Who shall find a valiant woman?
Who shall find a woman of strength?
A pearl of great price is she
She is known for her dignity and strength and she laughs at the days to come.
— Proverbs 31:10-31
TUCKED away on a Macarthur farm you’ll find a remarkable 102-year-old woman who may well be the south-west’s greatest living treasure.
Born in Macarthur on April 8, 1910, Queenie Sproal (nee McInnes) never craved the limelight but remains a legend in the community.
“They’ll say ‘there’s that old girl in the paper again’,” she said with a laugh.
The former nurse still lives independently in her home of 72 years and is visited by district nurse Winnie Yates once a week.
Few if any people would know her given name was Caroline, having been known as Queenie since birth.
“My father wanted me called Caroline after his sister, but my mother didn’t like her sister-in-law,” she said.
Her mother yielded but ensured her daughter was only ever called Queenie.
Ever active, she spends her weeks following a set routine.
“I have a day for ironing, a day for cooking, there is a day for everything,” she said.
“In the morning I have cereal and a cup of tea, then I do my sweeping and make my bed.
“I eat a hot meal and lunch and have something light for dinner. I don’t feel 100, let alone 102.
“I’ve never smoked. They said I got drunk once but I never made a habit of it.”
When asked if she thought her sense of humour had played a part in her longevity a cheeky grin flashes across her face. After a pause she says: “Fancy saying a thing like that,” then laughs and laughs before adding that life is what you make it.
“If you want to make it bad you can, if you want to make it good you can.”
As an 18-year-old she left Macarthur to train as a nurse at the Warrnambool hospital.
“I’m very proud to say I was trained in Warrnambool.
“I was there for three years and it really was my home. It was one big happy family.
“The hospital has just gone ahead so much in that time.
“It was so small when I think about it. Warrnambool should be so proud.”
Sitting in her warm lounge room surrounded by photos of her five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, Mrs Sproal said it was during her first week of nursing that she learnt the most.
“When I got there I’d never seen a dead person before,” she said.
“As a junior nurse I had to stay back in the morning and do all the lockers, sterilise the pans and then go to breakfast when the others came back.
“There was one patient who wasn’t too bright. I put him in bed with a hot water bottle but he wouldn’t have his breakfast.
“Well I went and had my breakfast, came back to the ward and the senior nurse said ‘What did you do to the patient?’
“I told her what I’d done and she said. ‘Well, you’ve killed him’.
“I had to lay him out and I’d never seen a dead person before. After that I thought I’m going home, it wasn’t very nice.
“But the matron advised me to stay. She said I’d get used to it.”
When her training finished Mrs Sproal returned to Macarthur to work as a nurse at private homes.
She then left nursing in 1935 to marry Macarthur lad Howard Sproal.
The couple moved to a sheep, cattle and cropping farm on about 600 acres, where Mrs Sproal continues to live.
“I married a farmer and that’s how I got stuck on a farm,” she joked.
“It’s a good life, plenty of eggs, milk and bread.
“We went to school together. His sister and I were best of mates. I think that is how we got together.
“They would go to dances and pick me up on the way.”
Mrs Sproal soon gave birth to a daughter, Barb, and later a son, Charlie.
“Barb was called a blue baby, she was born with a hole in her heart,” she said.
“She was one of the first in Australia to have the operation to correct it.
“She was eight years old and before that she was so weak we had to carry her around.
“She married and was advised to adopt children. She was at a ball one night and they thought she’d had a stroke.
“We didn’t tell her there was anything wrong. She died when she was 46.
“We had her much longer than we thought.”
When the time came for a few photos during our interview, Mrs Sproal looked accusingly at Ms Yates and joked that she could kill her for this.
The district nurse said her sometimes stubborn patient was truly remarkable.
“She knows everything about the town,” Ms Yates said.
“She doesn’t go out but everyone comes here for the news.
“She has got everything going for her. Half the time people haven’t met her but they all know of her. She’s amazing.”
Mrs Sproal said she remembers a childhood with a horse and cart and walking a mile to get to school.
“There were no telephones, no television and you were lucky to have a wireless,” she said.
“We actually had a gramophone.
“We didn’t have too many newspapers. We all went to church and the men would all stand outside talking.”
She said she didn’t think younger people were any worse today than when she was growing up.
“The younger ones were just as bad then as they are today,” she said.
“They’re exactly the same.
“Of course, I did get the strap growing up. It didn’t hurt and I didn’t think any less of my parents for doing it.
“At school the boys used to fight and we’d all stand around and watch who’d win.”
When her daily chores are finished Mrs Sproal settles in for Parliament question time.
“I read all the papers too,” she said.
“I don’t agree with much of what they say.
“I do like a good argument, though, in question time.”
Her niece sees her every morning and her son visits often.
“He does anything I want,” she said.
“The other day I said he had to do the cobwebs in the kitchen. I said I couldn’t do them because I’m shrinking.
“Since I have started shrinking I don’t hit my head on the cupboards any more, which is a good thing.”
Asked why she has lived so long, Mrs Sproal said she had no answer.
“I can’t tell you that because I don’t know,” she said.
“I just enjoy life. There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just luck.”