100 years – a life

This piece was written by my very wonderful Aunty Liz. Liz is my Mum’s twin sister and our family historian, she has self-published a series of books about various branches of the family and I’ve very much enjoyed reading them all. My cousins Cameron and Rebecca read this out at Grandma’s funeral on Tuesday and as I listened I thought I really wanted to share the story with my readers. Liz has very kindly given me permission to publish it here. I’ve added some photos (mouse-over for captions) from a slideshow that Liz also put together for the funeral.

Gladys Adam 1911 12 months

Gladys Joy Adam was born on 20 November 1910 in West Maitland, fifth child of Arthur Adam and Jane Montgomery who married in Newcastle in 1901. Arthur worked as a telegraphist for the NSW Government Railways. His family had been living in the Hunter River area for 60 years before he married Jane, who was born in Irvine, Scotland.

Jane & Arthur Adam

Glad was born in the age of early aviation when planes were made of canvas and piano wire and were called flying machines. She lived long enough to travel on jumbo jets. In the years before World War One, the style of life was very much 19th Century. Glad remembered the lamp lighter lighting the gas lamps in Wallace Street, West Maitland. Few townspeople had their own horse drawn transport let alone a car so generally the family moved as far as they could walk, which wasn’t a great distance by the time the eighth child was born.

In the meantime WW1 intervened and Glad remembered waving to the soldiers as the troop trains passed the end of Wallace Street. She was fortunate that the toll in human misery had little impact on her own family. Her uncle Oswald enlisted and served for four years on the Western Front but returned relatively unscathed.

Occasionally Arthur would hire a sulky on a Sunday and take some of the children for an outing around Maitland. There were occasional excursions by train to Newcastle on Sundays to visit both the paternal and maternal grandparents at Wickham and Linwood. There were also fondly recalled memories of holidays at Careys Bay, Lake Macquarie and in the Blue Mountains to which the family travelled by steam train. Glad’s love of travel remained with her throughout her life.

Grandma aged 14 years 1924

Education was narrow in Primary School, knowledge of the railway stations, rivers and other facts were learned by rote but Glad’s handwriting, until the end, was copperplate and she could recite lengthy poems learnt at school. She completed her Certificate of Proficiency at the West Maitland Superior Public School in 1925 then did an additional year to earn her Third Year Certificate in 1926, doing English, Business Principles and Book Keeping, Arithmetic, Shorthand and Typing. Unwillingly, she had to leave school at 15, just before the Adam family moved to Goulburn.

Grandma at school

Adam family in Goulburn c1950s

Career opportunities were minimal, especially after the onset of the Great Depression but with her office skills and experience in a succession of jobs, Glad was able to move on to a responsible position as a proficient book keeper for 12 years at the Baxter Shoe Factory in Goulburn, virtually doing the work of an accountant until she was 30 years old. If she had been born even 20 years later, Glad would have enjoyed the opportunities available to married women in the workplace but she was always content with her life and, as social and economic changes evolved, she felt sorry for women who had to juggle the responsibilities of home and employment.

Baxters Shoes factory

However, through her work for the Presbyterian Church, Glad found satisfying opportunities to use her skills. She had been baptised into the church at West Maitland on 4 January 1911 at six weeks of age and throughout her life was an active participant in church organisations, teaching Sunday School, leading fellowship groups and in later life being active in Presbytery and state wide committees, taking office, organising events and writing reports and newsletters. Her typewriter was put to constant use. She received recognition and many accolades for her efforts.


Glad made trips with the various Goulburn church groups to Sydney and other destinations. Added to her childhood holiday experiences, it fostered her curiosity and desire to travel. When she was about 19 and working in the office of Milligens, a Goulburn garage, she would hire a Studebaker or Buick for the day with the mechanic, her friend Bob Gudgeon, as the driver. They explored the local area from Bundanoon to Cotter Dam near the fledgling city of Canberra. In the 1930s Glad saved up for annual trips within NSW and interstate trips to Tasmania and Queensland by sea with her friends. Despite the Great Depression, the girls dressed well as photos testify. Her elegance was captured on her Box Brownie on many an occasion.

Grandma aged 21 yearsGrandma riding, Goodnight Island 1937

Grandma & Nell McNaught 1935Grandma (far left) & friends, Terrigal 1938

Glad met Ted Whitfield, a Sydney boy, in the Goulburn Presbyterian Fellowship in 1933.

Jim Anderson Glad & TedGrandma and Grandpa far left 1930s

They waited seven years to marry due to his part-time study at Sydney University, and then they settled at Manly.

Gladys and Ted at their weddingGrandma & Grandpa Manly 1942

But after only a year, Ted felt it was his duty to enlist in the 2nd AIF and they were parted for another four years. Glad’s two brothers Bill and Jim also enlisted so they were worrying times. The three Whitfield children were born during the war and, while Ted was serving in the army, like many newly married women in the same circumstances, Glad moved in with her in-laws at Earlwood. Also living there were Ted’s sister, aunt and grandmother.

Grandma & Aunty Faye 1943

When Ted returned from the war, to a household of seven females, he was a stranger to Faye who was three and the twins who were six months old and it was another year before Glad and her family had the house in Wardell Road to themselves. They were difficult years.

Whitfield family c 1949Whitfield family at Marrickville

The two post war decades were devoted to looking after the children and the home. In 1952, the acquisition of a Hillman Minx car created opportunities for weekend outings, visits to relatives and occasional holidays. Glad learnt to drive at 42 years of age and also found time for more social and devotional activities through the Earlwood Presbyterian Church. She took on responsibilities in the local Women’s Guild (PWA) as well as on NSW committees, especially the State Council and the Home Mission Standing Committee on which she served for 20 years. She was the editor of the Home Mission Committee newsletter for a long period and a Convener.

After moving to Essex Street Epping in 1975, Glad and Ted joined a broader range of organisations within the Epping Presbyterian Church which included the Camera Club, the Friendship Club, a Bible Study group and indoor bowls. She continued to be an active participant in the church until she was 90 years old. When she was no longer able to contribute her time, she continued to generously contribute financially to many charities, especially the Bible Society.

Glad and Ted had wonderful years during his retirement, frequently travelling overseas and within Australia. They were among the first Australian tourists who went to China in 1972. They travelled extensively in Britain and Europe, explored Canada, the United States, India, Israel, South Africa and New Zealand. Many friendships were forged in those years and memories were treasured.

Grandma & Grandpa with my cousin Warwick Feb 1974

Glad lost her mate in 1989 but proved to be a very independent woman in the years after Ted’s death. Physical frailty forced her to leave her Epping home at 90 years of age but she enjoyed living at Leisure Lea Retirement Village for over seven years. As life’s experiences contracted, she had a stoic, accepting and uncomplaining attitude. Until the end, she was a continual support to her family, always interested in their lives, sympathetic in the difficult times and she encouraged them in their aspirations.

In the kitchen at Essex Street 2001

In Glad’s last years, a lot of pleasure was gained from reading and watching documentaries and various drama series. Having the capacity to manage some modern technology, anything she missed was available to her on DVD. She enjoyed her virtual ‘travels’, her travel diaries and took a lively interest in the world.

Grandma after yet another scrabble gameGreat Grandma and the kids

There were other past-times such as reading the Sydney Morning Herald, completing the Crossword, playing Scrabble, and she consistently won the weekly Word Games at Shalom, even as recently as two weeks before her death.

Grandma doing the SMH crossword puzzleGrandma's winnings

She appreciated the loving care of the staff at Shalom who made her life bearable even when she lost her independence completely. Despite that, Glad was looking forward to celebrating her 100th birthday on Saturday with us all but it was not to be. She lived for 99.98 years. It was a long life and a life well lived.

11 thoughts on “100 years – a life

  1. That was awesome Mim – your aunty did a grand job and the pictures add so much to it. Her life was so full and rich, something for everyone to aspire to.

  2. Beautifully written. I'm now wondering if my family might have known yours as my Dad's side of the family was originally from the Maitland area also.

  3. Thanks Mim. Your Aunty Liz wrote a great story, and your grandma sounds like a person who lived a valued and loved life.

  4. What a beautiful tribute Mim! And you have twins in the family. And your gran came to South Africa! She certainly led a wonderful and ful life.

  5. That was very well written. It seems like reading the lives of people born back then is more interesting than when we will pass on.

  6. That was just lovely, thanks so much for sharing it. It's so interesting to hear about the lives of those that lived through such different times, but it's also so neat to have a few photos to go along with the story. It sounds like she was truly blessed and I wish you and your family much love. I'm sure you will miss her. Kristin _ The Goat

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