Newton Howard is a survivor. Few if any could lay claim to surviving two major pandemics occurring 100 years apart. But at 101 years old, this Bellorana resident is going strong, just counting the days until he can regain his freedom and get his thrice weekly fix of coffee and “something sweet” at one of his beloved Bellingen Cafes.
Newton was two days old when his mother Beryl died in a Newcastle Hospital from the Spanish Flu in 1919. “Ships from all over the world would dock at the coal port in Newcastle. A crew member from one of these ships was admitted to Newcastle hospital with an unknown illness, which was later determined to be the Spanish Flu. My 22 year old mother was in hospital waiting for me to arrive when she contracted the illness,” says Newton.
Newton was raised until the age of eleven by his maternal grandmother and four aunts. “I was bloody terribly spoilt,” says Newton, who proclaims it was an idyllic early childhood despite the Great Depression and the absence of his mum. His father remarried his mother’s best friend, which meant a shift to Sydney at the age of eleven and a very different existence with his father and his new step- mother. “I hated her from the outset. She believed children should be seen and not heard.” Fortunately, this relationship blossomed later in life.
Due to financial difficulties Newton was forced to leave school before completing his leaving certificate. However, he managed to secure a junior position in a chartered accounting firm and eventually completed his accounting degree.
“I enrolled in the Australian Army the day Menzie’s declared war in September 1939 and remained in the Army until the war ended,” says Newton. He was accepted at officer’s training school at Holdsworthy, graduating as Lieutenant Newton Howard and spent the bulk of his active service fighting in New Guinea. It was a fairly innocuous event, resulting in a fractured leg that gave Newton his ticket home.
“I was stationed for a spell in Dubbo. The officers were invited to a game of tennis against the nurses from Dubbo Base Hospital. A young nurse came prancing onto the court like a two year old. I clamped my eyes on her and thought to myself- she will do me.” That was May 1943. One month later Newton and Olive were engaged and by July they were married. Their first of five children was born nine months later. This partnership lasted 67 years and 92 days. When I asked Newton to tell me something about Olive he quickly responds, “she was pretty sexy.”
Newton is proud of his long and happy life. I’m intrigued by his longevity. “It comes down to eating the right things at the right time. Just today my breakfast was an egg, sardines and baked beans with spices of ginger, sesame seed, turmeric and cinnamon sprinkled over the top. I heard a talk about spices a while back and now I’m sold on their health benefits.” Apparently Newton juiced his home-grown vegetables even before “juicing was a thing”. However, rumour does have it that he has quite the sweet tooth, which doesn’t appear to be detrimental in this case.
These days Newton enjoys life at Bellorana. “This is a bloody wonderful place. They certainly look after me.” Once weekly ‘Zoom’ meetings with his family and regular visits from his daughter Helen, the two chatting over the back fence of Bellorana, has kept him going during lockdown. But Newton will know the world is right when he is sipping coffee once again in one of his favourite Bellingen haunts.