Great, great grandmother celebrates a century

Trisha Dixon with her brothers Len (standing) and Robert Burke, were among a large group of family who celebrated their mum Margaret Denhams 100th birthday recently.

Trisha Dixon with her brothers Len (standing) and Robert Burke, were among a large group of family who celebrated their mum Margaret Denhams 100th birthday recently.

TURNING 100 is something most would agree is worth celebrating, but it's not the only milestone of note for much-loved great, great grandmother Margaret Denham (nee Burke and formerly Lyndon).

A hard worker who was known for her no-nonsense approach and stoicism, Mrs Denham could be described as a trailblazer for working women in the 1950s, being one of the first of her era to return to teaching after marrying - almost unheard of at a time when the education department discouraged married women from the classroom.

As a newly-trained teacher of 19, she taught at Longford Primary School, as well as several of the shire's other small rural schools, before taking a post at St Patrick's, where she taught until retiring at 62.

The popular educator - who began teaching under her maiden name of Burke, before taking the 'Lyndon' surname of her first husband while at St Patrick's - was a favourite of staff and students, who will remember her firm and friendly presence in the classroom and her congenial nature.

Some may even remember her as the imperturbable teacher who kept students calm and taught them basic bush skills when she and a young Catholic brother and 15 St Patrick's boys were lost at Mt Tamboritha for two nights in 1972.

The harrowing wait for news of the teachers and students had the Gippsland community on tenterhooks, and made headlines around the country.

Daughter Trisha Dixon said a recent birthday party for her mother at Sale Greyhounds was a joyous family affair, where young and old members of the extended Burke-Lyndon clan came together from far and wide to celebrate the popular matriarch's long life.

Although now suffering dementia and living in aged care, Mrs Denham undoubtedly enjoyed the fuss and the chatty excitement of dozens of youngsters milling around the room.

Mrs Dixon said her mother was liked by all who knew her, largely because of her "self-sacrificing" habits of putting others first.

"Mum was the most amazing person; she gave us a great life and was always picking up people with broken 'wings' - she rarely thought about herself," she said.

"Her religion guided her and she saw her role as helping others, and that's what she did very well.

"Even as a young teacher still at home, it was in her nature to help - it was not unknown for her to come home after teaching to pay her parents' bills to help out, because things were tough."

Education was incredibly important to Mrs Denham, who did not come from a wealthy background, but was proud to be earning a wage and educating many people less fortunate than herself.

"Mum knew the importance of education; she loved her students and she loved being a teacher - it was a big part of who she was."

Mrs Dixon said her mother always managed to fit in full days at home and at work, never complaining and never letting her standards slip.

She looked after her family first and foremost, but also played a significant role at school, at church and in the community. Despite being busy with her own four children, she unhesitatingly took on the care of her mother and then her mother-in-law when it was needed, and at one stage managed the older children of her daughter Heather, who tragically passed away in 1989.

"Mum was a positive person, and she just got on with what she had to - she never lived with regret," Mrs Dixon said.

"In fact I only ever saw her cry twice - once being when a neighbouring farmer shot her beloved cocker spaniel; she loved dogs very much."

When her husband died in 1981, the then Mrs Lyndon took on managing the family farm but continued to teach, doing everything with the same agreeable nature she was known and loved for.

In 1994, at the age of 74, she remarried and moved to Western Australia with her new love - widower, Ken Denham.

When he passed away in 2016, her children brought her back to Sale, to live out her life with the support of family and friends at Opal Aged Care.

Mrs Dixon says her mum's secret to a long life was "meat and three veg, no cigarettes and no alcohol", and of course, hard work and staying positive.

She continues to enjoy a comfortable life and heads a dynasty that includes four children, 11 grandchildren, 17 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

To recognise the milestone, Mrs Denham received letters of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth, the Governor General of Australia David Hurley, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Gippsland South MLC Danny O'Brien and Gippsland MHR Darren Chester.

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