Tumby Bay’s Dorothy Harris, 107, on meeting Kingsford Smith, living through 20th century


Despite her 10 surviving children being septuagenarians, Dorothy Harris, of Tumby Bay, South Australia, is not particularly worried about the coronavirus.

Still living in her own home, the 107-year-old has seen enough in the course of her life to go about her business without too much concern.

“I think about it, but what can I do about it?” Mrs Harris said.

Daughter Raylene Stutley, 77, said the family was not worried because there were not any cases in South Australia and none in Tumby Bay.

After a break in autumn, Mrs Harris, who was born in 1913, has now resumed attending church and her seniors group every week, although these activities may not be quite as thrilling as the way she celebrated her 100th birthday.

Dorothy Harris flew in Charles Kingsford Smith’s plane when he visited Cowell in 1927.(Supplied: State Library of South Australia)

Airborne with an icon

Upon turning 100, Mrs Harris jumped on a plane and flew to the South Pole for the third time.

“The hostesses made her a cake and moved us to first class,” her eldest child, 86-year-old Leon, said.

But Mrs Harris fell in love with air travel long before that, and in incomparable company — her maiden flight was with none other than Charles Kingsford Smith.

Mrs Harris was 14 when the pioneering aviator landed in her birthplace, Cowell, on the Eyre Peninsula in 1927.

An elderly woman wearing glasses and smiling.
Mrs Harris’s children say she is very resilient.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

“I said to my mother, ‘I’d go fly with him,'” she said.

“So she said, ‘Well here’s the money,’ and she gave me five shillings.

“We went out over the hills, then out to the sea, then back to the aerodrome.”

At the time, Mrs Harris’s only mode of transport was a horse and buggy or the family pony, Trilby, who was used to drive sheep and gather water.

Despite having a driver’s licence, Mrs Harris has never owned a car and usually gets around on foot.

She still lives in her own home, prepares her own breakfast, gardens, knits and crochets.

An elderly woman dressed in dark clothes walking down jetty by herself.
Mrs Harris still lives by herself at Tumby Bay.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

Crawl, milk, walk

Mrs Harris grew up in an era when everything was homemade, which was how her family survived during hard times.

“I learned to milk the cow just about before I could walk — not that early, but I wasn’t very old,” Mrs Harris said.

She married in 1933, but it was a tough life.

She often was out trapping rabbits to feed her children and making clothes by cutting down second-hand men’s trousers.

“My job was in the house looking after the family, cooking for them,” Mrs Harris said.

A lady's hand holding a framed photo of a grown-up family pictured in a garden.
Dorothy Harris with her 11 children.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

‘Don’t call’

Over 20 years, Mrs Harris gave birth to Leon, Glen, Coral, Val, Robert, Raylene, Colin, twins Dorothy and Graham, Meredith and Geoffrey.

The family moved around Eyre Peninsula regularly before Mrs Harris left in 1962 with the younger children to give them a better chance of schooling and jobs in Adelaide.

Ten of her 11 children, who Mrs Harris raised almost single-handedly, are still alive.

Four of them live near their mum in Tumby Bay, and another is nearby in Port Lincoln.

Mrs Harris spent 70 years in the Red Cross and various other charities.

Mrs Stutley said her busy mum never seemed to have spare time on her hands.

“We used to tell people, ‘Don’t ring between 8:30 and 5pm’,” she said.



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