The passing of time has done little to slow WA’s latest centurion, Alie Poepjes.
A bright spark of a woman who has laser-sharp recollection of an extraordinary life, Ali gets an hour of cleaning each week from Brightwater at Home. Pretty much everything else she still does for herself.
“There is no secret,” she said of her longevity. “I’m very fortunate, I don’t know why. I never thought I would get this old.”
Family gathered from all over Australia to celebrate Alie’s 100th birthday on Sunday. Fittingly, it was also International Day of Older Persons.
Not surprising, for someone who experienced the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War 11 as a young woman in her 20s, Alie has always been resourceful and resilient.
She remembers the war as a terrible time, most notably the ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944–45. With starvation a very real threat, she and other young people would walk for tens of kilometres in search of food.
“Sometimes you would get a cabbage or some carrots if you were lucky,” she said.
“Later, when my kids were small and they’d be: ‘I’m starving, we’re so hungry’, I’d say: ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’. That was a shocking time.”
Alie remembers with joy the arrival of the Allied forces that brought an end to hunger and the war. “The Canadians came and made us free. We were dancing in the street,” she said.
The eldest of six children, Ali had ambitions to go to university but was discouraged by what these days would seem an unlikely source but is symptomatic of the thinking at the time.
“Mum said ‘No way, she’s getting married and that’s it. She said ‘What is the use for a woman?’”
So Alie became a dressmaker and met her husband Liekel just after the war. The pair wed in 1949. They emigrated to Australia with their two boys Tjerk, 4, and Johan (John) 2 in 1954.
There were hundreds of similar families on the migrant ship Johan Van Oldenbarevelt (JVO) all seeking a new life and new opportunity away from the post-war privations of their home country.
Alie’s first impression of Australia? “The cars were on the wrong side of the road!” Initially settling at a camp in Northam, the Poepjes moved with another family into a house in Beaconsfield before finding their own place in Willagee.
Just across the road from the local primary school, that was home for the next 30 years with the addition of two more sons, Hank and Robert, who later played football for South Fremantle and Claremont.
Alie remains very proud of her family which now includes 11 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and three great, great, granddaughters.
Her face beams as she flips through a photo album of family portraits taken at her birthday celebrations last year.
Liekel passed away due to cancer in 2000, but Alie remains very active, getting out in her gopher daily to run errands and go to the shops near her Safety Bay home.
“I never get bored. Never. There is always something to do,” she said.
One of the few concessions she makes to age is that her fingers are now too stiff for sewing (she made three of her daughter-in-laws’ wedding dresses).
But she remains an avid solver of crossword puzzles and has a table piled with books.
“I’ve always loved learning,” she said.
Even after all these years, some things never change.