The great thing about being a country’s oldest person is that, at 112 years of age, you have earned the right to speak your mind.
And so it was for Emily Beatrice “Bea” Riley, who turned 112 on Monday.
Australia’s oldest person has trouble hearing and her memory is fading but she is lucid.
She told reporters there was no secret potion to explain her longevity.
“I don’t have any secret, I just go along, I think it’s wonderful,” Riley said of reaching the milestone.
She also said: “I don’t have much breath”, when it was time to blow out her birthday candles.
Her birthday wish was “not to have a fall and bruise anything”. Family members explained falling was one of her great fears, having broken her ankle in recent years.
She was annoyed about someone removing a foot stool from her room at the Viewbank House nursing home – her legs were sore – but her son Cliff, aged 81, kept her focused on questions from journalists.
When asked whether she was happy and proud of a life that has taken in the arrival of cars, aeroplanes, a man on the moon, world wars and more, she was equally honest.
“I don’t really know, bits and pieces,” she said.
She described the technological advances of her lifetime as amazing: “some of them I would’ve thought impossible”.
She also hinted at not being as happy now she was not independent and relied on care at a nursing home in Melbourne’s northeast.
However, the mother of two, grandmother of six and great-grandmother of 14 has plenty to be proud of and admitted “having children” was her greatest achievement.
Riley was born on October 13, 1896 in the dairy town of Poowong, in Victoria’s eastern Gippsland region.
Her husband Alec, who died in 1986, was a senior public servant and the family lived throughout Victoria.
She worked as a nurse, loved horses and horseriding and competed in dressage competitions at country shows in her youth, Cliff Riley told reporters.
“I am proud of her she’s a remarkable woman,” he said.
“She is well-read, has never been interested in television, never been a smoker but always been interested in current affairs.”
She was never really a drinker either, but was given a glass of Baileys Irish cream on her 100th birthday and has enjoyed one every night since, her son said.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Ageing Minister Justine Elliot wrote to Riley congratulating her on the milestone.
Elliot said Australians now had the world’s second longest life expectancy, after the Japanese.