Red Cliffs is set to celebrate its centenary in November, but one of its life-long residents is about to beat her home town to the punch!
Winifred Thomas (nee Wilkinson) was born on February 13, 1921, and will mark her milestone birthday tomorrow with a party hosted by family and friends at the Red Cliffs Club.
Now a resident of Jacaranda Village, and as she approached her 100th birthday this week, Win reflected on her many years and the wonderful life she’s had in Red Cliffs.
“I have had a good life really. I have been very fortunate. I had a good husband and two lovely children,” Win said.
Arguably one of the first babies to be born to parents living in Red Cliffs, Win said she can’t be sure of that claim, something her mother always said was the case.
“That’s a very big statement … claiming to be the first born, but I may be the oldest surviving of the babies born then,” Win said.
When Win was born, her mother and father were living in a large army tent on the cliffs overlooking the Murray River, along with many other people who had come to settle in the new town, while they waited for their land to be allocated.
“My recollection of the early days of Red Cliffs are that it was a nice place,” Win said.
“I remember the paper shop and the lolly shop when I was growing up.
“It was very hot and there was no air-conditioning. We did have the ice-man come, but you were lucky if that was once a week. When he did, you could have a cool drink that night!
“It was hard living for women particularly. Not so much for me, I was young and growing up and giggled my way through it.
“But for the wives it was fairly hard. A lot of them went out and worked because they were just starting out and didn’t have too much.”
Win’s parents, Laurie and Mary were among the original soldier settlers of Red Cliffs. Mary travelled by horse and cart to a Mildura hospital, where she gave birth to Winifred. Her mother told her it was so hot the birds were falling from the trees!
Later, the family, which included Win’s sister Edna aged two, moved into their house on ‘Block 249’.
Win speaks of a very happy life growing up on the property. The family had a beautiful orange grove and almond trees along with vines. In time, the house was expanded and their front veranda hosted many Sunday afternoon tea parties!
Win’s father Laurie was a well-educated man, whose own father had been a Melbourne lawyer and Member of Parliament. Laurie often assisted in the writing of speeches for local politicians of the time.
Win famously appeared in a 1943 edition of the Sun News Pictorial newspaper, in a photo taken of her picking oranges on the family’s property.
“It was hard to get labor to pick the crops on the blocks during the war, and so women had to go out and do jobs – that was our orange grove I was on picking our fruit. I look a bit different now!” Win said as she shows me the clipping.
The hard work paid off and the family property flourished. During the 1920s and 1930s, the family was fortunate to enjoy at least two annual holidays in Melbourne, usually to the St Kilda or South Melbourne beaches, often around Anzac Day, so that Laurie could attend the service at the Shrine.
Life was simple, but healthy. Win recalls the family always had a cow for milk and cream, and grew their own vegetables.
Win attended the ‘East school’, often going with her sister by horse and jinker.
Later on, the siblings took the bus into Mildura High School.
After leaving school, Win would meet a young police officer, Bert Thomas and they married in April,1945, in the Methodist church.
Win and Bert continued to live at Red Cliffs and reared two children — Cherie and Greg.
Bert was a Shire Councillor and Shire president and during those years Win was a great support, sometimes being required to make speeches and to attend many functions.
Sadly, Bert died suddenly aged 63, but Win continued to live in the town and in the same house until she was 97.
“I can’t say I liked the thought of going into aged care – I didn’t – but it is very nice at Jacaranda and they are very good to me,” Win said.
“I’ve been there for two years, but I still say I could have been at home a lot longer, but my doctor said I shouldn’t have been there. I knew if I had a fall in the night I would be in difficulty.”
Throughout her life Win was a very active member of the Red Cliffs community.
She was always involved in the church, first Methodist and then Uniting, and for many years was the local Brown Owl for the Brownie pack.
She also regularly enjoyed playing croquet; was a CWA member and in later years a member of the Probus club.
Win was also on the committee for Meals on Wheels for many years and was an active member of Birthright.
Win has always been very proud of the town that grew up with her!
Happy birthday Win from everyone at the ‘Weekly. We hope you have a lovely day!