Oldest living Australian Frank Mawer recalls highs and lows of history on 110th birthday

It may not have been an accolade he strove for but the oldest living Australian, Frank Mawer, says he’s enjoying each day.

Mr Mawer became the country’s oldest living person after the death of Dexter Kruger in July 2021 at the age of 111.

Celebrating his 110th birthday today, he says he’s seen it all — surviving two World Wars, two global pandemics, and the tragic deaths of loved ones.

But in between the tough moments, he has also experienced pleasure.

“I have six children, 13 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren,” he says proudly.

“I live day by day and take each day as it comes.”

As someone who has lived a challenging life for this long, his positive outlook is no small accomplishment.

Tragedy and loss
Reflecting on his experience of living through two pandemics, Mr Mawer says he found them both to be highly “restrictive”.

But it was his first pandemic that led to a great tragedy for the Mawer family.

His brother died of the Spanish flu at the age of 20, which meant a young Frank Mawer had to “brush it off as young kids do”.

In the years that followed, his mother passed away, he left school, and was separated from his siblings.

“That broke up the home, as we became wards of the state,” he says.

Mr Mawer’s three sisters went into domestic service while he was sent to work as a 14-year-old labourer on a dairy farm near the Macleay River on the Mid North Coast of NSW.

Despite having to grow up so quickly, there were still moments he remembers fondly.

“I worked on the farm, rode horses, and did some stupid things like swimming in the sea on the horse,” he says.

It was during his boisterous adolescence that Mr Mawer met his Irish wife, Elizabeth.

He was an apprentice carpenter in Sydney working at the building where she was a secretary.

“Occasionally I would pass the office, put my gaze on her, and take her out to get some ice cream,” he says.

They were married before the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

Champion of peace
After the wedding, as a conscientious objector, Mr Mawer refused to partake in World War II.

“I became interested in religion when I was about 18, and the concept was that you don’t take up arms or shoot anybody,” he says.

Instead of fighting overseas, he worked on the construction of a building to house ammunition for the Australian Army in North Queensland.

Mr and Mrs Mawer spent more than 70 years married.

Mrs Mawer was diagnosed with dementia shortly before she died of breast cancer in 2012.

In the years before her death, it was Mr Mawer who looked after her.

“She didn’t want to be cooped up in the unit and she would sometimes get out and I would find her in someone else’s house,” he says.

Losing his sweetheart was one of his great challenges in life.

“It was a big shock … I miss her, she was my life partner, we had a great marriage and I have no regrets,” he says.

Now, he lives with his 73-year-old son Philip Mawer in Central Tilba on the NSW South Coast.

Philip and his partner Stuart are his carers.

Some days are harder than others.

“He needs a lot of care and assistance, so that is a full-time job for the two of us,” Philip Mawer says.

Despite this, the younger Mr Mawer finds living with his father later in life to be a “privilege”.

“He’s remarkably stoic and he’ll put up with a lot of discomfort and he won’t complain as he’s an optimistic person,” he says.

“He wants to live. He just values the day and he lives for the day.”