When Iris Lancaster was born in a dirt-floored house in Wyee in 1935, the midwife told her mother that she should take her new baby home and get ready to bury her, as the prospects for her survival were slim.
But with a determination and resilience which characterized her entire life, Iris survived and outlived all of her other seven siblings before passing away in 2019 at the age of 83.
It was a resilience which ran in the family. On both sides, Iris’s forbears were from free settler stock who had opened up the Central Coast region of NSW.
On her mother’s side, the surname MacDonald is remembered in the MacDonald River, part of the Hawkesbury catchment.
On her father’s side, the Lancasters were tree cutters and sawmillers who, at one point, had a private railway to transport their timber to barges for eventual use as sleepers in the main railway line.
This early prosperity, however, ended in the depression of the late 1890s and the family lost most of their wealth, but stayed in the area.
Iris had a turbulent life as a teenager, and found herself in the early 1950s at a Salvation Army hostel in Newcastle.
Soon after, she met Kevin Harris – known as “Snow” – a truckdriver. Although they shared two sons – Mark (1960) and Leigh (1963) – the two ceased to live together soon afterwards, even though they remained in contact and were friendly.
Later, when Snow succumbed to MND in the 1980s, he moved back in with Iris who nursed him for a time.
The two were never formally divorced, even though Snow had a daughter from another relationship, who was embraced as one of the – extended – family. Epitomising this attitude of inclusion, Iris would babysit Snow’s daughter, and also the young son of his new partner.
As a single mother of two boys without regular financial support from Snow, however, Iris faced challenges.
She moved back in with her parents, but eventually scored a housing commission home at Wyong, a two bedroom cottage for herself and her young sons.
At this time she worked as a cleaner at the Wyong Grove Primary School, a job she enjoyed as she was embraced by the local school community.
Iris was generous within her means, and when her son Leigh was living hand to mouth in Europe would regularly send him part of her pension money, so that he could get by.
Still caring for Snow, she asked Leigh to find a MND expert in London who might help, as the condition was relatively unknown in Australia at that time.
Iris was determined, and was not one to complain. She didn’t suffer fools, and couldn’t put up with “stupid people”.
She loved netball, both as a player and later as a coach, and participated in the annual “Netball March” which was a feature of Central Coast life at the beginning of each netball season.
With her great friends Margaret and Penny she enjoyed outings and excursions around the local area and to regional centres.
Iris wasn’t a drinker, although in later life she did enjoy a “midi” of beer at the pub, and when pressed would occasionally have a second.
After she had a stroke, she lived with her son Mark in a house he had purchased from Snow’s family.
She is buried in the pioneer’s section of the cemetery at Yarramalong, with a view down the Valley and over the region where she, and her relatives, lived and worked all of their lives.