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From WWII to Parkinson's: staying strong

THROUGH IT ALL: Rachel Van Clooster learned perseverance in her travels through Belgium, Africa and settling down in Monto.
THROUGH IT ALL: Rachel Van Clooster learned perseverance in her travels through Belgium, Africa and settling down in Monto. Jack Lawrie

AT 91 years of age, Rachel Van Clooster looks back on life feeling as if she can finally put her feet up.

Born in Belgium of December 1926, Mrs Van Clooster's early life took her through a tumultuous time in the world's history.

She was a schoolgirl through World War II. The war prevented her from going to school past the age of 12.

Then at the age of 26, her marriage to a cotton farmer took her to Africa, in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but was at the time a Belgian colony.

During that time, Rachel's husband worked on the land planting and harvesting cotton and peanuts.

The family was forced to return to Belgium following the independence movement in the Congo in 1960, shortly after the birth of their first child, Monica.

Having grown used to the warmer climate of Africa, they opted instead to start a new life in Australia.

"We had a bit of cash left over and it was easy to get a visa to come to Australia,” Rachel said.

"We came to Melbourne by boat and took a caravan. I was looking after my two little kids (Monica and baby Paul) and couldn't speak one word of English.”

It was while travelling to a property up in North Queensland they passed through Monto, where they bought a pair of dairy properties.

"Everything was so green back then, so we made an offer for two dairy farms, for twenty thousand pounds,” Rachel said.

"We wanted to improve it and sell it, but we stayed and bought more land, and we're still here after 55 years.”

Rachel lived and worked on the farm right up past the death of her husband six years ago.

She eventually settled down and moved into Ridgehaven nine months ago, shortly after her 90th birthday.

Rachel became afflicted with Parkinson's Disease in her 70s, and while she worked through it for many years, eventually she had to stop.

"You always think you're going to improve,” she said.

"I take medicine for it, four tablets a day and it works really well, but my balance isn't good.”

These days, Rachel occupies her time reading and brushing up on her English.

She is proud that her family's legacy lives on through her children, Monica and Paul, who look after the properties she and her husband bought.

Topics:  africa belgium congo monto over 50s rachel van clooster


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