NOT many south-west Victorian women can claim to having met the Queen, worked as a boundary rider, shopped at the same supermarket for 67 years and be still driving at 89.
Ellen Warburton has done all of the above and more.
She’s fit, tough, has a razor-sharp wit and rarely wears glasses.
One of her sisters lived to 96 and another will soon celebrate her 94th birthday.
Maybe it’s in the genes, maybe it’s all the hard, rural work she grew accustomed to.
Even before birth she experienced the rough and tumble. Her expectant mother and father drove about 17 kilometres bumping along in a horse and cart across paddocks and rough rural country roads on a cold June morning to reach a midwife for the birth.
That was in 1922 when her parents and siblings lived and worked on the historic Merrang grazing property near Hexham.
There was no electricity supply and the closest school was about nine kilometres away.
“Dad (David Yule) was the ploughman and sometimes I would help bring in the draught horses,” she recalled.
“There were seven of us altogether in our family. Dad played the accordion and we’d all sit around for a singalong on Sunday nights.
“Groceries would be delivered by horse and cart.”
Young Ellen left school after year 8 and worked on the land.
When the Second World War came most of the district men went off to enlist and the women stepped up to fill in.
Ellen took on a job in her teenage years at the nearby Coomete station as a boundary rider, helping with 20,000 sheep and 400 head of cattle.
“My job involved checking the mills and water systems, as well as watching for sheep down in the paddocks,” she said.
“I had been riding horses for about as long as I had been walking.”
She met her future husband Allan Warburton when he visited Merrang to work for two weeks.
Romance blossomed, but the war intervened and Allan went off to join the tank transport platoon.
He slipped back in 1942 on two days’ leave to get married in Warrnambool and honeymoon in Mount Gambier.
After the war the couple lived briefly at Coomete, where Allan’s father was manager, and later moved to a soldier settlers block closer to Woolsthorpe, where they stayed for 43 years. They raised four children, developed a successful farming enterprise and found time for involvement in local government and sport.
Allan served 27 years unopposed on the former Warrnambool Shire Council, including two terms as president.
He had no formal schooling and was a self-taught, jack-of-all trades who became widely respected for his leadership and wisdom.
The Warburtons attended numerous official functions, with the highlight meeting Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre in 1970.
Ellen still has the dress she wore that night, when she and Allan met the royal couple, as well as Princess Anne and Prince Charles.
“It was rather awesome,” Ellen recalled.
“The Queen went around to meet the guests one way and the Duke the other way.
“They acknowledged us with the nod of the head.”
Along with the dress, Ellen has also kept the Fletcher Jones suit she wore to official events, plus invitations and lists for debutante balls and her late husband’s former military uniform.
“I’m a bit of a hoarder,” she said.
In her spare time she played golf at courses around the region, after being introduced to the sport at Hawkesdale.
“I just took off after the first game and have played for 43 years,” she said.
“Teaching schoolchildren to play were the happiest days of my life.”
This week she took a trip down memory lane to revisit Coomete, where she spent many of her teenage years.
The property owner is Jack Roxburgh, the great-great-grandson of William Bayles, who purchased the sprawling grazing lands in 1859 and built Coomete in 1865 for his son Walter.
Much of the grand old bluestone house and stables still look the same as when she lived and worked there.
Memories came flooding back as she walked through the buildings and chatted with Mr Roxburgh about life in her early days in an era when you’d greet the boss with “good morning sir”.
One thing that has changed little is her family tradition of shopping at Swintons supermarket in Timor Street Warrnambool.
“I’ve shopped there for 67 years,” she said.
“And before that my mother-in-law and her mother-in-law shopped there.
“I like the personal service as they help carry my groceries out to the car.
“I can remember when the staff would wear white coats and aprons.
“In the early days grocery store operators would go out to rural properties on horse and cart one day to take the orders and return another day with the deliveries.”