100 years...and all of them in Deni

Jack Allitt with a portrait of his younger self.

There is no one more ‘local’ than Bruce ‘Jack’ Allitt.

Born and bred in Deniliquin, Jack celebrates his 100th birthday this Sunday - a milestone that will be celebrated with more than 80 of his loved ones.

When asked how long he had lived in Deni, with a chuckle he replied, “All my life”.

Jack has lived on the land for most of his life too.

He was born Bruce Douglas Allitt on June 26, 1922 at ‘Camperdown’ - a farm on Hay Rd between Deni and Pretty Pine.

It is where he and his 11 brothers and sisters grew up.

He worked on the family farm and as a contractor, shearing, hay carting and cropping to save money to buy his own farm.

In the end he has three - ‘Glen Brae’, ‘Gotha’ and ‘Jenard’.

Despite liking his real name Bruce much better, the birthday boy is widely known throughout the region as Jack.

The nickname was coined for him as a young boy, and one he has never been able to shake.

His younger brother Alex Allitt, his only surviving sibling, says the nickname came “long before I was about”.

“It’s funny how things stick,” Alex said.

“But Jack has told my wife and I several times that he prefers Bruce.”

Alex said while it can be pretty tough to sum up 100 years, his older brother Jack has lived all of those years of life to the fullest.

“Everyone has always liked Jack - not just his family, but everyone throughout the district,” he said.

“He’s always been a hard working, honest, straight, reliable and decent man.

“He’s lived a good, clean life; never told a lie, but has lived life to the full nonetheless.”

Alex said growing up on the farm, while tough, was a “happy place for us”.

“Jack looked after the farm while the boys went to war,” Alex said.

“We had a big drought here during the war.

“We had another property about five or six miles down the way from ‘Camperdown’, which Jack carted water to everyday to water the sheep.

“A huge task at the time considering what we were working with, but he did that every day.

“It was tough, especially through the depression on the farm, but we always found things to entertain us and had lots of fun.”

A fond memory from growing up was singing songs around the piano with their mother on Sundays.

“No matter what, we would always gather around the piano and sing songs with our mother - Jack and I especially loved that,” Alex said.

In his 100 years of rural living, Jack has seen a number of changes.

He listed growing up with no electricity to having instant power and having no running water, to indoor plumbing.

He also recalls horse drawn farming implements, which have now subsided to GPS guided machinery, and horse drawn wagons being replaced by cars with SAT NAV.

Other big changes in farming include going from hand milking of cows to milking machines, blade shearing of sheep to electric shearing plants and having no telephones to mobile phones.

A huge part of Jack’s life has been his love for horses.

He was also a “very good horseman” in his day, competing at multiple shows including the Melbourne Show and of course the Deniliquin Show in the jump events.

He loves his horses so much that his favourite pair of socks, which he was wearing when the Pastoral Times visited him on Wednesday, is a colourful pair brandishing the animal.

Jack made sure to share that love of horses with his family.

He taught his children - Deb Bowie, Craig and Doug Allitt - how to ride, saddle, bridle, clip, worm, twitch, tie down and transport horses.

Growing up on Glen Brae he also taught them how to ride a bike and quad bike, drive a car and tractor, crack a stock whip, milk a cow, mow the lawn and dance the Pride of Erin and to Waltz.

Deb said their life on the farm was great thanks to their dad, although they did have their mum to thank for teaching them “the important stuff like reading and writing”.

Their mother Jan, nee Caldwell, was from Wagga Wagga and came to Deniliquin as a school teacher in the ‘50s.

The pair met at a dance, and Jan never left.

While she lived in Deniliquin she taught at a number of local schools including Edward School, Mayrung and South School.

Jack has donned many hats in his time working the land, including but not limited to, a shearer, tractor driver, fencer, truck driver, pig farmer, dairy farmer, sheep dog trainer, crutcher, colt castrater, cat castrater, horse dentist, farrier, chaff cutter, hay baler, butcher (just his own sheep), trotting driver, show jumper, flag racer, gentleman rider, harmonica player, sandwich maker and dancer.

Even at the ripe age of 100, Jack is still getting out and about on the farm.

“He still runs around on the tractor,” grandson John Bowie said.

“He had his licence until he was 97 - until they took it off him, which he didn’t like too much.”

Jack credits his long and full life to hard work, no alcohol, no cigarettes, good food and plenty of exercise.

His age has not stopped him from keeping his body moving.

Since retiring, he has kept up his exercise through old time dancing and attending gym sessions with Barb Anderson at Active8.

Jack has three grandchildren - Anna and John Bowie and Holly Allitt.

He is also a special uncle to almost 50 nieces and nephews.

Mr Allitt and all his loved ones will gather at the Crossing Cafe this Sunday to celebrate his 100th birthday.

Edward River Council Mayor Peta Betts will be a special guest, and will present Jack with his letter from the Queen.

He will also receive messages from Governor of NSW Margaret Beasly, Governor General David Hurley, speaker for the NSW Legislative Assembly Jonathen O’Dea, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, Member for Farrer Susan Ley and Member for Murray Helen Dalton.

Jack Allitt and his wife Jan Caldwell on their wedding day in 1961.
Jack Allitt with his grandson John Bowie and daughter Deb Bowie.