“Eat your greens and don’t stress too much.”
That’s the advice of Matina Notaras, who last month on 3 June reached the epic milestone of turning 100 years old.
“It’s wonderful because when she turned 70 she said, ‘Oh, I haven’t got long to go Mary’. Thirty years later and she’s still here! We can’t believe it,” says her daughter and carer, Mary Notaras, 66.
But Matina, nee Stamatula Comino, is not your average centenarian.
Described by her daughter on numerous occasions as “cheeky”, Matina continues to be reminiscent of the 27-year-old woman who joined the Australian Women’s Army Services.
Stationed in Wallangarra, 190 kilometres south west of Brisbane, aside from fulfilling her duties as a secretary – such as preparing and translating secret orders for General Douglas McArthur – Matina’s face truly lights up when recalling fond memories of shenanigans with past colleagues.
“She said sometimes they’d go AWOL, they’d go to the movies when they shouldn’t. Or they’d go and pick fruit from the farmer’s properties,” Mary shares.
But the one memory that stands out is a visit from American army officer General Douglas MacArthur, when she was staying at the army hospital due to dysentery.
There she had the opportunity to shake the general’s hand and “he actually came and spoke to her”, her daughter recalls. “So that was a big highlight for her.”
But it’s Matina’s family – her husband Peter Notaras and four children – that would become her key focus and the sole creators of future memories.
Living in Brisbane, it was just 17 years after their marriage that the centenarian’s husband passed away, leaving Matina, aged 48, with the challenging task of raising their four children, all under the age of 15, on her own.
“It was all too much … but she overcame that thank goodness,” Mary recalls of the turbulent period following her father’s death.
Bouncing back, Matina continued to grow as the ambitious individual she is, never one to let age hold her back, armed with her famous motto ‘If you have something and you don’t use it, you’ll lose it’.
So finally, in her 50s, Matina decided to fulfil two of her biggest dreams: driving and flying.
“She never used to drive, and after dad died, my brother bought a car and she started driving, and then she decided to take up flying lessons,” Mary recalls with a tone that conveys how impressed she is with her mother’s efforts.
Despite suffering from osteoarthritis, and with the hip, knee and shoulder operations she has had, even Matina’s doctor admits she’s in good shape.
“She only takes a blood pressure tablet, half a one in the morning, and half a one at night. But otherwise, she doesn’t really take much else,” says Mary.
But with a long life, so too come negative life experiences; aside from losing her husband early on, Matina experienced every parent’s nightmare – the loss of a child.
Six years ago, the second man of the house – her only son Andy, lost his life due to excessive smoking. But the negative experiences have only brought the women of the house closer together.
“We all look out for each other, we’ve all kept close,” says Mary.
“Mum always said to us, ‘you shouldn’t argue, always make up your arguments, don’t built up resentment’.”
Aside from spending time with family, Matina spends four days of the week at a day respite centre, where she has morning tea, watches movies, plays games, partakes in themed parties and goes out on scenic drives.
But more than anything, the grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of 17 continues to enjoy going out for a chin wag over her beverage of choice.
“She always wants to go for coffee!” her daughter exclaims with a laugh.
“We never stay home, ever! Not on the weekend, not at all. She actually wanted to go to the Greek islands for her 100th birthday!”
Though her request couldn’t be fulfilled for practical reasons, Matina’s 100th birthday party was a Greek island theme.
“I think she was excited because there were some local members who presented her with flowers and she knew things were happening, and everyone was so nice to her,” says Mary.
Just minutes into the discussion, it’s easy to see that Mary holds a special bond with her mother.
While working as a legal aid, every other spare moment is spent making Matina’s life as comfortable as possible.
Though she is lucky to have the devotion and care of her daughter, Mary is adamant that she’s in fact the lucky one.
“She’s not grumpy, she’s fairly easygoing. Mum doesn’t complain about anything, she just goes along with what’s happening and enjoys it,” she says.
Yet she jokes about whether she’ll be just as lucky to have someone look after her when the time comes.
“I’m checking with all my great-nieces and nephews. I’m saying ‘are you going to look after me?,” Mary says with a laugh.
Harping back to her wise words of wisdom, unlike others who stress about what may or may not happen, Mary never recalls her mother expressing such anxieties.
A religious woman, “she’d always say ‘God will provide’. She doesn’t worry about anything”.
Though her daughter recalls the odd occasion of her mother making a comment about her age, rather than focusing on existential fears, Mary is adamant that she is more concerned with thoughts of ‘when are we going to go on holiday next?’
“We’ve got the party over and done with and now she’s looking ahead to other things.”
That’s the spirit, Matina. Here’s to 100 years more.