said, “That’s a bit optimistic, isn’t it!”

Just think about the changes Maida Gwendoline White has witnessed. Mrs White has lived through the Great Depression, the war after the war to end all wars, the romanticised fifties, the swinging sixties, the technological revolution, the Cold War and the destruction of the climate. Now, she’s living through another pandemic – 100 years after the last one was coming to its conclusion, as Maida was born.

During World War 2, her family had to book an international phone call to their son Ken, who had enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces in 1939 (number QX197). That call was both complicated and hugely expensive. Now, Maida can have a free FaceTime conversation with her two great grandsons no matter where they are in the world!

Maida might struggle to remember what she had for lunch, but she can provide vivid details about her exciting life as a clerk in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (number 100473).

She enrolled as a member of the WAAAF in Brisbane on 29 July 1942. She was initially posted to Melbourne, then returned to Queensland in Amberley, Townsville, briefly to Brisbane and then back to Sandgate – where she had completed her rookies’ course – for demobilisation in April, 1946. It was an exciting time for a young woman.

When asked about what she expects when her time on earth ends, her response was ‘I think I will be looked after’.

The nearly-centenarian was the other star at her granddaughter’s wedding reception in October, when she took to the dance floor with great enthusiasm, having put in a special request for the Andrews Sisters war-time classic, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.

I have never known anyone of that grand age. Nan puts it down to “choosing good genes” and living a simple life. I suspect the genes definitely help!

Mrs White has been an active member of the Anglican Church in Brisbane most of her life. She attended Sunday School, has been a church choir member, a member of Synod representing her church, participated in Bible Study groups for many years, and will still engage in the occasional theological discussion.

When asked about what she expects when her time on earth ends, her response was “I think I will be looked after.”

It was a privilege to attend this remarkable woman’s significant birthday celebration. A big thanks to Premier Anastasia for opening the border just in time!