Farewell world’s oldest blogger

The world’s oldest blogger, Australian Olive Riley, continues to attract huge international attention almost two weeks after her death.

In the days after her death on July 12, aged 108, her blog crashed because of the huge volume of traffic.

More than 200 messages of condolence had to be placed on a proxy blog by her friend Eric Shackle, 90, who still works as a freelance journalist. The proxy blog is here.

A woman from Iran says she found out about Olive from an Iranian newspaper. From Portugal came this note: “All bloggers from Portugal and Brazil already know her history.” Barbara in Paris said: “I salute this incredible lady”. Shaan Jadhav offered condolences from Pune in India. CNN ran an online obituary, as did countless international newspapers.

Olive’s writing has always attracted attention. On one day in January this year the blog had 350,000 visitors. To put that into context, that is more traffic than some newspaper sites.

Mike Rubbo said Olive had become a “media sensation” in the past year. She appeared in 93 YouTube videos, reminiscing about living through two world wars and raising three children alone while working as a cook and barmaid. In the days after her death the number of visits to the videos doubled to 20,000 a day.

In 2005 Rubbo was researching a documentary on why so many people lived to be 100. Rubbo, 69, is a former head of ABC documentaries who has won scores of awards.

He said he had met 30 other centenarians before he encountered Olive. None “came close to Olive” in terms of their enthusiasm for life, he said. Olive was born in Broken Hill in 1899.

Rubbo’s documentary, The Life of Riley, screened on ABC TV in 2006 and was repeated a year later. His moving eulogy to Olive can be read on her blog. “She was such a standout talent, so touching and funny and such a great story teller,” he said.

“If a woman who left school in 1914 can embrace the Internet in her 106th year, what is there you can’t do,” Rubbo asked rhetorically. “She made you think you could do anything, and I’m grateful for knowing her.”

Eric Shackle met Olive at her Woy Woy nursing home on the NSW central coast while visiting his wife. He said Olive had a fine memory and “an amazing zest for life”.

“Just two weeks ago, she recalled the words of a song that was popular before World War II, and sang the chorus with me.”

Olive Riley averaged about one post a week to her blog since early last year. In her final post, dated June 26, Olive wrote how she felt weak and “can’t shake off that bad cough”.

But she wrote of singing a “happy song, as I do every day” with a visitor to the nursing home. Before long, she said, several nurses sang along too. “It was quite a concert!

“Eric read a whole swag of email messages and comments from my Internet friends today, and I was so pleased to hear from you. Thank you, one and all.”

* Published in The Age July 2008 to mark the death of the world’s oldest blogger, July 2008.

Categories: memoir, Not home

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