Peakhurst’s May Church is a living history lesson

A colourful life: Peakhurst resident May Church, who turns 100 today, was born in a wagon of her father's travelling circus at Leichhardt Oval. Picture: John Veage
A colourful life: Peakhurst resident May Church, who turns 100 today, was born in a wagon of her father's travelling circus at Leichhardt Oval. Picture: John Veage

Peakhurst resident May Church, who turns 100 today, gives a new meaning to the term living history.

May was born in the wagon of a travelling circus on what is now Leichhardt Oval, the eighth of 11 children.

Her parents Harry and Mary Phillips had a circus and rodeo and each of her siblings had a job performing in the show.

Her father was a barefist boxer, one of her sisters, Dorrie was the Australian Ladies Buckjumping champion, and a brother Harry junior was a tightrope walker. He once walked the tightrope across Coogee Bay with one of his sisters, Connie, sitting on his shoulders.

Talented family: May, fourth from left in the back row, with her family that included bare-fist boxers, a tightrope walker and the Australian Ladies Buckjumping champion.

Talented family: May, fourth from left in the back row, with her family that included bare-fist boxers, a tightrope walker and the Australian Ladies Buckjumping champion.

May never actually worked in the traveling show as her father closed it down and starting running pony rides in La Perouse and on the site of what is now the Dental Hospital in Surry Hills.

May spent her early life in Sydney’s Surry Hills and left school at 14 during the Great Depression, finding work as a machinist wherever she could.

One of May’s memories is of her having to work on making the Australian Flag that was the first flag to fly on the Sydney Harbour Bridge at its opening in 1932.

“I was working in a factory as a machinist in Surry Hills and they gave us the job of sewing the flag which was huge, about 25ft long,” she said.

Pony express: May's father, Harry (left of picture) ran pony rides on the site of what is now the Dental Hospital at Surry Hills.

Pony express: May's father, Harry (left of picture) ran pony rides on the site of what is now the Dental Hospital at Surry Hills.

Pony express: May's father, Harry (left of picture) ran pony rides on the site of what is now the Dental Hospital at Surry Hills.

She climbed the bridge in her nineties, saying she did it see of the flag was still there.

May married Bill in 1936 and they lived in Surry Hills when the likes of Tilly Devine,  Kate Leigh and the razor gangs were running wild and sly grog shops were everywhere.

“Kate was very good to the poor children of Surry Hills,” May said.

Kate Leigh actually came to May’s defence when an American serviceman tried to break into her house.

May, who had lived in this area all her life, decided it was not the place to bring up her children and moved the family to Peakhurst in 1950.

In the early 1960s May and a neighbour found ten-shillings and bought a lottery ticket. They won 12,000 pounds. With her share, May and Bill travelled overseas several times to Europe, America and Japan.

She was a pioneer member of the Revesby Workers Ladies Golf Club where she won many championships over the years. Golf was her great passion she often played on her local course at Peakhurst.

May was heart-broken when she decided it was time to retire from golf at the age of 87.

May has one daughter, two sons, ten grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren 12 great,-great- grandchildren and two on the way.

“I never thought I’d live to see 100,” May said.

“I drank and smoked till I was 60 and played sport into my late 80s. 

“The secret to a long life is exercise. I do miss my sport.”

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