‘I refuse to dress like an old lady’: Centenarian Olympia’s tips for ageing well

Important points
  • Olympia Suleiman celebrated her 100th birthday with family and friends.
  • Positive thinking and engagement are the secrets to a happy old age, she says.
  • She emigrated to Australia from Lebanon in 1970.
Ms. Suleiman told SBS Arabic24 that by using this technique, she was actually only 50 years old in her mind.
After outliving her two sons and husband, she said her memories are a way to connect with the past, particularly her childhood in Diman, Lebanon.
She celebrated her milestone birthday with friends and family at the Kingsgrove Community Center in Sydney alongside NSW Minister for Senior Citizens and Multiculturalism Mark Coure, who stopped by to present a special certificate.

Ms Suleiman says she is also eagerly awaiting a birthday card from King Charles III.

Ms Suleiman’s birthday came shortly after the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced that Australia’s life expectancy was now the third highest in the world.
The ABS data show that life expectancy at birth is now 85.4 years for women and 81.3 years for men.

The combined male and female figure is 84.32 years, putting Australia behind only the Principality of Monaco and Japan, according to global data from the United Nations.


Olympia Suleiman with her certificate of congratulations presented to her by NSW Minister for Senior Citizens and Multiculturalism Mark Coure. Source: delivered

Ms Suleiman says her son Hamid was the first to emigrate to Australia in 1966, after which her husband Merchid decided to visit him to check on his situation.

After a year, he sent Ms. Suleiman a message to apply for immigration to Australia and pack her things for the move.
Ms Suleiman said she and the couple’s other son and three daughters arrived in Australia on August 10, 1970.

The family settled in Marrickville for 25 years before the couple moved back to Punchbowl after their children all married and left home.


Olympia Suleiman with friends and family on her 100th birthday. Source: delivered

Speaking of life in Australia in the 1970s, Ms Suleiman said: “There weren’t that many people and $20 was enough to buy groceries for the family for a week.”

She said she continued to bake her own bread and hand wash the family’s clothes because she didn’t want to buy a washing machine until the house was paid off.


Olympia Suleyman, 100.

Ms. Suleiman said, “I raised my children the same way I did. I taught them to love and not forget their motherland, Lebanon, and at the same time to love Australia because it is the country that adopted us. It is a country for rich and poor alike.”


Olympia Suleiman in conversation with SBS Arabic24.

Ms Suleiman says she survived breast cancer, as well as the deaths of her husband and two sons, by staying positive.

She said she refuses to wear “old lady clothes” or use a walking stick.

She says she focuses on being there for her 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren and regularly makes tabbouleh, fattoush and stuffed kibbeh for sharing. She also loves to grow her own herbs in her garden.


Ms. Suleiman celebrates her 100th birthday with her friends. Source: delivered

Ms. Suleiman said, “I have no regrets in my life. I don’t think I did anything wrong but one dream I couldn’t fulfill was to work in Australia because my husband refused to give me a job.”


You can listen to this interview in full in the audio recording attached at the top of the page.

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