Approaching his first centenary: Roy Cato
By ALEC SMART
As well as being one of the nicest people in St Ives, Roy Cato, just a few months shy of his centenary, is also among the eldest. Having spent the latter half of his 99 years on the Upper North Shore (37 in Gordon, eight in St Ives), Roy is well known and respected in the district where he still drives (albeit cautiously, on doctor’s advice) and socialises with friends.
Roy Cato has a sharp memory and a mischievous wit. I was treated to one of his jokes about a man with a small hand squeezing drops from a lemon that had already been juiced. When asked how he achieved it, the squeezer revealed he was a taxman.
During World War II he served as an infantryman, then in the military police, which saw him transferred to New Guinea to preside over the Japanese surrender.
“I was in the jungle for two years and four months,” he recalls, “protecting prisoners. We took the Japanese down to Port Moresby military headquarters for interrogation after the infantry brought them in, then returned by plane or small ships.
“There were several surrender points where the infantry brought them in. Most of the prisoners behaved themselves, but the infantry made sure they didn’t have guns before they reached us!
“I was in Wewak in August 1945 for the formal surrender ceremony of the Japanese in New Guinea. The first person I had to handle was a commanding officer, Sergeant Kato – the same name as me but spelt with a K.”
Between 1943 and 1945, Wewak, on the north coast of what is now Papua New Guinea, was the site of a large Japanese airbase and it is still in use today as an international airport. Imperial Japan announced their surrender on 15 Aug 1945; Wewak was the location for the official surrender of Japanese forces in New Guinea on 13 Sept.
Roy proudly shows me his 75th Anniversary Commemorative Medal that arrived recently, honouring him for his service. The medal, issued to WWII Australian military personnel, marks 75 years since the cessation of hostilities.
After he returned to civilian life, Roy resisted the expectation to work in his uncle’s cane furniture factory, where he’d been employed prior to military service, and instead hit the road as a freelance commercial traveller.
Until his retirement and relocation to St Ives in 2003, Roy specialised in retailing women’s and children’s clothing (an unlikely occupation for a former soldier!) in a region that covered south-eastern NSW and ACT.
“I worked between Sydney and Albury,” he says, “travelling west to Hay and east to Bega near the coast, via Canberra. I worked with Vietnamese, Italians – they all trusted me. Being a traveller you have to be versatile and trustworthy.”
Roy reveals he has a close cadre of five female friends with whom he enjoys luncheons and social activities.
“They’re good fun, they’re very talkative and give me advice about food… They’re great friends. We respect each other like brother and sisters. We talk a lot and help each other out.
“I often enjoy morning tea with them because I can’t go to many functions, due to hearing loss.”
Roy was born in June 1921 - what does he attribute his longevity to?
“Golf and swimming! Although I quit golf a few years ago – I find it difficult to walk, so I take my time going down stairs and pace myself…
“But I still swim in the pool every morning with my friend Dianne. She and I started swimming together in 2004, and we used to ride exercise bicycles before we swum.
“Golf is the game that gets you through life. The course is my second home… It takes your mind off troubles. It’s good to start your week with a round of golf, Monday morning, sets your mind at rest.
“And if you have a bad week, play a game of golf, listen to others, you don’t even have to say anything, just listen, and you come back refreshed.”
Roy has been a member of La Perouse Golf Club for 73 years.
“Golf is everything. I’ve played with so many people, of all abilities - most of them doctors, funnily enough! I used to have a have a caddy who was deaf and dumb. He knew the distances and always handed me the right club, I never had to ask why, he always got it right.”
Roy’s philosophy for life: “Be grateful for what you have. I try to help people and bring them out when they’re in trouble, tell them a joke or stories. You have to be compassionate… And talk respectfully to women, don’t take advantage.”