Jenny Smit is a cat lover, a self-confessed perfectionist and a lady of many talents. Throughout her life she has been dedicated to the care and love of children, both as a mother and a carer of others. Jenny’s kindness and thoughtfulness continues today, through her assistance of residents at Rathdowne Place.
Entering her warm, bright and immaculately presented room, one is immediately at home in Jenny’s presence. She is chatty and engaging, open and honest, and candidly recounts tales of her life, past and present.
Jenny grew up and spent much of her life in Auckland, New Zealand. Her childhood and early teens were difficult years, and she remembers significant feelings of isolation and loneliness during this time. Jenny’s parents separated when she was very young, and she lived alone with her mother until she married Basil at the age of eighteen. The couple soon started a family of their own. Jenny still remembers the importance of those years through pregnancy and when the children were young, and is a quiet lover of the BBC drama series, “Call the Midwife.”
“It’s a lovely and important time, you have to relax and enjoy it as much as possible because you can never go back. Your child is always the most special child.”
Basil had just returned from the war and suffered greatly from his experiences, and so it was left up to Jenny to support them and their five children, Stephen, Ian, Jamie, Michael and Regan. Jenny persevered and obtained her nursing qualifications, including training in maternity and psychiatry. Whilst working in the premature infant unit, Jenny was asked by another nurse at the hospital if she would be able to care for her children during the day. Jenny obliged, and from here a new venture was born. She hired a builder who constructed a childcare centre on their property, and she hired three employees to assist her. Jenny is modest and matter-of-fact about this achievement, and indifferent to any praise:
“I cared for forty hungry pre-school aged children. They asked me for help, and so I helped. I also needed to support our family, and this was a good way to do it.”
Jenny would work at the centre and care for her own children by day, whilst continuing to work at the National Women’s Hospital from 6pm until midnight, six to seven nights per week.
The builder of the childcare centre also happened to be an avid cyclist and was an inspiration particularly to three of Jenny’s boys, Ian, Jamie and Michael. Among them they have won national and international track and road race cycling championships, Commonwealth Games gold medals, and with Jenny’s support, attended the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Jenny is quietly proud of their achievements and counts one of her happiest moments as seeing Ian complete a triathlon. “It was just so lovely watching what he did. Right at the end he bundled his baby niece Danielle up in his arms and ran her across the finish line.”
Jenny and Basil’s marriage ended in her early forties when her children were teenagers. Some time later, Jenny’s friends introduced her to Cornelius (Con), a Dutch businessman, and with that marriage, a new chapter began. Through Con’s work, the two travelled extensively through much of Europe, Japan and Russia, visiting family in the United Kingdom, Holland and the South of France.
“Con bought me my first piece of Lladrό,” Jenny remembers with a gentle smile and a glint in her eye. The highly valued Spanish porcelain became a new love for Jenny, and she expanded her collection throughout her travels, particularly when visiting Valencia.
Due to work circumstances, Jenny and Con moved to Perth with Jenny’s daughter Regan, where she remained living for the next thirty years. Jenny loved living in Perth and reminisces about those years as “my happiest and most settled.” Jenny used her nursing and child care expertise and nannied for much of this time, remembering each child with great fondness. She worked until the age of 76.
Sadly, within a short space of time, both Jenny’s husband Con, and her son Stephen passed away. Jenny decided to move back to New Zealand to be closer to her sons, where she lived in her own home for eight years. There were ups and downs during this time, and after a particularly unhappy period, Jenny decided to leave New Zealand, to once again call Australia home.
Jenny packed all she had into five suitcases and moved back to Melbourne where she stayed with Regan and her husband Sean for seven weeks. Despite their kindness and care, Jenny’s transition wasn’t an easy one, and after a fall and admission to hospital, Jenny had a period of respite at Camberwell Manor. She settled on Rathdowne place as her new home, where she has been ever since.
Jenny is a spritely and vivacious lady, welcoming and caring, and it is these qualities that she has used to settle not only herself, but others into Rathdowne Place. She is a member of a residential committee and enjoys participating in the Thursday discussion meetings. Previously a carer of children, Jenny now cares and advocates for other residents. Jenny helps them make the sometimes difficult transition by helping them to see the benefits of supported care.
“I try to talk it through with them, help them to accept that they just wouldn’t be able to manage at home alone.”
Jenny ventures out as much as she can, enjoying the Queen Victoria Market and other events organised through family and the facility, and plans to remain an active and helpful member of the Rathdowne Place community.