Long lives well lived, a wealth of wisdom accumulated over the years…There is much we can learn from our elders and so many stories waiting to be heard. Mirror journalist Wendy Williamson meets Elvina Krause, who lives at Banksia Lodge.
You have to feel for Elvina Krause, who is finding South Gippsland mighty cold after spending many years in Queensland. Still, she is very comfortable at Banksia Lodge, her home for the last couple of years, and delighted to be near her sister again. This sister is Ros Bryan, a long-time resident of the Foster/Fish Creek district. Ros brought her elder sister down from Queensland six years ago and Elvina lived with her for 12 months and then in her own home in Foster with her beloved dog ‘Angel,’ until ill health forced a move into Banksia Lodge.
“Life goes on very smoothly here at Banksia. The rooms are very nice, the meals are good and everyone looks after you. I can’t fault it – and I’m an ex-nurse!” says Elvina.
Although the sisters spent many years apart, they are clearly very close and their non-stop verbal sparring is good natured and highly entertaining.
“Elvina has a wicked sense of humour,” says Ros – but with such a sparkle in her eye it is obvious she has a similar sense of fun.
Elvina was born Elvina Griffin in 1930 in Sydney, the eldest of five sisters – Ros is the third. Their father was in the navy and away a lot, so there are significant age differences between the five sisters. Worst of all was during the war when he was missing presumed dead for a couple of years.
“Dad was on the HMAS Parramatta when it was sunk in the Mediterranean and 250 men were lost. He was one of only 16 to survive. He clearly had the luck of the Irish!” says Elvina, whose father was born in Australia but had Irish ancestry.
Such was the damage caused by the burning oil as the sailors floundered in the water, even those few sailors who did survive took a long time to be identified.
With the girls’ father in the navy, generally working on submarines, the family moved constantly – nine times by Elvina’s calculations. Sydney, Crib Point, Port Melbourne and Flinders were some of the places they called home over the years.
“We went to lots of different schools – Catholic and state, whichever was convenient.”
Older siblings everywhere would sympathise with Elvina who, as the eldest child, was put in charge of the younger ones.
“Joan, the sister between Ros and me, was quite a handful, a real live wire. She would, for instance, run home to go to the toilet and I would get in trouble because she wasn’t with me!”
Elvina was barely 14 when she left school to work in a dressmaking factory. “I couldn’t sew a stitch, but when I saw the beading work and the complex design work it entailed I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I did careful finishing work – by hand – for three years until I was 17 and old enough to go into nursing.”
Elvina trained at the repatriation hospital at Heidelberg under nurses who had been in the war and were excellent teachers. She also worked at Warragul, as did Ros. The sisters recall getting a lift from the milk transports between Warragul and their home in Port Melbourne.
One day Elvina was nursing a returned soldier by the name of Fred Krause. Clearly impressed with the young nurse, he took her phone number and rang her the next day.
“He was a Commando – one of the ‘Double Red Diamonds’ – and had trained at the Prom. We married in 1951.”
The young couple lived in Melbourne’s beachside suburbs and raised four children – three sons and a daughter. They travelled a lot, especially to Hong Kong (“Fred loved the food!” says Elvina) which they visited nine times. They also went to Bangkok, where Elvina was delighted to meet up with Ros, who was nursing there.
Fred ran a successful steel business, and as well as raising the children Elvina worked as his secretary. She also became involved in the local (Mentone) art group. She had discovered an artistic streak when she was doing the beading work at the factory and she was keen to pursue her interest. As the children grew up and went their separate ways she became more and more involved in the art world and developed considerable skill as a painter.
By the late 1980s Elvina and Fred had separated and Elvina decided to move to Queensland, partly to the warmth but also to be nearer her daughter, who was living there. She made her home at Redland Bay, near Brisbane, where she had a gallery and worked as an art teacher. Later she moved to the Glass House Mountains north of Brisbane. She was just down the road from Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo. This proved fortuitous.
“One day there was a python coiled amongst the rafters in my studio. I rang the zoo to remove it and while they were there they found a [far more venomous] brown snake curled behind my painting materials!”
Although she has not painted much of late, Elvina still loves to read and to catch up with her family whenever she can. She is sad that her son Kurt, a police sergeant at Hastings, died of a heart attack whilst on duty three years ago, but she treasures her remaining children and she now has seven grandchildren and twin one-year-old great-granddaughters.
Concentrating mainly on landscapes and depictions of flowers, Elvina exhibited widely, won numerous art awards and sold many paintings over the years. She is evidently a talented artist, as can be seen by the lovely paintings which hang on the walls of her room at Banksia Lodge.
Ros is clearly proud and very fond of her talented sister – but there’s no chance of Elvina getting a big head with Ros around to tease her as only a sister can!