In her 97th year, Mrs Helen Sandow could be forgiven for not believing what she was reading in an email sent “out of the blue”.
It said she was to receive the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the community and she had to ask a family member to ensure it wasn’t a scam.
“When I first saw it I felt quite funny…it was the shock I think! Then I had a few tears of course,” Helen said.
Born in Cockatoo Valley, Helen married husband Bill and moved to a property just outside of Peterborough where they worked a farm and raised five children.
“Bill was on the District Council of Peterborough for about 14-15 years or so,” said Helen.
“And when he died they asked me to go on in his place so I continued on. I was the first and only woman that time before an amalgamation and I was on Council for about twenty years.”
Helen didn’t feel she was a trailblazer at the time because for her, being the Morgan Ward representative on Council provided solace in her time of grief.
“Being on Council was great,” she said.
“I think it kept me sane, that’s when I started to do things.”
Helen represented Council on the hospital board and was chairman of the ambulance board; was president of the primary school welfare club and instrumental in establishing the local aged care facility. She also became treasurer of the RSL Women’s Auxiliary.
“And because I had moved into the township then, I thought now I can do Meals On Wheels and join the Red Cross. I kept busy so I really didn’t have time to think too hard,” Helen said.
Her love of sport also took hold and she held the position of executive committee member for both the bowling and golf clubs in Peterborough.
“I was the first secretary of the Mid North Golf Association when it was founded in 1961,” she recalled.
In 2005, Helen decided to move to Nuriootpa where she has lived ever since.
“I wanted to be close to family and I wanted to be somewhere where there is a nice golf course!”
Helen admits to being a little obsessed with the sport as a member of the Barossa Valley Golf Club.
“It’s a disease I’ve got!” she laughed, saying she’s been close to a hole-in-one twice but is yet to achieve one.
Continuing to serve the community in her new hometown, in 2018 Helen was presented with an Australian Red Cross 40 year service award.
She’s a foundation member of Peterborough Probus and now serves in Barossa District Ladies’ Probus Club where she is a past secretary. She was also treasurer of Nuriootpa RSL Legacy Widows from 2007 until 2020 when it folded.
Helen has only just retired from volunteering with Meals on Wheels after 30 years because it “interfered with my Bridge!”
“I just love Bridge, I play in Tanunda,” Helen said.
It’s clear the 96 year old grandmother of ten and “about 14 great-grandchildren at last count” has a competitive streak.
She transferred to Nuriootpa Bowling Club as soon as she moved and has a number of premierships to her name.
“I suppose I am a bit of a sporty person,” Helen said.
“I’ve had a fairly active life, I don’t think I’m all that active now… I’m getting very slow these days!”
It’s the reason she’s decided to step back a little from lawn bowls, although she has entered an upcoming tournament, fills in for others and still plays bridge and golf.
“I don’t say I’m good at it, but I enjoy it!”
Although Helen hadn’t planned anything for Australia Day, she was eager to see what would happen.
“It is exciting, I’ve been counting down the days!” she said in the lead up to the big day.
“I’m just wondering if the phone will run hot! I suppose they’ll all find out when The Leader comes out won’t they!”