ISOBEL Mary Johnstone was not supposed to make it through her first night on Earth... 103 years ago.
The mother of 12 children was born at Kilmore weighing barely half a kilogram and with a hole in her heart.
Her mother was told she would not last the night.
“Her mother put her in a shoe box and prayed over her,” says Mrs Johnstone’s son, Terry.
“The hole in her heart healed and Mum has lived to 103.”
Mrs Johnstone survived an electrocution from a washing machine, bowel cancer and a difficult birth where she said she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary.
On Saturday she sat wrapped in a fur shawl with an emerald brooch, a “crown” on her head, a birthday cake on her lap and almost 100 family members around her at the Beechworth Health Service.
Adelaide-based Terry and his sister, Patsy Carey, of Beechworth, said their mother is a strong and generous woman.
“She’d go without to give,” Mrs Carey said.
She married rabbit trapper Harold Johnstone, who, at 58, drowned in the Murray River.
The pair had travelled across North East Victoria catching rabbits.
“Whenever they ran out of rabbits, they’d move on,” Terry said.
She made do sleeping on hard floors, covering cracks in sheds with wallpaper, flour and water.
And she knew more than one way to cook a rabbit.
“It’d be ‘What’s for breakfast mum?’, ‘Rabbit’. ‘What’s for tea Mum?’, ‘Rabbit’,” Terry said.
He said his mother would bake rabbit, curry rabbit, turn rabbit into a meatloaf and cook jugged hare — where a hare would be buried in the ground for a week until its fur came off.
“I still love rabbit,” Terry said.
Mrs Johnstone prays every day.
She has a special affiliation with the Virgin Mary.
“She’s seen her once, she reckons, when she was passing my sister,” Terry said.
Speaking of a difficult birth, Terry said his mother had heard beautiful music, saw green grass and Mary standing with her arms open, before she regained consciousness and gave birth.
Mrs Johnstone, who is now hard of hearing, but sound of mind, gave her children life advice that has stuck with them.
“Be kind to one another and don’t have anything bad to say about a person,” Patsy said.
“And no matter how bad you are there are always (people) worse-off.”
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