Three-digit dynamo

When Rita Kearney tells you she’s 100 years old, your first reaction is “yeah, right!”

Rita, who is arguably the oldest person at Camberwell Community Condare Court, agreed to an impromptu interview the other day about a life very well lived. She finished her lunch, hared off to her bedroom to freshen up for the photograph, and ran – yes ran! - to the café where the chat was taking place.

She gaily plonked herself on a chair, and then in order to hear a bit better, leapt up and started lugging the chair closer to the interviewer from the Marketing and Communications team. The somewhat startled staff member leapt up to help Rita move the chair, only to be told, “Don’t be silly, I’ve got this!”

And that sums up her life. She wants something done, she rolls up her sleeves and does it. Her way.

Rita grew up on a farm in Wycheproof, Victoria – the youngest of three. Her father died when she was one week old, leaving her mother to take care of the farm. “Mum did everything,” Rita explains. “She sheared sheep, milked cows and took care of us all.”

Rita can vividly recall the blackout curtains over the windows during the war, and her Mum making them all clothes.

She can also remember standing outside on the lawn and grabbing snakes by their tails and swinging them above her head – and her mother calling out the window “Don’t play with snakes, Rita!”

Despite the abundance of snakes, Rita says the world was a safer, simpler place when she was a child. They walked everywhere – to the shops, to friends and to school, always climbing trees along the way. It was only years later they had a horse and gig.

When her Mum remarried, Rita moved to Melbourne with her and started work at a wool firm in the city.

“I was enormously fit,” Rita explains. “I played basketball, was part of a walking group and did athletic sprinting.” And Rita never shied from physical hard work. “I’m pretty nifty with an axe in chopping down wood,” she laughs.

Then her Mum contracted cancer, and Rita nursed her until her death. “It was a privilege,” she says simply. “And also, someone had to do it.”

Rita never married but travelled extensively, both overseas and across Australia and has four nephews and a niece she’s very close to.

And she attributes her longevity to her Viking genes and to her positive outlook.

“I take part in everything that’s on the go at Condare Court,” she explains. “I don’t sit in my room, I get involved. I’m part of the walking group, I chat to everyone, I watch movies, I do exercises and crafts. I’m having a lot of fun.”

And is there any special diet she’s followed to be this well and fit? “Nah, I eat whatever’s put in front of me,” she grins, “though I prefer savoury foods to anything sweet. But the food is really good here, so that’s not difficult, is it?”

“There’s always work to be done; and you need to think of others, not just yourself.”

That’s the motto that Rita Kearney has lived by for the last 100 years – and she sees no reason to change now that she’s reached this milestone in her life. “You always need to care for others!” says Rita firmly. “Always!”

Learn more about Camberwell Community, Condare Court