One hundred years of adventures and hard work

By John Lewis

Retired Invergordon dairy farmer, lawn bowler and World War II veteran David Lyons turned 100 years old recently. He talks to John Lewis about his long life, battling the infamous Kokoda Trail, searching for his missing family, milking cows and living with diabetes.

When David Lyons was a teenager growing up in Manangatang in the Mallee he just couldn't wait to get out and see the world.

“There wasn't much doing. I was digging post holes,” he said while sipping a cup of hot tea in his sunny little unit off The Boulevard in Shepparton.

“My mother wouldn't let me join the army until I was 21 — and the day I turned 21, I joined up.”

But he soon found army life at Darley Training Camp near Bacchus Marsh wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

“When we got off the train, they gave us all our clothes and everything, then you know the first thing I ever did in the army? Peeling a whole bag of potatoes — that's what they got me doing.”

Despite that disappointing start, Mr Lyons joined the 2/14th infantry battalion and his adventures began with training in the Middle East before returning home to help stop the Japanese army's advance in Papua New Guinea.

But on his way home he caught the measles.

“They took me off the boat in Bombay and put me in hospital. After I got better, I went off and saw a bit of India,” he said.

Then it was off to PNG and the Kokoda Trail.

Ask him what it was like, and, like a lot of old soldiers, Mr Lyons shakes his head and smiles.

“You'll never know. We walked the trail, and we walked it back. And we were wet every day,” is all he would say.

He does remember being reprimanded for taking his shirt off in the heat while listening to the races on the radio.

“Then it was back to peeling potatoes for the mob.”

Mr Lyons was born in Carlton in 1920 but his memory of that time is dimmed. His mother died when he was five and he was fostered to a family in Manangatang.

Unbeknown to him, he had a sister and three brothers, but it took him more than 60 years to find them.

It was on a visit to the Brisbane World Expo in 1988 that he received news his family had been found.

“That was one of the most marvellous things in my life — to find my family.”

He said the other happiest day of his life was when he married his sweetheart — Mary Farrell from Congupna.

Both in the army, they met at a friend's house in Melbourne and married at St Brendan's Catholic Church in Shepparton in 1945, before Mr Lyons left for PNG.

The marriage lasted 73 years until Mary died two years ago. The couple had six children, and Mr Lyons now has 14 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

After the war, Mr Lyons worked various jobs — including grape picking at Mildura and as a fireman on Victoria Railways based at Seymour — before settling down to milking cows and raising stud pigs at Invergordon.

A founding member of Shepparton Park Bowls Club, Mr Lyons was a keen bowls player well into his 90s.

Mr Lyons not only fought the Japanese, he fought off malaria when he returned from the war and he has also fought type 2 diabetes since being diagnosed 30 years ago.

His daughter Bernadette said her mum learned to cook healthy diabetic meals which they both ate.

Today, Mr Lyons takes daily insulin injections and lives independently, making his own breakfast and cuppas, with support from his family and a cleaner once a week.

But his adventures are not over yet. For his 100th birthday, his family gave him a voucher for a special day out with the promise of a great view. Country News is sworn to secrecy on the exact nature of his next big adventure.

Looking back over his long life, Mr Lyons said there was no real secret to seeing your 100th birthday.

“I just took it as it came, and worked hard. A little bit of hard work never hurt anybody.”

COVID-19 restrictions prevented a big celebration for Mr Lyons’ 100th birthday on Wednesday, July 15, but he did have lunch with 16 of his family members.

“I told them, ‘the old bugger's gone and done it’," he said with another sip of tea and another burst of cheeky laughter.