by Elmo Leonard - Daily News 23 Jan 2000
When the sun shone in Canberra, Australia, heralding the dawn of the second millennium, Sri Lankan Queenie Solomonsz, domiciled in Australia, realised her life's ambition of seeing the daylight of three centuries. Queenie Solomonsz was born in Colombo Sri Lanka on November 25, 1899. She immigrated to Australia with her husband in 1969 to join her daughter, who had immigrated two years earlier. Queenie is the eldest of five children of her family, who have all departed, having lived long lives. Up to the mid 1980's Queenie visited Sri Lanka, traveling alone, and living with her relations here.
Having changed her residence after she celebrated her 100th birthday in Canberra on November 25, last year, the writer who is a nephew of the centurion, has lost communication with her, since. The writer lived with the old lady in Sri Lanka, and much of what is written is from memory, and from an article of November 26, 1999, which appeared in The Canberra Times.
Her secret of long life are the Christian acts of faith and hope, she clung to, to live to be 100 years. She does not want to live much longer; just to be 101.
A devout Catholic, the day before her 100th birthday, Queenie had prayed all night that she would live to be 100.
She received a certificate from the Pope for reaching 100 at a Mass held in her honour. A tea party was also held on her birthday, at the Villaggio Sant'Antonio Hostel where she lived with people from a variety of different cultures.
Sinking of Titanic
Queenie remembers many things, the sinking of the Titanic, the First and Second World Wars, the English governors of pre-independent Sri Lanka, the introduction of the car to Ceylon. Her husband was a guard in the Ceylon Government Railway, and they were posted to different parts of Sri Lanka. Queenie remembers the improvement of the railway. She also remembers the different towns of Sri Lanka as they were in the early part of the 20th Century. She remembers the island's hill country, the tea plantations and towns. Most important, she remembers the people of Sri Lanka, the different races, their culture, creed, and some of the changes which took place. It is a pity that a cultural anthropologist did not record her, while she was in Sri Lanka. Her attitude and the way she speaks Sinhala is unchanged from what the middle class of the early part of the 20th century spoke. Not only was her language unchanged, but her cultural outlook of Sri Lankans, too. Just before she immigrated to Australia in 1969, she identified a little boy by his race, and inquired of him why he spoke in a tongue which did not match his race. Now, in Australia, she does not call herself a Sri Lankan, but an Australian passport holder, according to a nephew.
Her father was Arthur White, who worked as a chief clerk in the office of the Post Master General. He lived a long life. Queenie was the eldest of her father's second marriage. She had an older step sister, Gladys, who has also departed.
Her mother was Mary Brigette Livera, a past student of Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena, and a housewife after marriage. Brigette or Biddie, also died in old age, in the year 1950.
Queenie attended St Anthony's Convent, Dematagoda, until she was fifteen. She spoke very good English, and we have to conclude that she was good at her studies, at a time when girls did not bother to count educational qualifications. Leaving school, Queenie became a Hello Girl, at the Colombo telephone exchange.
In 1923 she married Christian Earnest Solomonsz (Christie). Christie was a Presbyterian (Dutch Reformed Church) while Queenie is a Catholic. In those days marriage between Catholics and Protestants hardly happened. The Catholic Church was so strict, it forbade even the members of her family attending her wedding. To atone for the `sin' of marrying a non-Catholic, the penalty was public penance. Queenie, however, kept her peace with The Holy Mother the Church.
Queenie, had a pew at All Saints Church, marked Mrs C. E. Solomonsz.
Christie was a workaholic. He mopped his house twice every day. His garden did not see an extra blade of grass. Every brass button of Railway guard Christie Solomonsz shone as brightly as it possibly could. Christie was very punctual at work. He could work night after night, sleep only a few hours, and get back to answer another call of duty. In recognition of his services, when Queen Elizabeth visited Sri Lanka in 1954, Christie was in charge of four guards on the train, and was awarded a medallion by the Queen.
Christie was a lover of bananas or plantains, and every day took home a bunch. Perhaps, this practice lead to the long healthy life of Christie and Queenie.
They had two children. The elder was a boy. Apparently, he did not live long. Their daughter Carmen, Philomine to some, studied at All Saints College, Colombo 8, and later at Good Shepherd Convent, Kotahena.
The Solomonsz family lived many years at 10, Railway Bungalow, Mount Mary, Colombo. After Christie retired from the railway, they moved over to 29, Rodney Street, Colombo, the house being under the influence of poltergeists at the time. Then, the Solomonsz family built a house at 15 Galpotta Road, Nawala.
Christie continued to work after retirement, cashing cheques at the Maradana Railway Station, and Queenie helped him with his accounts, at the end of the day. When Christie's money was taken by a snatch thief, the story was recorded in the Evening Observer.
Carmen was a secretary, who worked at Radio Ceylon, and later at the Ministry of Nationalised Services. She married Fredrick Koelmeyer in Sri Lanka. They had two sons when they moved to Australia.
Queenie and Christie followed two years later. They lived in their own flat in Ainslie, until 1976, when Christie at the age of 82, was found dead of a heart attack, falling short of entering his gate.
Not long after that, Queenie moved with Carmen and her husband to Darwin, northern Australia, and Queenie went with them to look after the children. After two years they returned to Canberra and Queenie lived with them until she came to Villaggio, Canberra in 1994.
Queenie has four grand children, Johann, Kirk, Christopher and Eloise, and three great grand-children, Jessica, Kate and Rebecca.
Queenie always did her own cooking. She is an expert in the Sri Lankan culinary art, with her own innovations. Her curries are dry, and the gravy concentrated; the best cook of Sri Lankan food, the writer has known. Queenie is also interested in crochet which she still does.
Queenie loves going to mass and reading her prayer book every day. She still writes her own letters and cards.
Queenie now suffers from gastritis.