Reaching 100 is a big milestone in many areas of life. A century in cricket, marking 100 days in office, 100 goals in soccer or football. But by far, one of the biggest milestones is reaching 100 years of age. And marking this milestone is something that Roslyn Walker and John Winter are passionate about, launching The 100 Project to capture the stories of Australians who have turned the big 100. Both Walker and Winter are Australian filmmakers with some pretty big film projects under their belts – Rabbit Proof Fence for John and Into The Deep for Roslyn to name just two. They decided to turn their expertise to celebrating the lives and stories of Australia’s 100-year-olds. But they knew they couldn’t do it themselves.
“We are a small team so, to get as wide a range of centenarians as possible from all around the country, we have set up a model to ‘crowd source’ the video interviews,” John told The AJN, encouraging families, friends and carers to video interview a centenarian on a smartphone and then send it to the pair who will edit it for free.
John harked back to his student days in Melbourne, working as a tram conductor, to share what ultimately inspired the project.
“One quiet Sunday afternoon as the tram made its way down St Kilda Road, a very old woman started telling me her childhood memories from when she used to travel the same road on her parents’ horse and cart. For me, her stories were an extraordinary firsthand, time-travelling experience. They were precious, irreplaceable memories that I knew would soon be lost,” he recalled. “Whether they know it or not, centenarians all have fascinating and important stories to tell. Sad, poignant and sometimes funny, their stories are stories about Australia – who we are now and how we got here.”
The 100 Project has stories from centenarians who have migrated from all over the world.
One centenarian is Vera Rudner, Australia’s first female surrealist artist. Vera was born in Berlin to Jewish Dutch and Austrian parents. While she loved acting and art when she was young, Nazi Germany got in the way of her plans, and together with her family, Vera escaped to Holland before migrating to Australia.
“The memories that come back in pieces, you know, one minute they’re there and then they’ve gone,” Vera explained in her video.
John acknowledges that sometimes centenarians are reluctant to be interviewed, believing no one would want to listen to the story of their ordinary life. But it’s the families who help.
“Generally, it is the families who encourage the 100-year-old to participate, reminding them that the video will be an important keepsake for the family and future generations,” he said. “Once involved, our experience is that the centenarians quickly realise that they actually have a lot to tell us and they love the experience, finding it both fun and empowering. For many, it’s been quite some time since they have had the opportunity to tell their story and it’s common for the family to discover things they never knew.”
Australia’s 100-year-olds were born when children rode horses to school (if they even attended) and penicillin didn’t exist. They are a wealth of knowledge, experience and stories and it’s important that we capture these as keepsakes.
“We want The 100 Project to keep growing with more and more centenarians added to the collection so that it truly represents the rich tapestry of Australia,” John said. “The Australian-born 100-plus-year-olds hail from both the cities and the ‘bush’, recalling a simple childhood without electricity, telephones, or cars and often defined by Depression-era and wartime experiences. While each centenarian offers a firsthand journey back in time, with some even offering stories from their grandparents, they are living in modern Australia, and we are mindful of this when telling their stories. Given their 100 years of life and experience, their thoughts, and insights on the present and the future of Australia and the world are equally relevant.”
For more information about The 100 Project and to submit your own centenarian’s story, visit the100project.com