By Matthew Lau
Sheelah Rudman is a battler. She overcame infantile paralysis at the age of 7, escaped the bombing of Darwin merely days before the blast, gave birth to a healthy baby after being told she would never be able to conceive, and has lived on strong as a widower for the past 36 years.
What got her through it all is her undeniable faith in the ubiquitous Lord.
“He is very likely looking after me. That’s all I know,” she says, pointing to the sky.
Sheelah turned 104 in April. As far as the Lathlain resident is concerned, age is just a number.
She is a popular figure at Notre Dame Catholic Church, Cloverdale Parish, where her fellow parishioners took the opportunity to celebrate her birthday after morning Mass on 22 April 2018.
Sheelah keeps her body and mind active by ensuring her days are kept busy in a fulfilling fashion. One of those commitments is her dedicated volunteering at Harold Hawthorne Community Centre in Carlisle, which she has done for the past 47 years.
“It keeps me out of mischief,” she jokes.
Her husband Arthur died in 1982 when she was 68, leaving their daughter Barbara to take Sheelah under her care.
“He came out to Perth from Bristol as a 16-year-old boy with his father on the boats,” Sheelah fondly reminiscences.
They met on through the State Shipping Service of Western Australia where Arthur worked. One day, he asked Sheelah to join him for lunch at the Perth Town Hall.
Long story short, she didn’t turn up.
Twelve months later, she was in the town hall vicinity where she noticed a man approach her. It was Arthur.
“He asked: ‘What happened to you last year?’. I didn’t say anything,” Sheelah recalls.
That didn’t bother Arthur, who told her: “I’m taking your arm, and you’re taking me to meet your parents”.
Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.
Whether it was his persistence or his charm, it led to Arthur taking Sheelah’s hand in marriage at St Mary’s Cathedral on 16 December 1939.
Although Arthur never admitted it, Sheelah remains convinced that he went by the Perth Town Hall every day around lunchtime in the hope of catching her should the stars align.
“I’ve always been in the right place at the right time,” Sheelah proclaims, moving on to another near-miss story of her past.
“I was up in Darwin for two years looking after the crew on the Catalina flying boat. I left Darwin on the Friday, and it was bombed on the Monday. So I missed it.”
Sheelah looks back on the past 104 years which saw her live through both World Wars, 10 Popes, and six Archbishops of Perth.
“I made my First Holy Communion in Northam at St Joseph’s Church.”
At the tender age of 7, a doctor told her she would never be able to walk unassisted again.
The defiant youngster went through treatment, and as a teenager she was recognised as one of her school’s best athletes.
She attended Our Lady’s College – now Mercedes College – on Victoria Sq, and her daughter Barbara followed suit a few decades later.
“All the nuns who taught mum, taught me,” Barbara recollects.
Barbara’s wedding with Bruce Walther, celebrated by Monsignor Michael Keating at St Mary’s Cathedral on 29 January 2014, was one of Sheelah’s proudest memories.
“I took her hand in my arm and walked her down the aisle,” Sheelah remembers.
Barbara acknowledges Harold Hawthorne Community Centre as a place of comfort for her mother, who adjusted to widowed life by going there to do work and hobbies.
“Mum married in 1939, and I wasn’t born until six years later because Mum had a bit of a problem getting pregnant and the doctors said she wouldn’t have any children,” Barbara explains.
Sheelah describes the birth of her daughter as “a little miracle”.
“If it wasn’t for Barbara, I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Their mother-daughter bond has always been close because Arthur frequently worked away from home.
“Mum has more-or-less been, partly, a sole parent. We’ve shared many holidays together after Dad passed away,” Barbara adds.
“Mum has adjusted very well to me being married. I was in my mid-sixties when I met Bruce, and it has always been Mum and I at home. Mum won’t always be here. He’s a wonderful man; he looks after Mum when it’s necessary.”
Live life to the fullest each day as you know’t know what tomorrow will bring.
The Rudman family lived on Wellington St in the city up until 1970 when they moved to the suburb of Lathlain. They continued attending Mass each week at the Cathedral – that was until a certain priest made quite the impression on Sheelah.
In September 2016, Father Michael Quynh Do was reassigned from the Cathedral to become Cloverdale Parish Priest. The Rudmans soon followed.
“He is such a wonderful priest, we admired him so much – and we thought that we would go to Notre Dame Church because it was a lot closer and the parking was easier,” Sheelah expresses.
“Even though St Mary’s Cathedral is a beautiful place, we feel as part of the family of Notre Dame.”
Barbara recalls the time Fr Quynh first spotted Sheelah at Cloverdale Parish after his transfer; he made a promise to put on a special morning tea for her 104th birthday.
“Fr Quynh is a loving person for his family, who are all in Vietnam, and I think he’s taken Mum on as sort of a mother figure to have here and to look forward to seeing every Sunday,” she says.
Fr Quynh kept his word, giving the parish stalwart a birthday to remember.
In a short span of time, Sheelah has made several new friends at Cloverdale Parish.
“It doesn’t matter what happens, I couldn’t miss Mass on a Sunday,” the 104 year old exclaims.
Sheelah gracefully wears a pearl blister on her wrist that her mother gave to her more than 100 years ago.
The 104 year old puts her invigorating long life down to: ample sleep, a good sense of humour, keeping her mind active, knitting, and drinking a glass of wine every night.
“I’ve been blessed with very good health, thank God,” she says gratefully.