For someone who opens a conversation explaining that when he was 7 years old he received 13 “cuts” from Sister Anne at St Laborious Primary School, and that he left school at just over thirteen years of age, Geoffrey Phelps is incredibly upbeat.
An optimism and unbridled energy permeates everything that he says and he basically sees his whole life as one big adventure.
“I probably shouldn’t have smiled after the Sister gave me the strap six times up the second arm. I think it made her mad which lead to another three beltings on the backside.
“I call it a live whipping because the whole thing was conducted over the PA system for the whole school to hear,” he recalls.
Geoffrey says that he loves a challenge which is the secret to keeping young. But his energy levels leave you thinking there must be more and when you dig deeper, there is.
“I did have 5 near death experiences and was anointed 5 times by the priest in hospital when I was a young boy.
“I picked up some melting plastic out of our fireplace at home and some of it landed on my bare foot. It basically melted into my foot and caused severe infection and I ended up with Bright’s disease, which affects the kidneys.
“It all happened while mum was away in hospital having my younger brother.
“She came home to me all puffed up and just wanting to sleep the whole time. As a nurse, she knew straight away I was in trouble and sent for an ambulance.
“I was in an oxygen tent and went blind for 2 weeks. They strapped me to the bed to keep me still and I was only allowed four ounces of water each day. I remember screaming for water often.
“I spent four months in that hospital and things must have been pretty bad because I remember mum getting me a green Malvern Star bike and putting it next to my bed to strengthen my will to live.
“I suppose when you go through something like that, afterwards, you make sure you grab life with both hands. Maybe that’s where my energy comes from,” Geoffrey says.
Geoffrey was a lad about town in Bendigo as a teenager and said that by the time he was fifteen he was a well-known local at the pub. At eighteen, he and 4 mates heard about work in the mines in Kalgoorlie and decided to jump into an HR Holden and head West. By the time they got there, the acquaintance who had promised them all work had left town and Geoffrey found himself sleeping in the grounds of the Cathedral with no work and nowhere to live.
He remembers going to the employment bureau with his mates and tossing a coin to divide the available jobs up between them. He ended up making plates and cups for a crockery company.
Shortly afterwards he became a brick layer but quickly realised it was not going to be a job to see him through to old age so he applied for a job advertised in the newspaper in car sales. He worked at the car dealership for twenty years and eventually become the Managing Director with 111 employees.
“Sister Anne had told me all those years ago that I’d never amount to anything. Sometimes I wish I’d mailed my Group Certificate to her,” Geoffrey says with plenty of truth in jest.
Geoffrey tried to retire at 48 but his wife, Rosemary, who runs her own beautician business, would leave him each morning at the breakfast table wondering what to do with his day.
“I ended up applying for an ad at a Ford car dealership and took the job on the proviso that I would not move into management. I was done with that. I just wanted to help run the business side of the dealership without having to manage people,” he said.
A brief holiday back to Bendigo resulted in the purchase of a block of land and just a few years ago, after more than 40 years in Perth, Geoffrey and Rosemary, who met in Perth when Rosemary was just fifteen, moved into their new home and began a new life in Bendigo.
Geoffrey still does part time work in a car dealership and a bit of work for an old mate in Perth. He also walks an average of 7km each day with his much loved Standard Poodles, plays Bridge, gardens like a demon (“I pruned sixty roses yesterday”) and cooks endlessly for all manner of friends and family.
He thought joining the Forever Young choir would be a good way to connect with new people in Bendigo and he has made some great new friends.
“My wife and others have often said that I have a decent signing voice and singing is definitely good for you, so I joined the choir.
“I love Laura. She is so loving and has great energy. She is extremely dedicated, as is Marg who comes to practice each week to set up morning tea.
“I’m really looking forward to the concert in September and I love singing ‘Forever Young’. You can really let go with it,” he said.
Geoffrey calls himself a Collingwood tragic and it is no accident that he has one black and one white poodle. But this bundle of positive energy is anything but tragic and a fine example of where life can take you if you simply back yourself.