SURPRISE MEETING: The men who share the same birthday, Grant Virtue and Gerald Olivieri, both 90, met recently.
SURPRISE MEETING: The men who share the same birthday, Grant Virtue and Gerald Olivieri, both 90, met recently. Marc Stapelberg

Two 90-year-olds sit down for a chat

ON July 7 in 1928, two boys were born to farming families on the north-eastern outskirts of Lismore. Grant Virtue was born at Bexhill, whilst Gerald Olivieri was born on a property at Woodlawn, near Lismore.

Over the years the boys grew up in close proximity to each other, without knowing the other existed, until a mutual friend introduced them.

Meeting for the first time on Monday, the men discovered they share more than just a birthday, after both lived and worked on the land their entire lives.

Mr Virtue spent his entire life working on a dairy farm while Mr Olivieri spent the majority of his working life as a macadamia grower.

Grant Virtue

Mr Virtue said he still lives in the same farmhouse in which was born, and spent his busy working life balancing his job as a school bus driver alongside working the family dairy farm.

When he was a child, he joined the Lismore Citizens Boys Band, igniting his love of music.

He said, as a teenager, the band used to practice on Friday nights, where the group would march around the streets, before finishing practice outside the Star Court Arcade.

"I always hoped we might have a short sharp shower so I'd have time to go up to Woolworths before 8.30pm to buy a threepence worth of block chocolate," he said.

As part of the band Mr Virtue learned to play the pipe organ, which eventually introduced him to his wife.

"I was sitting on the organ seat one Thursday night waiting for pipe practice to begin when the minister's wife walked in with this lovely tall blonde lady to join the choir, and I married her," he said.

Mr Virtue was instrumental into the creation of Bexhill's famous open air cathedral after a visit to Magnetic Island in Queensland.

"I was exploring the island when I came upon an open air cathedral. I said to myself, 'we must have one of those at Bexhill'," he said.

Gerald Olivieri

Mr Olivieri said being born on a farm had given him a life-long love of the land.

"We came from a farm, and we had done everything that you could to do to keep a kid occupied," he said.

"I learned to milk a cow, I learned to till the land, learned to grow things, I got all of this agricultural knowledge."

On his 14th birthday, he started working at a local garage and worked there for "quite a number of years", before leaving to become a banana grower.

"It was a hard job, but I had done pretty well in the business and then in the 50's I started in the macadamia industry, which was my last job until I retired," he said.

On behalf of a man from Sydney, Mr Olivieri developed a macadamia farm at Victoria Park near Dalwood, and hand-planted more than 18,000 trees.

"We never had any of the mod-cons they have today, it all had to be done by eye," he said.

"Today they have all of those computers telling them what to do, but in those days I marked out each tree line with nothing but a peg and white piece of PCV piping with a 16 metre tape. There was not one tree out of place."

Mr Olivieri said "it was a lot of hard work, but I was used to the land."

"In those days it was hard yakka but agriculture was good for me," he said.

"That was my last job. I'm in retirement now and I mostly just potter around."

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