My Fair Lady turns 95 – By Marie Pietersz: Melbourne
My Fair Lady turns 95: by Marie Pietersz
Gwen Pietersz (nee Bertus), the matriach of the Pietersz family, celebrated her 95th milestone birthday recently, choosing a private party in Ringwood to share with her heritage of four generations of Pieterszs. Her cake was a tribute to her long life and relationship with her family, the message reading, Queen Gwen, 95 Years Loved.
Gwendoline Amelia Bertus was born in Colombo (Ceylon) on 27 October 1922 to parents Llewellyn (Lula) Bertus and Emma James. Gwen is the oldest sibling of a family of eight children, Pam Koch (dec), Cynthia Pereira (dec), Herbert Bertus (dec), Dickie Bertus (dec), Ron Bertus (dec), Dulcie Namasiyavan (dec) and Bernard Bertus.
Growing up in Sri Lanka, Gwen attended St Matthew’s College, Baseline Road, Borella, and on completing her education worked as a stenographer in legal firms until this quiet, demure lady met and fell in love with Lloyd Pietersz, a dashing, swashbuckling young policeman, much to the surprise of her family.
They say opposites attract and after a whirlwind courtship they were married in 30 October 1943 at Holy Cross Church, Slave Island. Husband, Inspector Lloyd Pietersz, was stationed at the Kalutara Police Training School and the family lived in Kalutara where Gwen brought up her family of five boys and one girl, Randy, Cheryl, Tregartha, Desmond, Geoffrey and Glenn.
In later years when Lloyd secured the prestigious job of Bodyguard to the former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the family moved to Colombo and lived in Police accommodation opposite Parliament House (where the Intercontinental Hotel now stands).
Gwen and Lloyd migrated to Melbourne in 1974 and lived for many years in Bayswater in a staff bungalow when Lloyd found employment in security at Fibremakers Bayswater, and then moved to Ringwood when they purchased their home.
While she didn’t work in the corporate world in Melbourne, Gwen had the reputation of being a gracious host, busy with house duties, keeping a nice home for her husband, unmarried sons and mother. She always had food on hand when family or friends dropped by and nobody left hungry without a taste of her delicious Sri Lankan home cooked meals or hidden treats for grandchildren. She would wake up early each morning before the household stirred to cook meals for “whoever may visit”, she used to say, and by the end of the day, that food had disappeared because she would have fed so many family members or friends who visited.
A pint-sized lady, she ruled her male dominated household with a firm but fair hand – a much-loved mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and later great–grandmother. In the tradition of old, one could always find her dressed immaculately – nothing casual with how she presented herself to the world, whether in the home or in public. Every occasion was an excuse to buy a new outfit, do her hair and paint her nails, and everybody knew this and indulged her, the end result being that there was always a beautiful ‘my fair lady’ at the parties she attended.
Even as she grew older and her family expanded, she maintained her position as matriarch and the pivotal point of contact for her family – one could always be sure to find a visitor at the meeting place, her home. Her family Christmases was, and still are, big and extra special events when furniture has to be moved to make room for the new generations who do not want (or dare) to miss their mum/nana/gran-gran’s Christmas Eve family celebrations.
When the modern way appears to be to give combined presents or reduce present-giving at Christmastime, even at her ripe old age, she makes it a point to shop herself (in later years with the help of her daughter) for a present for each and every child, grandchild and great-grandchild, and even close friends who come to her home on 24th December. She loves Christmas and still keeps the traditions of old, giving everybody and her Australian-born family, an insight into how Christmas was celebrated in Sri Lanka, or Ceylon, as she wants to remember it by.
When she could no longer live in the family home on her own, Gwen moved to live with her daughter in Ringwood and now resides with a son in Wantirna, still sharp of mind, still able to laugh heartily at a jokes her sons make of her funny traditions, and still busy watching old western movies, completing crosswords (and winning) in magazines like That’s Life, buying Tattslotto without fail each week (and winning) and always playing the machines at the pokies (and winning).
The family’s long-standing mirthful recollections which bring a hearty laugh from Gwen is when they remind her of her ability to forget her aches and pains and difficulty moving fast the minute she gets an offer from a son or friend to go to the pokies. Her speed automically picks up and she is virtually jumping into the car, with her departing laughing comment ” have car, will travel” and off to the pokies goes this winner to come back with a heavier handbag than the one she set off with.
Gwen’s one desire it to reach the grand old age of one hundred, just so she can get a letter from the Queen (she is such a die-hard Royalist) and everyone wishes her this heart’s desire. The family laugh that the congratulatory letter might be from King Charles, to which Gwen smiles knowingly. We know she’s thinking “who cares” as long as it is from Royalty.
Family, friends and in-laws wish Gwen a happy and healthy life and her dream to be one hundred. God bless this much loved lady!