Urunga's Rob Anderson turns 100

Rob Anderson at home, February 2021

Rob Anderson at home, February 2021

Rob Anderson turned 100 in January, celebrating the milestone with his family, which includes daughter Wendy and son Ian, plus grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even a couple of great-great-grandchildren.

When he was asked what he wanted for his birthday, Rob said he didn't need anything.

But everyone knows he enjoys a glass of red with dinner.

"Looking in my cupboard there, I've got 21 bottles of red wine," Rob said. "That'll last me my lifetime."

Rob has lived in Urunga for the last 30 years, in a house facing a reserve by the Kalang River.

Well into his nineties he was enjoying a vigorous old age.

In 2012, he told the Guardian News that he played sport most days.

"On Mondays I play golf, Tuesday I swim laps, Wednesday I play bowls, Thursday I do laps again, then Friday and Saturday I play bowls," he said.

"And is Sunday rest time?" the reporter wanted to know.

"No, that's housework day!" he told her.

Seven years ago, aged 93, he was president of the Bellingen swimming club, and still racing in the 85+ age group.

Rob Anderson at Bellingen Pool, still swimming races at 93

Rob Anderson at Bellingen Pool, still swimming races at 93

He said the club wanted to make a category for those 90+ but he objected because he'd be the only one in it.

"I was holding my own with the 85s," he said.

Diggers Club teammate Cath Macaulay was so impressed by Rob that she made a film about him.

"When I heard about ABC Open's 'A Day in the Life' project, I knew I wanted to do a story on Rob. I had only just joined the Bellingen Diggers' Swimming Club last summer, but was immediately inspired by the club president," Cath told the Courier-Sun.

The film, which you can watch below, opened the 2014 Flickerfest at the Jetty Theatre in Coffs Harbour.

Rob was born in Sydney on January 3, 1921.

In Cath's film, he describes how he joined the army as a 19 year old in March 1940 and was initially sent to Cape York.

Engineers constructed a pool for the soldiers, and that's where Rob became hooked on swimming.

"I did a lot of swimming up there. We swam inside the fence and the sharks swam outside!" he said.

Rob spent most of the Second World War in the Middle East, serving with the artillery as a signalman.

A painting of Rob by former neighbour Olga Esam, based on a photo taken in Jerusalem during WWII

A painting of Rob by former neighbour Olga Esam, based on a photo taken in Jerusalem during WWII

His unit was engaged in the Syrian campaign, and when that finished they were sent to the Turkish border.

It wasn't known if Turkey would enter this war on the side of the Germans, as they had in WWI.

"They stayed out of it, thank heaven," Rob said. "What we had on the border wouldn't have stopped them and I probably wouldn't be here now."

Rob and Peggy on their wedding day in 1948

Rob and Peggy on their wedding day in 1948

Rob married Peggy in 1948 and they lived in Bankstown.

They had three children - Wendy, Ian and Lynette - but tragically their youngest daughter died when she was only 12.

"We were having a Pony Club weekend away, and one of the girls came in and said Lyn's had an accident," Rob said.

"I thought oh, she's been skylarking and come off her horse, broke her arm or something. I went out and she was lying there and I knew she was dead but I didn't want to believe it.

"I tried resuscitating her until the ambulance arrived, for half an hour or so. Then I had to go home and tell her mother.

"It was a sad time. But you have those ups and downs in your life that you've got to put up with."

Another misfortune was losing their first home after a tax audit.

Rob was a contract painter and occasionally he would pay other people to finish jobs when he had too much work, and he'd put that in his books as payments to sub-contractors.

The auditor said because Rob supplied them with paint, he was responsible for ensuring they paid tax on the money earned.

"He went back seven years, on every sub-contract. I finished up owing Taxation a thousand pounds."

They sold the house to pay that bill, and bought another in Bankstown with the help of a War Service Loan.

In retirement, they moved to Urunga to be closer to their son Ian, who was an auto electrician in Bellingen.

The other option was Canberra, where their daughter Wendy was a teacher, but Rob vetoed that.

"When I was working, I did a lot of work in Canberra, and I hated the place," he said.

In her seventies, Peggy was diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease.

Rob cared for her at home as long as possible, but she had fainting spells that sent her to hospital, so eventually she moved into a room at Bellorana.

A frequent visitor, Rob would go for walks with Peggy and be repeatedly introduced to everyone they met as her husband.

Her health declined over a couple of years and she died in 2006.

"I held her hand and watched her die," Rob said.

The years since have been lonely, but his sporting activities helped keep him active and engaged.

At the end of Cath Macaulay's video, Rob comments that it would be "disastrous" if he had to stop swimming because it was such a big part of his life.

"If the time came that my swimming days were over, I don't know what I'd do," he said.

Sadly, a few years later he developed a circulation problem in his legs and had to give up not only swimming but golf and bowls as well.

"The doctor said the arteries are pushing the blood to the feet but the veins aren't taking it back up fast enough," Rob said.

A painting of Rob by former neighbour Olga Esam, based on a photo taken at her wedding.

A painting of Rob by former neighbour Olga Esam, based on a photo taken at her wedding.

For many years, he'd been a dedicated campaigner for the restoration of Urunga's sea lido, but by the time it finally reopened in 2019 it was too late for Rob to swim there.

"I miss my swimming. I tried it down at Nambucca pool before they built the lido here. But everything's dead from the knee down, I didn't know whether I was kicking or not. I couldn't swim. And I used to swim a mile at a time."

Thanks to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, Rob has an electric scooter that keeps him mobile.

"I can go down and do my shopping. Sometimes I buy my lunch and take it out to Hungry Head and eat it there."

The ride out to Hungry Head on the scooter takes about 20 minutes.

"You can't speed up, of course, it only does 10kph top speed," Rob said with a twinkle.