By Richard Bruinsma
When Woombye “Nan”, Ena Etherton, first married her sweetheart Noel midway through World War II in March 1942, the newlyweds had no idea just how fruitful their long and happy marriage would be.
Today, around 73 years later, the couple’s union is feeling the blessings of their six children, a staggering 23 grandchildren and, wait for it, a whopping 29 GREAT grandchildren.
Sadly, Noel passed away in January 2013, but his legacy of a large, happy and healthy family continues.
Henry Burns, at just four weeks old, is the newest addition to the clan.
At 93, she’s a woman of few words, but Nan said having little Henry, along with the rest of the many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, is “pretty good”.
As you can imagine, along with the partners of the descendants, family gatherings are a huge event.
But it almost didn’t eventuate.
With World War II underway, Noel was a member of the Light Horse Brigade stationed in West Australia, and it was only the morning of the wedding that his bride-to-be got word that he would actually get the leave needed to make it to the ceremony.
But he did and, as they say, the rest is history.
“They gave him four days leave, and that was our honeymoon; then he went back to camp,” Nan Etherton said, surrounded by generations of family members at her rural Woombye home.
“I was lucky to have any children, that was 1942 and pop (Noel) went off to war.”
They were challenging times in the world, and Noel was away on duty for all of Ena’s first pregnancy. In fact, he didn’t meet his firstborn, Edward, until the little boy was 18 months old.
The couple made their home on a dairy farm in country Victoria, while Nan also worked at the local telephone exchange.
They eventually moved to Woombye in 1966.
Nan is still very much active and involved in the family. She returned recently with other family members from a cruise to Vanuatu – her 69th cruise – which even included swimming in a rock pool with a sea turtle.
Baby Henry is a 5th generation Woombye local, a descendant through the network of marriages, of Daniel Willersdorf, who ran the first Woombye bakery in the late 1800s.
But as the matriarch of the growing family, Nan has a not-so-subtle message for her descendants – that 29 is not quite enough.
“So I’ve got to get one more to get the 30, so get cracking,” she tells them with a cheeky smile.
Caption: Woombye’s “Nan” Ena Etherton surrounded by seven of her 29 great-grandchildren. Behind the couch are Lara Willersdorf and Sam Burns. Sitting on the couch are Indi Preston, Nan holding the latest addition four-week-old Henry Burns, and Tasha Willersdorf. And front row, Poppy and Jack Burns.