The Duchess of Dubbo has turned 100 and she has a message for you all: "Hooroo!"
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If you have ever listened to ABC Nightlife and Overnights radio programs, you might be familiar with Emily Lyons, or - as she is known affectionately by her fans - the Duchess.
She doesn't know why she has been nicknamed as such because, as she told the Daily Liberal, "I'm not a duchess!"
"It turned out all the people christened me The Duchess of Dubbo - I was so popular ... then it stuck with me, ever since ..." she said.
Ms Lyons has led a fascinating life and entertained thousands of people around the country - and even overseas - with her tales of her early life as a circus performer, and then a stint in Western Australia as a cook when she "couldn't even cook".
She called up the late-night radio programs for years, sometimes participating in the nightly quiz - for which she reportedly never got an answer correct, but always told a cracking yarn.
"People started sending cards to me from all over the world, how they listened," she said.
She made connections with listeners and a loyal fan base - some of whom sent her cards, letters and gifts for her 100th birthday, which she celebrated at a nursing home in Wellington, NSW on Monday, September 18.
Ms Lyons is also known as 'Tookens', a nickname she acquired as a child performing in the famous Lennon Bros Circus, which travelled around Australia.
She said the nickname came about because she was always nicking things and the other kids used to say: "She tooken it!"
Ms Lyons told the Daily Liberal her heritage is Native American - Navajo and Sioux - and Spanish, and her grandmother was deported to Australia after being accused of witchcraft.
"My grandmother started telling fortunes in California. Her mother gave her a pack of cards and they were real fortune telling cards," Ms Lyons said.
After being trialled in a Californian court, her grandmother was sent to an internment camp in Carlton, Victoria.
Ms Lyons was born in Victoria when her mother was only 14 years old and she was raised by her grandmother, then placed into the Lennon Bros Circus when she was about five years old, with her little brother Leeroy.
"Fred Lennon used to train me [to do back flips] ... he would hold my back, and toss me back over backwards," she said.
"So that's how I had to learn to do back flips and front flips, and bending back and bending down, and doing a hanky up on my ankle.
"I was very little and that, and by the time I was nine, I was doing very strenuous acrobatics up on four men's shoulders."
Food was hard to come by, and Ms Lyons got into the habit of stealing sweets and peanuts from the snacks tray which were meant for customers - sweets for herself and peanuts for her monkey. On one occasion, she ate all the Minties out of their wrappers and replaced the sweets with stones.
Ms Lyons had a pony, named Taffy, who she would always sleep curled up with under a tree as the circus travelled around.
During the Great Depression, the children were asked to approach cattle stations and trade food for free tickets to the circus.
"I was sent up to this great big place ... [but] I did not know how you opened the door because I was never used to doors," she said.
She finally worked out how to turn the big door knob and let herself into the homestead, then walked down the hallway into the kitchen, where a great hunk of mutton sat on the bench.
"I picked it up ... it was cold ... and I'm standing there with this great big leg of meat. I was only little, about eight, and I'm standing there and I'm eating it like a dog, got both my hands on each side of it," she said.
She was caught - but the lady of the house didn't scold her.
"They gently put the meat on the table, then ... cut some meat off and put it on a plate and it was just me up at the table, and there was a lovely big piece of bread and jam, and a big glass of milk and they fed me," she recalled.
The family who lived there offered to take her for a day out in town, they brushed her long black hair and put her in a pretty dress, and bought her dolls and a tea set.
Ms Lyons said she began living in care after an accident at a level crossing. She was bright and chatty when the Daily Liberal spoke with her, and used her two mobile phones to take and receive calls with her trademark husky voice.
IN OTHER NEWS
What's the secret to living to 100, we asked?
"I have a very strong constitution. I am a very determined person. If I want to do something, I do it," she said.
"I've even tried to get water once running up a hill. I gave up in the end because I couldn't get the water to run up the hill. I've been like that ever since."
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