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Our rare treasure is 90

Emma Freeman is turning 90 and is bright as a button.
Emma Freeman is turning 90 and is bright as a button. Darryn Smith

NOOSA'S living treasure Emma Freeman turns 90 years old this month.

The woman, whose artistic vision of older women polarised Noosa opinion in the late 80s, is as passionate, joyful and sincere as ever.

Emma recalls the controversial reaction to her art show featuring older women, some naked, at Noosa Regional Gallery as filling the letters to the editor pages for a full month.

"The young ones loved it, the old ones loved it - but the middle-aged group hated it," Emma recalls.

"Some people shunned me, but I had older women come and hold my hands and kiss them and say 'thanks for noticing me'."

As Emma is speaking to me, a burst of birdsong nearly drowns out her still youthful voice and a gentle patter of rain falls down on her lush, native garden.

Here is an idyllic scene; Emma Freeman, conservationist, artist, author and playwright relaxing in her big red cane chair on her Noosa Heads veranda overlooking a garden dotted with prayer flags and Buddha statues.

"Listen to that," Emma said.

She takes the moment for quick review of time: "I adore life," she said.

"But I'm still ready to go."

Of course she is: Emma has a Buddhist understanding of impermanence and as a daily meditator leads a rich spiritual life.

But along with her spiritual practice she is compelled to express her imaginative soul.

"I'm only for good for one thing," Emma said.

"And that's being creative."

As young nurse Emma visited Hastings St in the 1950s, she met her husband Kevin there and remained living in the street for another ten years.

Four children later and after a couple moves in the area, she settled into her Noosa Hill home in 1990.

It's here she completed her 2003 book 'Hastings Street, stories from Noosa's past," - a story of her life between the 1950s and 70s in Noosa.

Her home is evidence of her cultural life; framed artworks of her own and friends on the walls, a piano and plenty of books.

The study's wall features an early artwork by eminent Cooroy artist Lisa Adam, it shares the space with a black and white photo of her dear friend, author and conservationist Nancy Cato.

Noosa has remembered the famous author and activist with the eponymously named Noosa Sound Park. In Hastings St, Sheraton Noosa has also named their restaurant after her.

A big white scribbly gum in Emma's backyard is an appropriate reminder of her dear friend.

"Nancy gave me that as housewarming gift," she said.

She shows the tree's original size with a stretch of her thumb and forefinger.

Emma holds great memories of activism with her friends.

"We were protesters," she said. "We believed in the environment and we believed in social justice."

"If there was the slightest sound of a chainsaw, we were there," she said.

'We' includes her past great friends - Marjorie Harrold, and Alice Tainsh.

"When they went to cut down trees in front of the surf club I was there with my baby, Marjorie Harrold was there with her dog and we all lined up and saved the trees," she recalled.

"Some of the trees went, but we saved a lot of them."

She smiles too, when she recalls her husband Kevin preventing a tree clearing by lying down in front of a bulldozer.

"He would just lie down with his hands behind his head right under the front wheel."

Emma sees the culture of '60s and '70s as consciousness changing times and believes the wheel may well have turned full circle and a similar time could re-commence.

In her usual upbeat manner, she can look back over earlier times and say that life is better now.

"People used to have to work so hard, healthcare is better and people are kinder," she said.

"But I was a little girl in the Depression and I remember people were very kind to each other then."

Perhaps it's her home-made organic moisturisers and ointments that show how she has so successfully blended old with new.

She takes a jar of her cucumber cold creme from the fridge and lets me try it.

The cool cucumber scent hits me and I rub a little into my hand. It's fantastic.

And so it is that Emma has shaped her view of her beloved Noosa.

"I see it like a child," she said.

"It might have gone a bit astray along the way - but you still love it."

Topics:  emma freeman, noosa regional gallery


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