Sylvia Van de Velde will be the newest addition to the centenarian club when she celebrates her 100th birthday on Thursday, surrounded by friends and staff at Gippsland Health’s Wilsons Lodge.

Sylvia was born in Bairnsdale on June 23, 1922.

Spending her childhood years growing up on a farm in Maffra, when Sylvia and her siblings weren’t at school, they spent their days outside under the sun, in the fresh air, with their horses and dogs.

Sylvia is the third of her siblings to reach 100 years old, with her two eldest sisters passing away at 100 and 101.

The secret to a long life is “outdoor living and living on horses for all your teenage years”, Sylvia said.

Sylvia with her sister-in-law. Photo: Zoe Askew

Her life has not been without its challenges; Sylvia spent years caring for her mother after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

“You couldn’t touch her in the end. She screamed in pain,” Sylvia said.

“She was 51.

“My dad had a heart attack. I had to look after him for years.”

He died at the age of 85.

Sylvia married the love of her life, Cornelis Van de Velde, known to most as Cory. He was born in Holland, where he spent most of his early life before moving to Australia.

On their 40th wedding anniversary (May 30, 2017), Cory passed away.

Sylvia’s late husband Cornelius Van de Velde.
Photos: Zoe Askew

Through his work as a surveyor, Cory and Sylvia crossed the country to Western Australia, where they lived for 30 years, spending most of their time travelling in a caravan.

“I bet I know more of the Western third of Australia than many Western Australians today,” Sylvia says.

Sylvia’s love for travel did not take her overseas; however, she visited Tasmania many years ago.

“Tasmania is the only thing I have been over water for, and I flew then,” she chuckled.

Out of all the places in Australia, Sylvia said her favourite spot is Esperance on the south coast of Western Australia.

“I loved Esperance,” Sylvia said.

Sylvia will be one of the 3700 Australians aged 100 years or over, who have witnessed some of the most monumental events and societal changes in history.

In 1930, when Sylvia was eight years old, The Great Depression hit Australia, leaving hundreds of thousands of Australians without work.

As a result, children were starving, men were humiliated and powerless, women scrabbled to hold families together, and suicide rates increased dramatically.

Sylvia was aged 17 when Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, and in 1945, when she was 23, World War II was over following the surrender of Nazi Germany.

At the age of 47, Sylvia watched as Neil Armstrong took man’s first steps on the moon in July 1969.

Since the 1990s, there has been a rapid advancement in technology alongside large scale, progressive societal shifts, beliefs and tolerances.

Living longer than many of us ever will, Sylvia has seen a century of changes; however, when asked about the most significant change to the world in the last 100 years, she couldn’t choose.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“I’ve just gone along with everything as it comes.

“You can’t fight it, so I just go with the times.

“Although one thing I will tell you, I never got the hang of a computer.”

Sylvia in her bridesmaid dress at her sister-in-law’s wedding. Photo by Zoe Askew.

Sylvia has always and fondly recalled her first day of school 95 years ago.

“My mother couldn’t come because she had young kids at home, so my older sister had to take me,” she remarked.

Sylvia left the house and trailed closely behind her older sister on the over mile-long journey to school.

Little feet pounded the earth beneath as Sylvia worked hard to keep up with her sister, but Sylvia’s legs ached as they reached the railroad running across the land, separating home and school; she would not take another step.

Not without a break.

“I reckoned it was too far; it was over a mile to walk,” Sylvia said.

“So I sat on the railway line”.

Left behind by her sister, a tired Sylvia rested on the railway line when suddenly the ground beneath her began to hum as a train moved sluggishly around the corner.

“The driver slowed right down until the train was almost idling,” she said.

“He jumped out and pulled me off the line.”

For a long while after that very first day, young Sylvia would stop and rest her legs, sitting on the railway line on her way to school.

On an afternoon not long after her first day of school, Sylvia’s father said to the driver, “why don’t you stop the train and give her a paddle on the backside”.

“He said to my father, no, I know she’ll always be there, and I will be there to pull her off on time. I can always remember sitting on that railway line,” she laughed.

Sylvia keeps memories of her friends close. Photo: Zoe Askew.

Today if you miss Sylvia in the garden, among the trees, you will find her sitting in her armchair in her room at Wilson Lodge.

In her armchair, situated next to a large window looking out over the park where you can catch glimpses of the lake, Sylvia spends her time knitting clothing for her nieces and nephews in WA or doing crossword puzzles as she says, “it keeps the mind sharp”.

Sylvia also loves to listen to music on her radio and read about Darren Chester in the newspaper.

When diversional therapist Tanya Buys mentioned, “Sylvia absolutely loves Darren Chester”, a smile covered her face, and her eyes lit up.

Mr Chester extended a special birthday wish to Sylvia on her monumental birthday.

“I would like to congratulate Sylvia on reaching this extraordinary milestone. This truly deserves to be celebrated and I hope she takes the time to reflect on some of the memories made over the last century,” Mr Chester said.

“I hope Sylvia and her family mark this occasion and have an enjoyable day and that she remains in good health and hearty spirits.”

Sylvia reminisces amorously about her youth growing up on a farm, professing she never had time for reading or the radio because she was always outside, helping her father with the cows, exploring the land on horseback or looking after the dogs.

When asked what her advice to her younger self would be, Sylvia paused briefly, pondering memories of a life well-lived.

“Never milk cows in the afternoon,” Sylvia declared after sharing a story of time on her Orchard Valley farm in Glenmaggie.

Sylvia’s advice to her younger self. Photo: Zoe Askew

While Sylvia has given up horse riding and cow milking and is without a dog for the first time; she remains in good health and spirits.

There is not a moment where Sylvia is not doing anything, whether she is walking, remarkably fast for 100, along the grounds at Wilson Lodge or knitting in her room.

Sylvia leaves her final words of wisdom from a life long-lived.

“I have never been bored of my own company,” she said.

“That’s a good idea.

“Never be bored of your own company.”