At more than 40 years older than the average life expectancy age for Aboriginal men (67), Richie could be the oldest Aboriginal person in Australia.
His longevity hasn’t gone unnoticed. This week, he’s been recognized by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Queen on reaching the universal milestone.
Ms Owens has been her dad’s carer for the past 20 years in her family’s Townsville home. She says his records show birthday to be the 7th of June 1916, but that’s not his actual date of birth.
“[It’s] not known because of the fear of being stolen. Being a half-caste child, the old ladies [his mother and grandmother] didn’t want him to be taken, so they didn’t register his birth because they feared he might be taken away,” Ms Owens explains.
Richie was born on Magoura Station, 18 miles from Normanton. His mum was Aboriginal and his dad was the white bookeeper on the cattle station.
When Richie married Tessie’s mother in 1937, the registering policeman needed a birth date for him. He didn’t have one, so he made it up – June 7, 1916, but Richie always told his family he was much older.
“We asked him, ‘how can you be sure that you’re older than what they’re saying?’ He said, ‘because I distinctly remember the year 1920 and I was a big boy. I was helping the musterers bring the cattle into the yard,” Ms Owens says.
Ms Owens says her father always told them stories about World War I. He recalls being a kid running around, watching the planes fly over. These accounts would make Richie between 110 and 112.
A hardworking family man
Ms Owens grew up as one of 7 kids from her mother and Richie.
“I’m the youngest; I’m turning 66 this year. There’s now just the 3 of us: myself, my sister June is 77 years [old] and my brother Jack is 76,” she adds.
“When I think of my dad, I think of someone who was a strong hardworking man, who did all he could. My mum died when I was 3, and Dad made sure he kept his family together.”
Richie has between 150 and 200 grand and great grandchildren over 5 generations. His eldest daughters Dulcie and June Richardson both had large families (11 and 13 children) and most of those children have children. The majority of the family still lives in Normanton and throughout Far North Queensland.
“Dad’s at home with me. When he was in hospital sick last month, the doctors had a talk to me and I had to ask dad, ‘if anything happens to you, where do you want to go to, the palliative care ward or home?’ He said he wanted to be home with family,” Ms Owens says.
“What really touches me is the hard life that he’s had, but the strength he had behind him.”
In 1954, Richie was mustering somewhere between Normanton and Croydon when his wife went into labor. The baby was born in Croydon, but died. The matron reported that her mum was okay, however when she found out the baby had died, she died too. Ms Owens was 3 years old at the time.
When Richie got the news, he had to wait until the following morning to take the cattle back and get permission to go see his wife. Sadly, there wasn’t a cold room in Croydon in those days, so when Richie got there, his partner and the baby had already been buried for a week.
“He did his best. He worked hard and he looked after all of us kids. I was really proud and that’s something that really touches my heart about my dad.”
Richie gave up working as a stockman at the age of 80, and went into horse racing.
“He took a trip to New Zealand to buy some horses with some friends. He was an owner and trainer and my other brother Jack Richardson was a professional jockey in the (Atherton) Tablelands, Mount Isa and Julia Creek,” Ms Owen explains.
“He was wanted by racehorse trainers down in Brisbane, but he wouldn’t leave home to go and live in the big city.”
Despite being bedridden now, Richie still enjoys a conversation and spending time with his grannies.