Betty Oxley, 74, and I bonded over a love of Anne of Green Gables in a fruit shop recently, so she invited me into her home – an unassuming cottage on Mount Tamborine with a menagerie of animals and soft toys to keep her company – to show me her book collection. "I'm glad I'm not the only one," she confides, after I share that my personal library, too, consumes a whole room.
Betty takes me to her bedroom where we find the entire Billabong series by Australian author Mary "Minnie" Grant Bruce, whose stories were quintessentially, and proudly, Australian. I also spot Mrs Pepperpot in the Magic Wood, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Enid Blyton's The Adventurous Four series and the Green Gables books.
Like many writers I've come across, Betty experienced debilitating illness when she was young. "My esophagus was narrow; the doctor's said I wouldn't live past 21," she said. "And I've just turned 74."
Betty showed me around her cosy little home, where she's lived since she was married in her late 20s, and shared cupboards full of scrapbooks in which she's written and half-written numerous fairie stories in the hope that one day her scribblings will be discovered and perhaps published. "I've got a gift, I know I've got a gift, and it just seems a shame that I can't get anywhere with it."
Writerly frustrations aside, Betty also had to cope with her husband sending notice that he wanted a divorce after 27 years of marriage. "He decided he didn't want me anymore," she said. "He went down to Sydney to get work. He didn't have a good upbringing."
Telling me, "I'm not going to sit around and cry", Betty has coped with the loneliness by throwing herself into daily tasks, such as tending her vegetable gardening, cooking on her sturdy old stove and feeding the chooks, as well as her reading and writing, and also volunteers at the Presbyterian Church Bargain Centre on Fridays.
She attends local theatre productions (she's off to see Alice in Wonderland the weekend after we talk) and the ballet school's annual concert, though she slipped away early this year to catch Anne of Green Gables on the television. "I love the sense of humour," she says of L. M. Montgomery's writing.
Betty has two children, one who lives in the States, and three grandchildren. Sadly, a fourth gandchild passed away last year, meaning this Christmas will be particularly hard for the family.
"You never really get over something like that," she says. "I think he had glandular fever and heart problems, and he lived to be just over nine years old. He died in my son's arms, which is very sad. He was a lovely little boy. He had such dreadful health. They were trying to get a heart transplant."
Excited about the royal wedding? "Ah, yes." But the only magazine Betty regularly reads is The People's Friend, published in Scotland, because, "I've been getting it for years; it's got a bit of everything."
Perhaps Betty has used her fairie stories to escape the realities of life's hardships, to escape the feelings of isolation; what's for sure, they've kept her young, a girl, at heart. This tiny, nimble lady is a bright spark and showed me that even at 74 you don't stop dreaming. Bless you, Betty.
Girl With a Satchel