Miriam celebrates 111th birthday

IN the corner of her humblelittle room, quite unnoticed, sits a television.

Far from the shiny hi-tech, pushbutton world of plasma TVs and LCDs, this box set has sat entirely untouched for the last two years since a bout of illness prompted its owner to switch it off and resort to her own devices.

Hers is not a room with a view.

On the far side of her single bed, the only window in her room is cloaked on the inside by a sweep of anonymous curtains.

Looking out onto the world is not for her. Neither are mobile phones, personal computers, emails or text messages.

No more than four metres long and four metres wide, this is the world - the welcoming world - of Australia's oldest living person.

On her 111th birthday - her age is worth just thinking about - Miriam Schmierer welcomes me and photographer Alistair to her home like old friends.

Her greeting is warm and genuine.

She recalls our last meeting, remembering I had Irish friends coming from Brisbane to join me for Christmas last year, wondering if loneliness wrestled its ways into my celebrations and inviting me to call in to say hello if ever the thought struck.

Her little room, her home since her arrival at Hervey Bay's Blue Care Masters Lodge aged care home in 1991 is indeed humble, but it is a million miles from a closed shop.

Yes, she switched off the television and let it gather dust as she gathered herself in the wake of illness in 2008. But cutting herself off from the world isn't an option for the charismatic Mrs Schmierer.

Her transistor radio is kept close to hand and ear, an instant link to the push and shove that moonlights as progress outside.

"My transistor gave me enough to keep in touch," she points decidedly as the radio.

"I can still see the whole world around me. Everyone brings a place with them when they come into my little room. That keeps me in touch.

"I've still got an interest in world events.

"I listen and I learn. I possibly know a lot more just by sitting quietly here."

She has little sympathy for the frantic world outside. Her heart beats in tandem with another time, another era, reaching back to the tailend of the 19th century.

Mrs Schmierer is a modern-day reminder that we all need to press pause sometimes to take in the world that threatens to pass us by.

Not that the 21st Century is racing past her.

A constant trail of visitors beats a welcome path to her door, bearing soundbytes and dropping names.

One relative revealed Australian spin bowler Nathan Hauritz to be a distant relation. He should be
honoured. He probably is.

She is amused and hopeful he can recapture his international form.

She begins our conversation with the words "I've got nothing to say".

This is the honest, humble, natural view of a woman who does not believe her words have anything extra to offer the world. But that world - that maelstrom - is calling out to be anchored by the calming words of someone like Mrs Schmierer.

Her tone, her attitude is that of a 21st-Century philosopher.

Throughout our 90-minute chat she refers constantly to purpose in life.

"If you work for a thing, you appreciate it.

"People are changing but I blame the internet for it.

"New knowledge is not necessary to live on earth."

She bemoans the technological shackles that tie young people to computers and the internet now, a country mile from the free-flowing dairy farming life she embraced on the back of a horse growing up on Gatton's prairies in the early 1900s.

"We had little but what we had was good. And we were happy. We had a good farm, good soil and loved our neighbours."

Her father, Robert Alfred Becker, and mother, Annie Crewe, arrived in Australia from England with three children in tow. Mrs Schmierer - Miriam - would eventually be born the youngest of nine children, six girls and three boys.

She attended nearby Mount Whitestone State School until she was 13 years old. The school's centenary was celebrated in 1986, 13 years before Mrs Schmierer's own centenary landmark.

She would eventually marry Grenville Schmierer and after "battling through" some tough times when her faith in God stood her in remarkably good stead, the couple eventually found their way to Maleny where they worked a dairy farm and brought up two boys - Austin and Mervyn.

Austin would die at the young age of 49 after a brain tumor; Mervyn died when he was 74.

When Grenville's high blood pressure could no longer stay the pace with Maleny's unforgiving hills, the couple were forced to forge a new Queensland home. Hervey Bay presented itself as a halfway house between the lives of Austin and Mervyn, and Miriam and Grenville Schmierer set up a new life near the old railway line at Honiton Street in 1961.

There is still an unmistakeable glint in her eye as she recalls running out with her finger in the air pretending she wanted the train drivers to stop and pick her up.

"I like to bring a little sunshine." 

Grenville died in 1965.

In 2011, God or good health willing, she will have been a Hervey Bay resident for 50 years.

She has watched the city grown from its fishing village origins but argues that its progress has come at a cost.

"Things like respect have been left behind," she says.

That old-fashioned concept of respect still has a sturdy place in today's world for Mrs Schmierer. She requests that I refer to her as Mrs Schmierer, not out of any self-indulgent, over-inflated sense of self importance.

It is an attitude forged by respect.

"We dared not use someone's christian name," she recalls the social etiquette that shaped the respectful woman she became.

The demise of corporal punishment, of a parent's right to chastise a child leaves her disillusioned.

In her humble, almost timeless little room she has time to digest the implications of world change.

Not entirely timelesss. She rises each morning at 5.30am so she can grab an early shower and be presentable to the unexpected visitor that inevitably comes knocking.

"Not smacking children has left us with a generation lost.

"A wrong seed has been sown that will bear fruit. A generation has been spoiled.

"Smacking is not only for us, it's for them as they face the world. We didn't like being corrected but it helped us.

"Animals or humans, they've all got to be trained to be useful."

Glancing around the little room, it's not hard to pick out the evidence of a life well lived.

Photographs of her parents, her children, her wedding day are placed around the room, each with their own place in her heart.

A framed embroidered lace soldier, which gets a run each April, rests on the floor outside her wardrobe. Mrs Schmierer has lived through and appreciated the effects of World War I, World War II and the latter day fight against terrorism.

She can compare the impact of the 1929 Great Depression with the 2007 Global Financial Crisis and observes an unhealthy obsession with money in modern day Australia.

"I left school at 13 and I've been learning ever since. I've learned from others how to behave."

Her oldest sister, Mary, lived to be 103 and warned her youngest sibling of what awaited.

"Don't you live to be 100, Miriam, because if you do you'll hit the limelight and you're not your own boss."

Mrs Schmierer, however, remains her own boss. She is funny she is intelligent, she is observant, she is knowing. She puts all the lives around her into perspective.

Her unflinching devotion to God is refreshing.

"To be 110 and still able to remember my childhood days … I'm amazed at what God's given me.

"He's holding the key of my life, so I rest content.

"I've always been content, no matter where I've been."

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