Richard Hards will celebrate his 100th birthday at home with his wife of 64 years after federal government-imposed restrictions on family gatherings brought an end to family celebrations. KATRINA LOVELL reports.
When Richard Hards' mother was pregnant just over a century ago, Australia was emerging from the grips of the Spanish flu pandemic.
And now, 100 years later, the coronavirus pandemic has brought big plans to mark the centenarian's birthday to a halt.
Earlier this week Prime Minister Scott Morrison ramped up a shutdown of businesses and events across the country.
Pubs and clubs were shut, wedding and family gatherings were reduced to just a handful of people.
With social distancing the buzz word of the moment, Mr Hards' 100th birthday at the Warrnambool RSL on Sunday has had to be postponed.
So instead, some of the 130 family and friends that were set to gather from all across the country instead celebrate via modern technology - something that surely would have seemed pure fantasy a century ago.
With state borders closed and airlines grounded, those that were set to travel from as far as Queensland and Mildura will instead now use Zoom to have a "virtual" birthday party.
And with almost everyone in Warrnambool in lockdown, Richard will celebrate at home with his wife of almost 64 years, Jean - all while awaiting the arrival of their first great grandchild who is due on Richard's 100th birthday.
The celebrations will continue two days later with the couple reaching their 64th wedding anniversary.
The couple's first date was to Jean's cousin's 21st birthday. Jean, 11 years his junior, had caught Richard's eye, but it was she who asked him out on their first date - something that was probably not the "done thing" in those days.
Since that day, they have barely left each other's side. The couple's four children - Pamela, Susan, Janene and Keith - will tell you that Richard and Jean have an "unbreakable" bond. "They hold hands, hug, dance and tell one another how wonderful they look every day," they say.
Richard and Jean tied the knot on March 31, 1956 at the Mildura Anglican church.
According to the couple's four children, Richard had always joked that Jean cost him seven pounds 10 shillings - the church fee at the time - and it was the best money he'd ever spent.
"He even kept the receipt to prove it," they say.
After they married, the couple moved a house onto a block at Iraak, a small town on the Murray River just outside Mildura.
They were humble beginnings - the house had a verandah, two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and an outdoor toilet - and not the kind that flushes.
The couple hadn't been there long when they were forced out by the rising waters of the Murray River in the "great flood" of 1956.
It is still known as the biggest flood in the recorded history of the river, and it wiped out crops, industry and displaced thousands - Richard and Jean among them.
Jean said the flood "took everything".
It was around that time that Richard picked up a two-week old paper and read about the solider settlement blocks in the Western District - land he described as the best country in the state.
They applied and the couple was able to secure a remote block of land at Caramut.
Post-war, the Mortlake district had the largest uptake in the country of soldier settlement blocks with 248 holdings created in 29 separate estates covering 157,767 acres.
The blocks were the federal and state governments' way of supporting returned servicemen after the war.
Richard was the second of James and Ruth Hards' seven children and was born at the family home in Illabrook.
The Hards family were early pioneers in the Mallee district and Richard was raised on their Closer Settlement property.
In 1941, at age 21, Richard joined the army, serving in the 22nd Australian Infantry Battalion, 3rd division, 4th brigade.
He was deployed to Milne Bay and Finschhafen in Papua New Guinea during World War II before being discharged five years later in January 1946.
The couple arrived at their new Soldier Settlement home at Caramut at the height of summer in 1957 and were greeted by tinder dry waist-high grass.
"There was only a track of sorts, with plenty of stone, leading to where our house and shed were to be built," Richard said.
"The grass was about two feet high all over, if a fire had come through, we never would have got out."
The couple made long lasting friendships living at Caramut - many of whom were keen to celebrate with him this weekend until his party had to be postponed.
In 1980, the couple sold the Caramut farm and moved into Warrnambool where they still live.
Richard is the last surviving returned servicemen from the North Caramut estate.
He was also a keen sportsman.
Richard's trophy cabinet is filled with trophies for cycling and athletics but most are from his golfing and football successes.
At age 38, Richard played in Caramut's premiership team of 1957, and had also won premierships while playing footy in Mildura.
His weekly training regime would often consist of working out in the family wool shed because he couldn't always make it to team training sessions.
Richard's other sporting passion is greyhound racing. He would often travel with his family long distances to attend a race meeting with the hope of a win.
Richard's talents aren't just confined to the sporting field.
He has, according to his children, always loved music, singing and whistling. As a young man he loved to attend dances, play the saxophone and piano.
Richard is a self-taught pianist and every day he will sit at the keyboard to play a tune, saying it "keeps his mind sharp".
While at 100, Richard still proudly holds a driver's licence, he doesn't get behind the wheel anymore.
When asked about his secrets to a long life, Mr Hards said it was "hard work, keeping active, staying fit (he still does his exercise regularly) and having a loving and supportive family".
"And a little salt, sugar and a sip of brandy never goes astray," he said.
When describing their father, his children say he is a remarkable and kind man. "One of nature's gentlemen who whenever is faced with adversity can always see the light when things are dark," they say.
"His is incredibly resilient, calm and a source of great wisdom to his extended family."