October 1 marks the International Day of Older Persons and this year’s theme is ‘The Resilience and Contributions of Older Women’.
To celebrate this day, we teamed up with the Wolkara Elders Group, as well as Constance Thurley-Hart and Gillian Anderson of our National Heritage Archives, to showcase older Red Cross women and clients – both past and present.
While their stories are unique, they are also bound by a common thread: the importance of having purpose, social connection and resilience at any age.
Last week, Aunty Robyne Jones competed for an Olympic medal. Admittedly, it was the Elders Olympics, however, the competition was just as intense as the real thing.
Aunty Robyne is one of 17 or so members of the Wolkara Elders Group based in Lalor Park, a suburb of Blacktown in Sydney. Four are in nursing homes and many have mobility issues. Each week they enjoy outings and other social activities with Senior Social Support Officer Debra Hansel and Red Cross volunteer Lydia.
Debra and Lydia are in their 60s and have no intention of slowing down just yet – much like the Elders they see every week.
Debra established the group twelve years ago to help transport clients she was supporting through the Telecross program to medical appointments. But she soon realised that it served a broader purpose.
"The group was also a way of providing social and community connection,” Debra explains.
As the years passed, the group's purpose has moved from a client model to one in which members also volunteer their time to their community. This includes making TeleYarn calls, as well as making monthly visits to Youth Justice facilities to share cultural knowledge with younger First Nations people.
“Many of these kids don’t have connection to their culture and the wisdom of Elders, Aunties or Uncles," says Debra. She sees the group as bridging a vital gap for these young people, by linking them up with older role models that aren't there to judge, but rather share stories, laugh and listen.
She sees the group as a family, one in which members feel comfortable enough to openly share, laugh and talk about the hard times with each other as well.
And for women such as Aunty Robyne and Aunty Stella, services such as this and also TeleYarn have not just been lifechanging, but also lifesaving – lifting them out of isolation and despair.
In 1939, 32-year-old Maisie Elizabeth Morgan knocked on the door of the St Kilda “A” Red Cross Service Company to volunteer her time and skills. Although we will never know Maisie’s long term plans that day, we can safely assume that retiring at the age of 92 was not on her horizon!
Maisie threw herself into Red Cross work and was a member and volunteer for 60 years. She gave service in the fields of First Aid, Community Services, Blood Services, Youth and Fundraising. She also ran a Junior Red Cross Circle at which she taught children First Aid, Home-Nursing, and handcrafts.
Maisie’s dedication to Australian Red Cross and community service was recognised with multiple Long Service Awards from 1959 up to her 60 Year Service Rosette in 1999, a Distinguished Service Award in 1977, an Honorary Life Membership award in 1999, an Australian Civilian Service Medal for her service in WW2, and an Order of Australia Medal in 2000. She was also honoured with a plaque unveiled at the Victorian Red Cross headquarters in 2002.
Although Maisie never married or had children, she was well loved and missed by her Red Cross family when she passed in 2008, at the age of 101.
It is anticipated that a number of the patients will be geriatrics and that many will be very lonely people.
— Red Cross Visiting and Home-Bound Library Service Instructions, 1971
In 1970 Brighton Red Cross Branch member Florence McCarthy established a mobile library service for elderly and home-bound people. It was an immediate success. Although it was a practical service, its primary motivation was to bring cheer, comfort, and company to the lives of isolated, elderly citizens.
Volunteers delivered library books to clients, based on the tastes and needs of each reader. Some readers requested large print books, or smaller books that weren’t too heavy to hold. As well as book delivery, volunteers were instructed to offer small but meaningful services to their clients, such as making a cup of tea, or delivering a message for them. They were encouraged to spend plenty of time with each person and to never give the impression of being in a rush.
Florence joined the Brighton Red Cross Branch in 1950, and was presented her Long Service Medal in 1970, the same year that she established the library service. She dedicated thousands of hours of voluntary service to helping the community through Red Cross. In addition to managing the library service, she spent 15 years reading books to a Braille transcriber in order to increase accessibility to books for the blind.
Although Florence passed in 1976 at the age of 70, her legacy remains, with the Home Library Service still running through the Brighton Library.