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Ellen Henderson – Bendigo

Ellen Henderson was 62 when she bought herself a mobile home and a dog and set off from Mandurah in Western Australia, travelling north, around the top of Australia and down to Albury-Wodonga, on the New South Wales/Victoria border.

That was after her second marriage ended in 2009 and it took her 18 months to complete her journey. Her lasting impression has been the huge number of “stunningly beautiful” places that Australia has. She struggles to name a favourite –“there were so many; but I do like places near water, whether that be the ocean, a river or a billabong,” she says.

Born in Mildura and brought up at Robinvale, halfway between Mildura and Swan Hill, Ellen moved to Swan Hill when she was twelve and lived there for forty-five years. She’s seventy now and lives in a retirement village in Bendigo.

“I came to Bendigo in 2013 and the biggest surprise of turning seventy, has been the fact that I go to the gym three times a week. I’m hooked,” she says with a laugh.

“And moving into the retirement village has been fantastic. I love it. I have a three-bedroom house with a double garage, no maintenance worries and a choice of endless activities. And I can lock it all up and leave at any time. There’s great freedom in that.”

Turning 70 certainly hasn’t slowed her down. Ellen is clearly passionate about two things- her Bichon Fris, Georgie (who completed the road trip with her); and her love of patchworking. She discovered the latter during her first husband’s illness.

Many years earlier, she had trained as a home economics teacher and had taught at Swan Hill, where she and her first husband later ran a transport and irrigation business, and she had a florist shop.

“I’ve been fascinated by sewing and sewing machines all my life. I learned to sew as soon as I could reach the treadle of the old 1910 Singer sewing machine that my mother had. It had belonged to my grandmother before that –it had been given to her as a wedding present in 1913; and now it’s mine. It still goes beautifully and does a number of things that my modern machines don’t do.

“I love fabrics. I love textiles. I love texture. I love colour. I love sewing machines. I love making patchwork quilts. But I love giving them away more.”

After her husband passed away in 2001, Ellen remarried and she and her second husband began a road trip around Australia. When they arrived in Mandurah, one hour south of Perth, they found themselves stranded while they waited for computer repairs. But having fallen in love with the place, they bought a house and settled down. It was in Mandurah that Ellen started a patchwork shop.

These days - and dozens of patchwork quilts later – she’s still ‘stitching up a storm.’ She belongs to two patchwork groups that meet regularly; she also works in textile art and hand-dyed fabrics. I addition she makes cards and she has recently turned her hand to machine embroidery. She also volunteers at Court House Crafts in Heathcote, about thirty minutes from her Bendigo home.

It’s a full life and you get the feeling that Ellen is just warming up.

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