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IRT Home Care customer Sheilah has a story to tell

Staying at Home Independence Stories
  • 101-year-old Sheilah Barrie is a home care customer with IRT.
  • She’s travelled with former Prime Minister John Curtin to Melbourne.
  • Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam went to the same school as Sheilah.
  • She is an original member of the Ainslie Football Club.
18 December 2018
Home care customer Sheilah Barrie with home care worker Katie Hirst.
Home Care customer Sheilah Barrie with Home Care worker Katie Hirst.

Sheilah Barrie shares some insights into her life with The Good Life.

“I sat in the back and John Curtin sat in the front. He and David talked about politics.”
Sheilah Barrie

From a long-distance car journey with a serving Prime Minister to going to school with a future Prime Minister, Sheilah Barrie has a story or two to tell.

 The Canberra resident, who is 101, receives home care from IRT.

 On turning 100 last year (2017) Sheilah laughs when asked what’s the secret to a long life? “You just get there, you have no option,” she says.

Born in Marrickville, Sydney in 1917, Sheilah is one of five children. The family moved to Canberra when Sheilah’s father Jack took up the job of Sir John Butters’ chauffeur – Sir John was the Director of the Federal Capital Commission.

Sheilah has fond memories of growing up in old Acton, right on the Molonglo River. “All around was bush,” she says. “They were good days.”

Sheilah remembers having cream and butter from the cows, and plenty of fresh vegetables – and thinks her diet may have contributed to her longevity. Her older sister Jene lived to 100, but sadly her brother John died just before his 26th birthday while serving in the Korean War.

Home Care customer Sheilah Barrie.
Home Care customer Sheilah Barrie.

Sheilah went to Telopea Park Public School – where former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was also a student. “He was just one of the kids at school,” she reflects.

She got her driving licence when she was 16 but made the decision to stop driving at the age of 96. “I do miss it,” she says. “But the IRT people are wonderful and they all have cars, so they take me to the shops or they go for me.”

As her father felt that girls didn’t need an education, Sheilah left school at the age of 14 and got a job as a waitress at Gorman House in Canberra. But her real passion was dressmaking – and she loved making clothes. “In those days it was cheaper to make clothes than to buy them,” she says.

Sheilah was in her early 20s when she married her late husband David, who, after talking with his father-in-law, became a ministerial driver. Sheilah recalls one story where she accompanied her husband on a long road trip to Melbourne – taking then Prime Minister John Curtin. “I sat in the back and John Curtin sat in the front,” she says. “He and David talked about politics.” She remembers at one point the Prime Minister asking how she was travelling and telling her that they’d stop for coffee soon.

She is an original member of the Ainslie Football Club and remembers the club starting with just a tin shed.

Sheilah and David had two children – Bruce and Lyn – and today Sheilah has five grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

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