Dapto great grandmother Linda Mere, 105, says the secret to a long life is no smoking, no alcohol and eating fresh produce organically grown in her backyard.
The Estonian immigrant celebrated her birthday on Thursday with four generations of family and proudly showed off cards from the Australian Governor-General and Queen Elizabeth II.
Getting a massage makes her happy, while listening to Elvis Presley’s music and dressing up for functions at the Estonian Society are some of the big indulgences for Mrs Mere.
The centenarian has lived in the region since 1950 and recalled visiting Dapto Leagues Club when it first opened when there was “only one pokie machine”.
Mrs Mere was born and raised in Pikajarve in Estonia and forced to flee to Germany when the Russians invaded in World War II.
When the opportunity arose to migrate to Australia in 1948, she happily accepted.
She stayed at the Uranquinty refugee camp near Wagga Wagga before relocating to Dapto.
According to 2016 Census data, Mrs Mere is part of an elite club: one of just 42 Illawarra residents (two of them men) aged 100 or older as of last June.
In Dapto 2.8 per cent of residents (303) were over the age of 85, while 413 households speak a language other than English at home. For the Illawarra, households who speak another language accounted for 17.7 per cent last June.
The Australia-wide club of centenarians consisted of 192 men and 853 women as of June 2016, 90 people less than in 2011.
Though in 1971 there was a mere 15 men and 51 women older than a century.
The 1981 Census was the first to count more women than men in Australia.
Women have continued to outnumber men since, making up 51 per cent of the population in 2016 – on trend with Illawarra figures.
While the greying of the region continues with Census figures revealing the population living between Helensburgh and Gerringong grew by 6.3 per cent – or 17,511 residents, to 293,494 – in the past five years.
The median age rose from 38 to 39, in line with the rest of the country.
As the baby-boomer generation matures, we fine more than 30 per cent of Illawarra residents are over 55, compared to 27 per cent five years ago.
This collates to one in six Aussies being over the age of 65m compared to one in seven in 2011 and one in 25 in 1911.
Just under three quarters (74.3 per cent) of Illawarra residents were born in Australia, down from 75.1 per cent in 2011, and two in five residents (40.8 per cent) had at least one parent born overseas.