Last month Mary Edna Williamson Jackman hopped onto the passenger seat of her son’s motorcycle and took a spin through the Central Coast suburb of Bateau Bay. She was celebrating her 100th birthday. Now having had eight pacemakers, Edna, as she has been known, still looks forward to regular family luncheons by the beach. Along with taking in plenty of fresh air, she credits her longevity to Mormonism’s health practices–good food, no alcohol, cigarettes, coffee or tea.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refrain from habit-forming substances and generally centre their diet around whole grains, fruits and vegetables, herbs, and meat in small quantities. Believing that the body is a sacred housing for the eternal spirit, Mormons are advocates of exercise, cleanliness, and wholesome recreational activities.
The birthday motorcycle ride was a significant representation of Edna’s past activities. “I love motorbikes,” she told onlookers. “I used to ride one myself, you know!”
She and her husband, Ted, bought a Harley Davidson with a sidecar, into which they would squeeze their five children for trips to the beaches. During World War II, Ted left to join the Royal Australian Air Force from 1942-1945, in which time Edna drove the Harley herself, with all the children in the sidecar, to the shops near their home in Hurstville.
“And we had the dog sitting on the petrol tank,” Edna says happily.
One of Edna’s daughters, Pamela Dillon, remembers her mother’s insistence on cleanliness. “She always told us, ‘There’s no excuse for being dirty--anyone can use a bar of soap!’”
Edna’s 100 years have significance in New South Wales history and in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia.
The Williamson family lived in “The Rocks” area, at #4 Essex Street, Circular Quay, in Sydney. Their three-storeyed house with an attic was located near what is now the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and was demolished during the construction project.
Edna was about twenty when the bridge was completed in 1932.
By the age of eleven, she had contracted tuberculosis and was moved to the Junior Red Cross home called “Shuna” in Leura in the Blue Mountains for two years to recuperate.
At sixteen Edna attended the Metropolitan Business College, where she learned shorthand, typing and business principles--skills she put to good advantage when she became secretary to the New South Wales Chief of Police.
About that time, a young swagman was on his way through the Blue Mountains searching for a job. His name was William Edwin Jackman, and his journal records, “The first night we found a cave, originally used by aborigines, but now by swaggies, like ourselves. It was cold, but there was dry firewood in the cave, and an unwritten law among the swagmen, it was for your use, but before leaving the next morning, gather some wood for the next fellow.”
Edna had met Edwin (known as Ted) earlier. When he eventually returned to Sydney, they embarked on what would be sixty-three years of marriage. Ted worked for The Sydney Morning Herald as a compositor for thirty-nine years.
The family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Ted was one of the first five Mormon bishops ordained in Australia, at the creation of the Sydney Stake on 27 March 1960.