Remarkable Miss Marj Crooks

Padthaway centenarian Marj Crooks celebrated her 103rd birthday at the start of the month.
Padthaway centenarian Marj Crooks celebrated her 103rd birthday at the start of the month.

THE remarkable Miss Marj Crooks from Yallamurray, Padthaway - possibly the oldest person in the district - celebrated her 103rd birthday on May 4.

The occasion was celebrated with her nephew Edward Crooks and friends of many years Sandra and Terry Merrett and John and Eril Dinning with a lunch at the Bordertown Hotel.

Marj is now a much loved member of the Francis House community in Bordertown.

Marj was born in Melbourne before the family transferred to Kyabram, Victoria, and then relocated to Padthaway in 1917.

Marj attended the new Yallamurray school before becoming a student at Walford Girls College in Adelaide where she was first introduced to hockey.

After leaving school Marj returned to Yallamurray, the family property, with sheep, cattle, pigs, wheat, hay, almonds and grapes - also breeding remount horses for the Indian Army.

During the depression years income was supplemented by raising turkeys and milking cows, which could be trying at times.

With sister Jess and Marj Klein (nee Wiese) the nucleus of the Mundulla Hockey Club was formed and is still going strong today.

The Crooks girls used to ride their horses along scrub tracks and across the very wet Swedes Flat plain to play hockey, a 22-mile ride each way, usually staying overnight with the Scowns or Tremains, attending the local dance and riding home the next day.

They were excellent and daring horsewomen, one photo showing them riding bareback on their horses in the deep water of the Wash Pool, Swedes Flat: "Giving their horses a swim," Marj said.

Kangaroo, fox hunting and picnics at Yallamurray Rocks were favourite pasttimes for the young Crooks folk.

One of their pet kangaroos used to lead both dogs and hunters when fox Yallamurray dog would ever touch a pet kangaroo even years after it had returned to the wild.

Marj has seen many changes in her lifetime.

To collect the mail she used to ride about five miles to Padthaway, preferring to jump her horse over the gates, which were wooden, which she was unable to open while on her horse.

Shopping in Naracoorte was a two day trip in the buggy including 37 gates each way, travelling by the now Grub Rd in summer and Range Rd in winter.

After enlisting in WWII Marj became an army truck driver and staff car driver when needed.

Following the war with some friends she travelled to England by ship, a six week journey in those days.

Returning home Marj purchased a cattle property near Albany, Western Australia.

Following the sale of the property she bought real estate in Brisbane but sold that to return to Yallamurray when her father died and her brother became ill.

With her sister Nell, Marj ran a very successful Murray Grey herd of beef cattle which were immediately recognised by agents and meat buyers alike when presented for sale in the market because of their exceptional quality and docility.

Marj appreciated comments by her stock agent Brian Edwards on her wonderful affinity with her cattle and uncanny ability when mustering them.

Marj was a very early member of the Padthaway Bowling Club as was her sister Jess: both were formidable opponents and winners of many championships.

When playing each other in championships they would advise each other the best way to play the next bowl.

Marj was a passionate bowler, still winning championships and pennants well into her nineties.

She was a wonderful role model not only appreciated by the Padthaway Club but the whole Upper SE Association as was her skill and patience when mentoring young and not so young bowlers.

Marj had a passion for cars and loved her sporty little hatchback but at the age of 96 felt her eyesight had deteriorated enough that she should hand in her licence .

The hopitality of the Yallamurray folk was legendary no matter what or who you were: a warm hello greeted everyone who knocked on their door and the offer of a hot cup of tea and scones followed.

If near meal time a meal would always always miraculously arrive on the kitchen table.

She is a truly remarkable lady from the remarkable pioneering Crooks family.

Marj had a much enjoyed birthday celebration in beautiful weather on May 9 when she and Judy Cameron, a member of the staff at the nursing home she lives at, went travelling for a jinker tour around the Keith area.