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Gazette Article

Long-time Artarmon resident celebrates 100

Parkes Road Artarmon resident Elsa Sakk celebrated her 100th birthday in June at the Freeway Hotel, surrounded by 20 friends and family.

She was somewhat overcome by reaching such a milestone in her life, which was recognised by messages from Queen Elizabeth II, Governor General Quentin Bryce, Premier Barry O'Farrell and her local member Anthony Roberts.

She was born on June 8, 1911, in Narva, Estonia to blacksmith Johannes Sakk and his wife Rosalie Koll.

The middle of three children, she had an older and younger brother (both deceased). Elsa remembers the blacksmith's family lived by a beautiful waterfall.

But when Europe's political unrest turned to war in 1939, her life, like those of all who lived in Estonia at the time, became intertwined with the events of WWII, which determined her destiny.

Estonia had declared itself as neutral, but that was not to be. In 1940, Estonia was occupied by the Red Army and in 1941, by the German Army. The Sakk family survived the turmoil of war-torn Europe but Elsa and her younger brother were never to live in Estonia again.

At the end of the war, while trying to return to Estonia, they made their way to the now partitioned Berlin. They were too late to enter the American sector and ended up in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration refugee camp in the Russian sector.

Just as the iron curtain was descending, Elsa, her father, younger brother and sister-in-law were able to escape from Berlin to Kassel, in American-occupied, west-Germany. Here refugees were able to put their names on lists for transport and resettlement in England, USA, Canada and other little-known countries.

The family put their names on the shortest list they could find - Australia - the most obscure country. In 1948, Elsa arrived in Sydney by British transport ship and was reunited with her younger brother and sister-in-law who had arrived several months earlier.

Elsa began a new life in Australia training as a nurse. She became an Australian citizen in the 1950s and worked in several psychiatric and general hospitals in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Lake Macquarie, where she made many lifelong friends.

She always enjoyed travel and spent her holidays travelling around Australia or the world. Through letters and parcels, she kept in close contact with friends and relatives in Estonia.

In 1977, Elsa retired from nursing at Concord Hospital and moved to her current home in Artarmon.

After the fall of the iron curtain, Estonia reclaimed its independence on August 20, 1991. Two weeks later, Elsa, together with her niece Viva Howell, husband Ian and family travelled to Estonia.

For the first time in 50 years, she could finally visit the town and home of her childhood. It was a fascinating time to visit.

Monuments of national importance that had been buried when the country was invaded were being excavated and restored. Churches that had been abandoned during Soviet rule were actively being restored. Impromptu soapbox political speeches were commonplace on city street corners and in parks.

Elsa continues to live independently in Artarmon and is fiercely independent despite some difficulty in hearing and reduced eyesight.

She is an excellent cook and still makes meals for her niece's family and loves going out to lunch or dinner with friends and family.

by Valerie MacMillan

Courtesy of Gazette August 2011
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Willoughby City Council Logo
Artarmon centenarian ... surrounded by friends and family:
front row, L-R: Josephine Kerr, Elsa Sakk, Peggy Kerr;
back row, L-R: Dianne West, Gabriella May, Valerie McMillan, Judy McColl





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