Faith, yo-yo and Mother Teresa: a chat with Darryl Ellwood

Today is the International Day of Older Persons so to celebrate we had a chat with Darryl Ellwood, who lives at the Carinity Wishart Gardens retirement community in Brisbane, about his interesting life so far.

What is your earliest memory?

My earliest recollection is of me starting school in Kingaroy as a five year old. One day the teacher announced that after lunch, she would show us what capital letters looked like. We were amazed. No Sesame Street back then.

Kingaroy’s suburban streets were all dirt roads with depressions on each side acting as gutters. Walking to school was considered the norm. You just accepted the simple lifestyle then as the status quo.

You lived in Kingaroy and Ipswich before moving to Brisbane. How has Brisbane changed over the years?

Moving to Ipswich was quite a change – bitumen streets with concrete gutters! There was a local corner store just a few houses away. Ice-cream cones cost 4 pence but you could buy a smaller one for 1 1/2 pence.

Brisbane was an eye-opener. Look at the size of the city hall! When we moved there in the 1950s, we could clearly see the city hall clock tower against all the low rise city buildings from Morningside, 6km away.

What is one of the fondest memories of your childhood?

When I was 13, the Coca-Cola yo-yo craze came to town. I was very surprised when I won the competition at our school. That allowed me to enter the grand final at Brisbane City Hall. I performed the set of eight tricks without fault, as did one other boy.

We had a playoff of “loop the loop” and I gained the highest score, winning a 21-inch Admiral black and white television. It was some months before we could watch anything – the Channel 9 tower was still being built.

Darryl the yo-yo champion in the 1950s.

Christian faith is important to you. Did any meetings with religious leaders influence you?

Travelling to London in 1970 to study medical photography I was able to attend Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s first world conference in Switzerland enroute. I had read his book Tortured for Christ in which he described his 14 years of imprisonment as a Romanian pastor during the Soviet era.

One Sunday after attending a church service, he drew up beside me as we walked. Soon the tears were flowing as I silently prayed, “Lord, who am I that I should be privileged to walk beside one of your living saints?” That was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.

You spent most of your working life as a photographer. Do any of your photos stick in your mind?

Yes, two. Of the many hundreds of patients I photographed as a medical photographer, one stands out. A little boy had been flown to Brisbane from one of the Pacific islands. He had a huge growth on one side of his face. He was shunned by his peers. I remember his sad, downcast eyes. He was so miserable.

I could not believe my eyes when only a few days later, he returned for post-operative photographs. Not only was his face perfectly symmetrical, I could only describe his eyes as ‘dancing’. His smile was a mile wide. His life had been changed.

On a visit to the Mater by Mother Teresa, the hospital administrator whisked her down to the Medical Photography Department where I took a portrait of her. It was a surreal few minutes in the studio where, apart from a Sister from her Order acting as chaperone, I alone had an interesting conversation with that wonderful lady. I remember taking two photos of Mother Teresa on our 4” x 5” camera. She blinked in one!

Darryl’s photograph of the late Mother Teresa.

Your other passion is model trains. When and how did you get into that hobby? 

I am sometimes now prone to reminisce. I remember as a teenager, with the help of a mate, building a complete model railway layout on a Saturday morning in a room under the (then) Presbyterian Church at Cannon Hill on their church fete day, charging a silver coin admission to see the trains running. I still own three N-gauge locos and some rolling stock. I am looking forward to the day when my slate will be clean enough for me to play trains!

You keep yourself busy living at the Carinity Wishart Gardens retirement community. How do you spend your days?

We’ve been at Wishart Gardens almost two years now – and love it. Maybe it was because I was the youngest of our residents at the time, but within a year I was propelled into becoming the President of the Resident’s Committee. I am one of three golf buggy drivers, transporting some of our residents to the pavilion for different events.

In 2013, Anglican clergyman Rev. Muhammed Ibrahim of Kaduna, Nigeria visited Brisbane and stayed with us for a few days. Soon after, I began producing an online newsletter to promote his ministry to Muslims called Passion for Converts.

There’s never a dull moment, as they say.

Darryl with his toy trains.

This article originally appeared in Carinity’s Belong magazine. Read Belong online and subscribe to the magazine.

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