ACT News


You've all been told a hundred times or more, happy birthday!

Gwen Smith, 105, not only received a Centenary Medallion at Wednesday morning's presentation but, unscheduled, had her name added to the lyrics of one of the greatest hits of the late crooner Frank Sinatra.

Gwen Smith was one of 28 Canberrans aged 99 and beyond at Regatta Point to receive the medallion from Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.

Another 14 were unable to attend but will be handed the medallions in their homes.

It was a warm and informal occasion sandwiched between two songs from Robyn Archer who, as well as being the Centenary of Canberra's creative director, is a polished performer. Accompanying herself on the ukulele Archer closed the occasion with the beautifully appropriate hit of 1953 Young At Heart.

As Jeremy Lasek, the executive director of the Centenary of Canberra, pointed out, fittingly: ''The statistician say Canberrans live longer than any other folk around Australia and I guess here today we've got living proof of that.''

He said that it seemed ''highly unlikely we've ever had in Canberra or anywhere else in Australia a gathering of this nature''.


In spite of his grand title Mr Lasek has the common touch and as part of his duties on Wednesday he went gently and folksily among the guests of honour, interviewing some of them for us.

There were about 250 of ''us'' (relatives, friends, carers, dignitaries, nursing home staff, vigilant St John's Ambulance officers and media) packed into the small Regatta Point theatre, built for 70.

One of Mr Lasek's interviewees, Ellen Heath, who still exercises and can still touch her toes, told of how during World War II (she was a Londoner) there was a memorable occasion when she and many others were sheltering in the Underground from a German air raid.

An air raid warden called out, ''Are there any pregnant women down here?'' and a female wit called back ''Give us a chance, we've only been down here 10 minutes!''

She, Ellen Heath (at least 99, remember) further impressed by faultlessly reciting (not an ''er'' or an ''um'' or bungled word and from memory and after a sip of water) a very long and sentimental poem all about bunny rabbits, fairies and magic.

The patron of the Centenary, former governor-general Sir William Deane, whose brainwave the medallion was, assured the centenarians how dear they were to us.

''There's only one word for it. You have our love,'' he told them, and everyone broke into applause.

Chief Minister Gallagher marvelled at all the changes the centenarians must have seen in a city that had been transformed in her own short lifetime, and that 100 years from now would be transformed again in ways we could not imagine.

Then Ms Gallagher took a medallion to each seated recipient, talked with them and was photographed with them.

The silver medallion is decorated on one side with a golden image of the Centenary flower, the Correa ''Canberra Bells'' and on the other with the Commemoration Stone on which Lady Denman, wife of then governor-general Lord Denman, stood in 1913 to announce the city's name.

After the ceremony every centenarian was reverently delivered out onto a balcony overlooking the lake and the city.

Only a few centenarians could manage this journey under their own steam. But there they were, all to be photographed as the cluster of much-loved living legends that they are.