The Golden Years – Kathleen Morris

No-one is more surprised than Kathleen Morris herself that she is 100 years old. She doesn’t, she says, feel that old. She certainly doesn’t look it, with her sparkling eyes and ready smile.

There is proof that Kathleen has reached her century, however, in the large collection of messages of congratulation that adorn her room at Prom View Lodge – from the Queen, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Victorian Governor, the Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan, and federal member Russell Broadbent.

Kathleen’s birthday is August 21. That day she had a special afternoon tea, complete with birthday cake and candles. That was followed by a celebration last Sunday. Around 100 people, including a few friends, but mainly Kathleen’s extended family, enjoyed Sunday lunch at the Welshpool Hotel.

This lovely lady was born Kathleen Dessent at Yarram on August 21, 1912, the second eldest of the eight children of Richard and Isobel Dessent. She grew up on a dairy farm at Binginwarri, where she developed her love of animals. “I didn’t mind milking. The cows were a friendly lot.” She would ride a horse to school – if she was quick enough. There weren’t enough horses to go around, so any dawdlers in the Dessent brood were in danger of missing out and having to walk!

Kathleen attended secondary school at Dandenong. When she left she went to work managing Taylors Delicatessen in Essendon. It was there that she met Herbert Morris, a relative of the owners. He worked there as well, sorting eggs, and he became her husband. They shifted to Hedley where Herbert worked as a dairy farmer, and then to Fullers Road, Foster, where they lived for many years. With her love of animals, Kathleen was pleased to be back in the country and enjoyed raising calves as pets.

Herb and Kathleen didn’t have any children of their own, but they had lots of nephews and nieces, such as Leonie Dessent and her sister Jennifer Sagasser, who have  fond memories of time spent at the Morris farm. Leonie remembers ‘Uncle Bert’ teaching her to trap rabbits. The Morrises had a boat and used to like going out fishing, and Leonie remembers being out in the boat one day when the fuel ran out. “Kathleen was sitting up like Queenie while Bert and I rowed!”

Kathleen was very good at handcraft. She still has the sun hat she crocheted from bread bags which won her first prize in Victoria in the CWA’s competition for articles made from recycled material. She made many crocheted and knitted items and had a talent for needlework of all kinds. She was also a good cook, never going anywhere without a plate of scones! Her garden was a credit to her – she was harvesting vegies into her nineties. By then she was living in Reserve Street, Foster, just down from the golf course, where she and Herb had built a home after selling the farm and retiring from dairy farming. Both keen golfers, they were delighted to live so close to the Foster course. Kathleen became a life member.

A highlight of the post-farming years was a trip by van around Australia, taking their time over a year or two. When they returned to South Gippsland they lived at Yanakie Caravan Park and managed it for South Gippsland Shire. Then they shifted back to their house in Foster.

Kathleen was involved in many organisations in Foster, including the Catholic Women’s League, CWA, Foster Show (where she was a steward), the hospital auxiliary, and of course the golf club. Herb died in the early 1990s, but Kathleen stayed on in their house, only moving into Banksia Lodge in 2006. There she continued her craftwork for as long as she could, and even taught some of the other ladies. She also enjoyed the regular bus trips and the wide range of activities available at Banksia Lodge.

Kathleen has always, she says, enjoyed good health. She moved into Prom View Lodge only late last year. She walks with the aid of a walker, but assures me she can run if necessary! She used to be a keen cook but is now happy to have all her meals cooked for her. She is well looked after at Prom View and is pleased that her little sister, Sheila McAinch, has a room just down the corridor.