A former movie stuntwoman, magistrate and racehorse trainer, Gloria Benwell has lived a bold life and on Saturday she became the Bundaberg Region's newest centenarian.
Living through more tragic events than most, Gloria has always focused on the brighter side of life and believed in looking forward and never back, which has helped her reach such a magnificent milestone.
Now spending her days at Carinity Kepnock Grove aged care, Gloria's life has been celebrated in all of its challenges and triumphs.
She has survived cancer, recovered from a broken back and been widowed four times.
Gloria also made local headlines in 2009 as the oldest woman, at 86 years of age, to participate in the Relay for Life two years running.
Shelley Sishton has shared her aunt’s passion for life, which is the reason she believed has led Gloria to reaching such longevity.
Shelley said Gloria is on of two daughter's of John and Mill Dawson.
The family grew up in Melbourne, taking on a boarding house on the outskirts of Melbourne.
“Gloria often talked about cold nights sleeping with her sister on the verandah in winter, so that the paying boarders could have their usual shared bedroom for nights on end,” Shelley said.
“Both girls helped with cooking and cleaning and Gloria was also responsible for the daily milking of their cow.”
Shelley said Gloria had lived through hard times but always seemed to pull through stronger than before.
Growing up during the Great Depression, the family could not afford for the children to go to high school.
Gloria left school at 14 and worked, initially as a florist, to bring in extra income for the family.
She spent her holidays with cousins at a farm near the Dandenong Range, where she learnt bareback horse-riding skills.
In her early-20s, Gloria met and married an American GI, Johnnie Soyken, and moved with him to California at the end of World War II.
Sadly, Johnnie died in a car accident two years later.
Putting her horse-riding talents to use Gloria worked as a horsewoman and stunt double in Hollywood.
It's where she gained a reputation for her skills and forged a willingness to give anything a go.
Tragedy struck when Gloria broke her back in a fall while performing a stunt as a stand-in for American actress Barbara Stanwyck.
The ordeal left Gloria in an iron lung in hospital, where doctors told her she would never walk again.
She started treatments devised by Iridology pioneer, natural health practitioner and chiropractor, Dr Bernard Jensen, and learned to walk at his California retreat.
“She became an advocate of his pioneering ways and adhered to his health, nutrition and wellbeing philosophies, which were completely unknown to most people until the 1970s,” Shelley said.
“Gloria developed a lifelong interest to learn about many other so-called ‘unorthodox’ health practices too.
“She was definitely always ahead of her time.”
Moving back to Melbourne in the 1950s, Gloria met and married Jack Banks-Smith who owned wedding hire car and tour companies.
Gloria turned her hand to new ventures such has breeding English setter dogs and training racehorses.
Jack died unexpectedly, leaving Gloria a widow once again.
She inherited her late husband’s company which she sold and bought land in Terrigal on the Central Coast of New South Wales.
In the late 60s, Gloria met her third husband Ron Bibb, they were married for three years before Ron suffered a heart attack and died.
Gloria then established dog kennels and started a dog grooming service.
“Her reputation for knowing and handling all breeds of dogs, her way with animals and her talents as a dog groomer drew clients to Terrigal from as far away as Sydney – a long way with no highways to travel on back then,” Shelley said.
In the 1970s Gloria met Ben Benwell.
They were happily married for 30 years and had many adventures travelling around Asia and Europe before Ben died in 2005.
Gloria was by that stage a magistrate in Terrigal and served on the town council.
Gloria moves to Woodgate to settle down
Gloria sold her kennels and bought land at Woodgate, where she built a house.
Shelley said her aunt was a very smart, bright lady who was always interested in new things.
“I feel her happiest times came when she started her world travelling in later years, something she had dreamt of doing since she was a little girl,” Shelley said.
“She and Ben went on many cruises around Australia, and she was always interested to learn as much as she could about the history, wildlife and nature of the places they visited.”
Gloria always had a love for nature, flowers and good wine, and she invested in a number of start-up vineyards around Australia.
These days, she enjoys beauty therapy and on the odd occasion a glass of wine with a mini platter.
Gloria has become the first Kepnock Grove aged care resident in four years to be inducted into the Carinity 100 Club for centenarians.
Shelley believes love and laughter has helped Bundaberg’s newest centenarian to reach 100 years.
“Another thing I know she would say is to only look forward, not back at the past,” Shelley said.
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