From 17 days to 90 years old, Aileen Esme Davis has lived a life full of adventure and defining experiences, from refusing to “squish a spider” for the future King of England to being given the Medal of the Order of Australia in this year’s Australia Day honours.

Described by songwriter, Henry Edwin Horne, as Sydney’s “arch of wonder,” this Wollondilly resident talks of the Harbour Bridge fondly as an integral part of her family’s history, first crossing the monument at 17 days old at its grand opening.

Held in her mother’s arms, Ms Davis had the privilege of walking across the stricture that her grandfather, William Thomas Brown, helped build as a riveter. 

“He got a job as a riveter, that’s how he fed the family, all the 10 kids,” Ms Davis said.

She walked across the bridge again on its 75th anniversary in 2007, and then to celebrate her 90th birthday, Ms Davis travelled across the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the third time, “with a little bit of support”.

“To come today is incredible, to see the growth of Sydney and to see the old bridge again,” she told Good Morning Macarthur on that day.

“It has a great significance of memory of the family, and I remember things about my grandfather when I look at it.”

For as long as she can remember, Ms Davis has had a love for horses and a strong connection to the animals. This only grew stronger when she spent 6 weeks in England at the age of 20, working at Hunting Stables near Windsor, alongside Horace Smith.

Here she led 4-year-old Princess Anne and 7-year-old Prince (now King) Charles out to activities during their riding lessons.

A core memory from those days is the time where King Charles spotted a spider on the stable fence and asked Ms Davis to “squish it”. Ms Davis, with her love of nature, said no and led the horse and him away from the fence.

Throughout her travels, Ms Davis also made life-long friendships, notably with Sir Edmond Hillary and George Lowe, who climbed Mount Everest.

Her love of horses, soon saw Ms Davis help establish Riding for the Disabled (RDA), alongside Pearl Batchelor, a project close to her heart for the last 50 years, with 38 years as a member of the Wollondilly RDA.

RDA is a volunteer organisation that works to provide assistance for people with disabilities to help gain new experiences and learn new skills.

After being diagnosed with a disability, the project only became dearer to Ms Davis, and she is still a riding member with Wollondilly RDA to date.

As a branch of the RDA, Ms Davis also started Driving for the Disabled, a program that aims to give people in wheelchairs or not able to get on a horse, to experience the horse and cart.

Determined to purchase a cart for wheelchair accessibility, Ms Davis travelled to London to visit the driving association. There she organised the funding for the specially designed carriage. And with Trans Australia Airline jumping onboard to transport the carriage back to Australia with Ms Davis, her vision was coming to life.

It comes as no real surprise that Ms Davis made the Australia Day 2023 Honours List; she is beyond deserving.

“I am so overwhelmed and grateful for the people who nominated me. It was such a shock, and I couldn’t tell anyone till it came out on Australia Day, which was so hard,” she said.

“Once on Facebook I had so many messages, comments and phone calls. I didn’t move from my chair for hours. I was so humbled by the love shared to me. Thank you to everyone who sent me messages.”

Ms Davis is a long time parishioner of St Luke’s Anglican Church, Ms Davis was also a volunteer at the Wollondilly Heritage Centre.

–   Sharon Robertson & Marie Stambe