By Gav Ross
BLESSED with the memory of an elephant, San Remo resident Dorothy Spargo, who turned 100 last month, can vividly remember her home town at a very different time.
Dorothy, or ‘Dot’ as she’s known to her friends, can, remarkably, recall what San Remo was like in 1918 – more than two decades before the original suspension bridge to Phillip Island was built.
“I remember I’d come down here with my parents when there was just a dirt track between here and Melbourne,” the smiling centenarian says as she sits comfortably in her lounge room, surrounded by flowers and cards from her birthday milestone.
“We would camp near the old pier – Mum and Dad would sleep in the car and I liked sleeping outside next to it.”
So what did San Remo look like around the end of the First World War?
“Well, there were no shops and there was barely a soul around,” Dorothy says, her eyes growing distant as she casts her mind back.
“And I remember it used to take a long time to get here from Melbourne.
“And the road was always very rough; it would just be ‘bump bump bump’ all the way here!”
Visits to San Remo for the Tottenham-born lass weren’t always relaxing holidays – she remembers one incident which almost spelled doom for the entire family.
“We were around the car one night and some fisherman rushed to tell us that we’d better move quick because the tide was rising fast,” she says.
“I scrambled away and when we looked back, the place where I’d been sleeping was completely underwater.”
Dorothy also recalls camping without the modern luxury of a portable refrigerator.
“Because there were no shops, of course, Mum used to have to bring all the food with her.
“We would tie it all up in a calico bag, including goods that should have been refrigerated, and hang it on a tree branch.
“One morning we woke and found that a fox had ripped through the bag and eaten everything.
“Luckily, there was a farmer who lived over in Newhaven who rowed by with a bag full of apples from his orchard.”
Dorothy stops abruptly at this memory, smacking her lips.
“I never thought an apple could taste so nice!” she laughs gaily.
While she has spent her retirement years in Wynne Road, along with her husband, Bob, who passed away in 1996, Dorothy was a city girl before returning to her childhood camping spot.
Meeting Bob when she was just 17, Dorothy was instantly smitten, and the couple spent many years living in the Melbourne Fire Brigade building in the middle of the city.
Bob divided his time between fighting fires and playing for the Footscray Football Club.
Today, Dorothy remains a devoted Western Bulldogs supporter, and she points lovingly to a striking black and white photograph of her beau in his sporting days, arms spread like an eagle, right foot high in the air, reminiscent of that classic Ted Whitten pose many know so well.
With three young sons in tow, the Spargos eventually left the MFB and relocated to San Remo, buying a block of land on Wynne Road for the princely sum of 20 pounds.
The original home they lived in was eventually demolished, with a newer house built closer to the front of the block years later.
Still able to get around without a walking aid, Dorothy proudly lives in the same house, with the help of her youngest son, Rick.
Going for a stroll down to a local café with a friend remains one of the highlights of her week.
“Oh, I just love coffee!” she beams.
“I’m very happy here in San Remo.
“If someone gave me a ticket to go anywhere in the world, I wouldn’t, I’d just stay here!”
Asked whether she has any secret to remaining happy and healthy at 100, Dorothy delivers a unique answer.
“Well, when I was a little girl, my Dad would always say to me ‘put plenty of butter on your bread, it’s very good for you’,” she recalls.
“And that’s something I’ve always done.”
Dorothy celebrated her birthday with a family gathering at nearby Silverwater Resort last month before continuing the party at San Remo Hotel.
The majority of her family, including seven grandchildren (one came all the way from France!) and four great-grandchildren were part of the special occasion.