Henry 'Corky' Caldwell at his home in Minnie Water before his 100th birthday.
Henry 'Corky' Caldwell at his home in Minnie Water before his 100th birthday.

Sprightly Caldwell still pedalling at a century

BACK in the day, Henry “Corky” Caldwell OAM was a champion cyclist and just days out from his 100th birthday he’s still pedalling.

Now he may not be zipping around on his prized Healings bicycle – still stored in the shed – but he can still be found sitting and pedalling in his sun room, taking in the majestic ocean view from his Minnie Water home.

Mr Caldwell has led an extraordinary life. From his early days working as an auto-electrician to winning bicycle races and organising dog shows, trying to list his all his achievements could be a challenge in itself.

His contributions to the Clarence Valley community earned him an Order of Australia medal.

Mr Caldwell even became a hockey coach – despite never having played– after his daughter joined the sport.

Born on March 19, 1920 Corky grew up in Grafton and met his wife Gloria while they at school.

He said they were the type of couple who did everything together and he credited her with helping him in all of his endeavours.

More than 70 years later, they have eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Enlisting in the military in his early 20s, Mr Caldwell served in the Middle East during World War II before coming back to work for the county council.

He said he has always been one to volunteer and lists co-ordinating dog shows and his work in the RFS as his proudest achievements.

“I had the best dog in Australia — a dalmation. She won 24 best in shows overall,” he said.

“Sue (the dalmation) got a big write-up in the Sydney papers when she retired.”

And when it came to the RFS, he didn’t just volunteer, he set up brigades.

“I started the brigade here at Minnie and the small ones at Diggers Headland and Sandon River,” he said.

Jim Gorton, who has served in major conflicts since 1999 speaks with World War II veteran Henry Caldwell OAM - who served from 1940 at El Alamein at the Grafton Remembrance Day ceremony at Memorial Park.Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
Jim Gorton, who has served in major conflicts since 1999 speaks with World War II veteran Henry Caldwell OAM - who served from 1940 at El Alamein at the Grafton Remembrance Day ceremony at Memorial Park.Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner

Going through his treasure trove of mementos is like having a lesson in the history of the Clarence Valley and beyond.

With photos of Sue, there are shots of the Nymboida Hydro-electricity plant opening, ferries on the Clarence River and a ticket for the first train to go over the Grafton Bridge.

In one beautiful, leather-bound album adorned with carved etches of camels and other Middle Eastern images are photos of his time in the Middle East.

And he still has the camera he used to take photos of local traders and Egyptian pyramids.

As the conversation moves to the subject of his home, Mr Caldwell points to a spot just in front of the house at the edge of the ocean.

“We used to stop just straight down the front there – before the houses were here. It (the area) was named ‘wire fence’,” he said.

He said the family were “eaten alive” by mosquitoes and midges, an experience that nearly led to them passing up the opportunity to live at the prime location.

When he responded to an advertisement for waterfront property 40 years ago, Mr Caldwell was told by the real estate agent it was at “wire fence”. The couple replied they were “not interested” before changing their mind and taking a look a week later.

“The agent said he had somebody coming out to look at the place on Sunday and mum (Gloria) said ‘well we rang you first and we’ll come out early’,” he said.

“I walked up and stood on the veranda and said ‘this is the place we have been looking for’,” Mr Caldwell said.

“And the agent pulled up out the front and I said to him – ‘too late, I’m buying it’.”

While Mr Caldwell said the secret to living a long life was by simply “being well” it was hard not to think like his daughter Glenda who said the wonderful view might have something to do with it.