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Jack shares his passion for life, human connection and thimbles
Holdfast Bay local Jack Turner - who will turn 100 this month - wears many hats.
He’s not only patron of the Holdfast for Life community group - who are working together to promote hope, wellbeing and social connection, he’s also a proud Somerton Park resident who’s lived in the area for 70 years, a client of Alwyndor’s social support program and an avid collector of thimbles.
In his house - in which he’s lived since 1952 and was once the only house on the street - his collection spans far and wide.
Although he admits he has never counted all the thimbles, he thinks he has more than 2000 with the most prized possessions behind glass. Many more are in a custom-made cabinet that was modelled on one belonging to the Duke of Wellington that Jack saw in a book.
“My aim was to get a thimble from every manufacturer in the world... but when I got to about 30, my wife said to me, ‘I’m not going to dust your thimbles, you have to dust them yourself’,” Jack recounted.
“And I’m not too inclined to dust thimbles, so I had the cabinet made. It was a copy of the one the Duke of Wellington used to take on his travels... and I had that specially made for my thimble collection.”
Jack’s passion for thimbles has seen him connect with many people around the world over several decades. He wrote articles for a thimble magazine printed in England up until last year, started a thimble club in South Australia that endured for 20 years, and had thimble pen pals around the world.
“I have thimble friends in Germany, the Netherlands, America, England, Wales, Scotland and at one time, I was writing to 26 people,” Jack said.
“It’s very interesting and the most famous thimble collections in the world are held by men.”
Now, at the mature age of 99, it’s that connection with people that continues to spur Jack on daily. And to help satisfy his very active mind.
“Everyone tells me this, but I don’t believe it...I’m probably one of the most active people for my age and I have had associations with an enormous number of people.”
“Overall, I’m a very busy bloke.”
Jack attends the fortnightly Coffee Crawl program provided as part of Alwyndor’s Social Support Group Community Participation program.
He has visits from family and neighbours and is the much-admired patron of the Holdfast for Life community group, which formed last year after the initial Suicide Prevention Network Forum was held in Glenelg in June 2021.
Among the group members is Jack’s good friend and neighbour Melissa, who brought Jack along to the very first meeting in August last year.
“Jack’s wisdom from his lifetime about the importance of staying connected socially and listening and accepting people for who they are, resonated deeply with the group and aligned with the vision and mission,” said Brendan Kelly, Manager of Council’s Community Wellbeing team and a Holdfast for Life member.
“The group asked if Jack could attend every meeting and are grateful that Jack accepted the offer to be Holdfast for Life’s patron.”
Jack says it is a role he happily accepted.
"I’m glad to be associated with it and if I can offer any help at all, I'm quite willing to do so,” he said.
“Being involved with Melissa is another added advantage as it gives me another reason to talk to her and see her and her family.
“I’m happy to be involved for that reason alone, let alone any good that I might be able to help to bring about because it’s a very difficult area and it’s a hard road.”
Jack also realised the benefits of being part of the group for himself, and again having an opportunity to connect with others.
“It’s important to old people, such as myself, to have a group of any sort – you have no idea, of the relief and pleasure of having somebody coming to you just to say hello,” Jack said.
“I spend a lot of time sitting out the front on the verandah and I watch people walking past with their dogs.
“Sometimes they wave at me, and they probably don’t realise it, but it just makes me part of the world.”
In his 99 years, Jack has been very much a part of the world around him.
Born in Unley in 1923, Jack recently completed his extensive family tree, which he mapped out on a piece of paper that's approximately 3 metres long.
“I found out that on my father’s side, his parents were two convicts who married on their way out here on a ship. On my mum’s side, they came from Inverness (in Scotland) and my grandmother came out as a migrant.”
Jack joined the Royal Australia Air Force and was trained as a navigator during World War II, but “never got to operations”.
In 1951 he bought a block of land in Somerton Park for 280 pounds and the house he still lives in today was built by his uncle in 1952.
“We didn’t have a car, we didn’t have any neighbours as it were, we were an isolated family... though gradually over time, we had a young daughter and most of our time was taken up with her,” Jack said.
“My wife used to take her to the beach and over the sand hills in a pusher.
“And they used to take the horses down to the beach for exercise and they would come past (our house) at 4.30am. We used to wake up every morning with the horses and that went on for years.
“After we got here, houses started to spring up fairly quickly and it became the lovely suburb it is today.”
On Friday nights, Jack and his family would have a night out at the local picture theatre in Glenelg.
"We’d ring for a taxi and it would take us to Glenelg to the picture theatre. Helen (my daughter) was in my wife’s arms and we would sit in the crying room at the pictures and then get a taxi home – that was our only outing,” Jack said.
Jack worked as a land valuer and would take a double-decker bus from Somerton Park into the city. He says that job initially sparked his interest in collecting, starting off with Worcester porcelain before moving on to thimbles. He’s since added hand-held fans and turtle statues to his collections.
“As a land valuer, it was a very interesting job that took me to lots of interesting places and that’s how I got to be a collector,” he said.
“I would walk into a lovely home at Burnside or somewhere and they would have all these beautiful things on show, and that set me on the task of collecting.”
Aside from Jack’s family – he has three children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren – he says his collection is his “consolation and compassion” and keeps his mind active since the loss of his wife.
And when asked what his advice is for young people starting their life’s journeys, he’s got much to say.
“Lead a simple life, lead a gentle life and try not to make any problems for yourself or anybody,” Jack said.
“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t swear, don't tell dirty stories.
“Try not to be difficult with anybody, avoid an argument, avoid fighting in any shape or form and just try and be what you consider an actual person - eager to approach, eager to chat with, easy to get on with and always available if anything comes up where he or she can be of help.”