Over a century, Stella has seen it all

IMAGINE living through some the greatest changes our world has seen.

Moving from horse and cart to the automobile, living through two world wars and the Great Depression, unbelievable medical advancements, space travel and sending a man to the moon, the huge growth in population and the internet, just to name a few.

The area’s oldest Aboriginal elder Stella Wright has seen it all.

Mrs Wright turned 100 on Monday (February 4).

Born Stella Lonesborough on February 4, 1913 at the Roseby Park Aboriginal Mission, she has links that go right back to the early days of Shoalhaven settlement.

Her great-grandfather was Patrick Caffery, an Irish convict who came to the area in 1832 to work on the Berry Estate in Coolangatta.

He married Anne Gibney and their daughter Margaret Caffery married John Lonesborough.

Their children were John jnr (Stella’s father), Robert (Uncle Bob, who lived to the ripe old age of 99, just one month short of his 100th birthday), Annie, Edward (known as Ned), Margaret, Catherine and Mary.

Margaret, known as Maggie, married Frederick Smith, who was the father of one the area’s great sporting administrators Artie Smith.

Mary married Herbert Cotteral De Mestre, the son of Andre De Mestre.

A daughter of Ned’s (also Margaret and known as Maggie) married Harry Regan, producing another man well known for the promotion of Shoalhaven sport, Bernie Regan, as well as his talented siblings Ted, Jack, Dennis, Kathlene, Margaret, Helen and Joan.

John Lonesborough jnr married Mary Jane Carpenter and had five children: Linda, Stella, Myra, Margaret (known as Maggie) and John (known as Jack).

They moved to the Crookhaven River about five kilometres up a branch of the Shoalhaven River, to where her father was working on the oyster leases, which are still in the family today.

Stella married John Wright, known as Johnnie, and they had four sons: Terry, Barry, Henry (known as Joe) and Trevor.

She was two years older than her husband.

“I didn’t know it at the time,” she joked.

And she admitted that he didn’t make much of an impression when she first met him.

“He was fishing with his father and was trying to get to Goodnight Island and a howling nor easterly was blowing,” she said.

“We were out with Dad in the launch and towed him down to the island.

“To tell the truth, I didn’t think much of him.

“I didn’t see him for a few weeks and then he kept coming around.

“But he was a big man and a good looking fellow.”

They married in 1934 in the Presbyterian Church in Nowra.

They also lived on the southern side of Crookhaven River on the Shoalhaven River.

Stella comes from a family of long livers – her uncle Bob died at 99, one of her own sisters reached 92, another 86, and another 77.

She has lost count of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but does have four great-great-grandchildren.

What’s her secret to longevity?

“No secret, just live a good life and work hard,” she said.

“We were always doing something, and with four sons I always had something to do.”

To this day she still enjoys a feast of oysters at least once a week.

After living at Crookhaven for a few years they moved into town, taking up residence at The Grotto at North Nowra in the 1940s.

They lived there for several years – Johnnie continued to work as a fisherman – and the foundations of the family’s home remain there today.

“Johnnie would fish on the river and the kids would often go out as well,” Stella said.

They then moved to a house in North Nowra, where Sharman Park is located.

“It was all bush back then,” she said.

“There weren’t many people living up there.”

That bushland setting would prove disastrous when the home was destroyed in a bushfire.

Today, two sons – Terry and Trevor – live within minutes of the site of the family home.

There were moves to Culburra Beach and Bomaderry before Johnnie passed away aged 79 in 1995 after more than 60 years of marriage.

Stella then became a resident of the Rose Mumbler Village at North Nowra and, after a bout of severe illness, moved into Clelland Lodge three and a half years ago.

A family celebration was held on Saturday at North Nowra, where the guest of honour took great pride in opening letters of congratulations from the Queen, Governor General, Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, the NSW Premier and the local MPs.

About 60 family members dropped in across the day to help mark the occasion, while she celebrated with a quiet family dinner at Clelland Lodge on Monday.

More photos appear on page 87.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Stella Wright (centre) celebrates her 100th birthday on Saturday surrounded by family.

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