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From Farm Girl to Centenarian: The Extraordinary Life of Elsie Olney (nee Hausler)

Elsie celebrating her 100th birthday Photo credit: Vince Lethbridge

Elsie Olney’s life is a tapestry woven with resilience, hard work, and a touch of humour. Born Elsie Hausler, the youngest of five siblings, Elsie faced early hardship when her mother passed away when she was just four years old. Unable to keep his children together, their father sent each child to live with different relatives. The next time the siblings would reunite would be 18 years later (photo pictured below). Elsie went to live with her Aunt Teenie and Uncle Paul on their farm in the Kewell district, between Murtoa and Horsham. When talking to Elsie about the impacts of being separated from her siblings for so many years, Elsie replied " I guess it just wasn't that important to have that connection back then, what's more, we only lived within a 50-mile radius of each other!"

Despite the challenges, Elsie adapted to her new life. She attended a one-room schoolhouse with 40 other students, travelling the four miles by buggy or on her pony. Elsie loved Friday afternoon sports, playing rounders and kick the tin. Her childhood was filled with farm work, helping with the harvests, and assisting her elderly uncle.

Aunt Teenie, though stern, taught Elsie many valuable skills like sewing, knitting, cooking, and playing the accordion. During World War II, Elsie’s teen years were marked by rationing and the constant worry about the young men sent off to fight. Letters to soldiers were censored, but the community remained supportive and close-knit.

Elsie cherished the little independence her pony gave her, allowing her to ride to the Kewell tennis courts, dances, and youth group activities. Although life was often quiet and lonely, Elsie found joy and companionship through tennis and church social events. The big billiard table in her aunt’s home became a gathering place for local youth.

Elsie feeding lambs
Elsie (left) feeding lambs at 15 years

At 15, Elsie took on more responsibilities after her uncle's passing. She became a competent driver of her uncle’s Ford V8 car, even gaining the local policeman’s discreet permission to drive to Minyip for weekly shopping. Reminiscing, Elsie laughed "I used to park at the edge of town so no one would see me driving". Elsie fondly remembers enjoying treats like a Spider drink on school holiday outings.

Elsie’s hard work and practicality stayed with her throughout her life. She would ride her pony to local dances, changing into her gown at a neighbour's farm before enjoying the night and returning home by moonlight.

During the war, Elsie gained some independence by working in the orchards at Doncaster and as a domestic worker for a family in Brighton. The joy of having her own money and time with her sisters in Melbourne was a cherished period, despite her aunt’s disapproval of her spending.

Elsie and her aunt eventually moved to Minyip, where Elsie delighted in living opposite the tennis courts. She played A Grade tennis for many years and began working at the local hospital, forming strong friendships with her coworkers. Though she aspired to train as a nurse, her aunt would not allow it.

Elsie met Bob Olney at a New Year’s Eve dance. They married 75 years ago and spent their lives working together on their Minyip farm, raising three daughters, and being active in their church and community. Elsie’s dedication extended to playing Saturday competition tennis and teaching her daughters valuable life skills.

In 1984, Elsie and Bob retired to Grovedale, enjoying dancing, church activities, and being involved in their community. They moved to Carinya 3½ years ago, living independently well into their nineties. Their time at Carinya was marked by a wonderful partnership of care and support until Bob’s recent passing.

Last week, we celebrated Elsie’s 100th birthday, honouring a life filled with resilience, dedication, and love. Her journey is an inspiration to us all.

Happy Birthday, Elsie!

Thank you to our leisure and wellbeing and kitchen team for ensuring Elsie had a wonderful birthday.

Photo credit: Vince Lethbridge (Elsie's birthday celebrations)

Thank you to Wendy Wyhoon for providing a summarised biography of Elsie for this story.

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