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Evelyn Jenkins, better than Bradman

The secret to ageing well, to making it to a grand old age, is work.

That is according to Sydney woman, and recent centenarian, Evelyn Jenkins from the Uniting Bernard Austin Lodge in Liverpool.

Hard work has been the bedrock of Evelyn’s life and along with never drinking or smoking, working hard has kept her going, she tells me.

“The goal was 100. But now we’ve said we’re going to go for 101. Aren’t we?” says Bernard Austin Lodge service manager Renee Kruger, who joins us in our conversation.

“That’s right. I feel good,” Evelyn replies.

Born and raised in Concord, Evelyn had an eclectic working life which included stints chicken farming for Ingham’s as well as shirt making for Woolworths.

“I spent six months of my life cutting off the threads of the shirts,” she tells me.

I chuckle at the thought and tell her that she had two very different jobs.

“That’s right, good mixture. And I loved it.”

And she was good at what she did, taking pride in her hard work. Her son Ken tells me about his mum’s award-winning chickens – she was the number one grower for Ingham’s at one stage.

“I took part of a chicken to work. I was in the fire brigade at headquarters, 42 blokes a shift. And the chicken was about 8 or 9 lbs and the leg looked like a turkey, the blokes at headquarters wouldn’t believe me it was a chicken leg,” he says with a laugh.

On top of the obvious cache that comes along with turning 100 and the letter from the queen (how does the queen always know, we ask ourselves), staff and friends at Evelyn’s home threw her a surprise party.

“Oh yes, it was lovely,” Evelyn says.

“She was the lady of the hour,” Renee adds.

Residents and staff spent the last month making handmade purple and gold paper flowers to decorate the room in preparation for Evelyn’s big day, and they set up a red-carpet welcome and a mini fashion show for her too.

Everyone chipped in, with Mike, the transport manager, playing some music for the event.

And of course, a birthday cake was had, central to any good birthday knees up, and it was decorated in purple and gold, Evelyn’s favourite colours.

During a pandemic, when aged care homes are seeing less visitors and outside entertainment, a milestone like this can be just as important for the staff and other residents.

“I think we’ve been trying to have a bit of fun all along but I think it’s been a very special day to look forward to,” Renee says. “I’ve been a nurse for many years. And I’ve been with Uniting for the past seven years. And this is the first time I’ve been able to celebrate someone turning 100. And the second time in my lifetime, because I celebrated my great aunt’s 100th. So, it was a very special moment for everybody. It doesn’t happen too often.

“Everyone doll’d up for the occasion. And we had the red carpet happening, and the music. And she was down on the red carpet, we had her on the catwalk. All the residents had a reason to really glam up for the day.”

And the love and care shown by the Uniting team has been very important for Evelyn’s family as well.

“They really excelled themselves, we’ve yet to thank them properly for that,” says Wendy, Evelyn’s daughter-in-law.

“They did a wonderful, wonderful job … they put on a wonderful show.”

“Did she tell you she beat Don Bradman?” Wendy asks me.

“It’s what she’s been saying for the last three years,” Ken chimes in. “I’m going to beat Don Bradman’s score.”

The Aussie cricket great famously finished his test career with a batting average of 99.94.

The family was also excited to celebrate the occasion as Evelyn has had a few obstacles on the way to her century.

“It’s enormous actually considering some of the issues she has been through,” says Ken.

A number of stays in hospital recently had the family concerned, but Evelyn has always “recovered like a champion”, says Wendy.

“We said it’s all those years on the chicken farm that made her tough,” she says. “And she never drank, and she never smoked!”

And while work and clean living might be the key to living long, how does it feel to have hit 100?

“Ah, yes. I don’t feel any different. I feel good, feel alive. I feel good,” Evelyn says.

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