Holiday with a difference

The Dowerin Bed and Breakfast and its guests have been at my mercy for over a week. This old woman has masqueraded as the boss, while my sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Peter, are overseas on holidays. This is a diary of the week.

 The Dowerin bed and breakfast on the Goomalling-Dowerin Road in the Eastern Wheatbelt region of Western Australia

The Dowerin bed and breakfast on the Goomalling-Dowerin Road in the Eastern Wheatbelt region of Western Australia

Dowerin is at the cross roads to a number of important places.

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There are many responsibilities when you live in the country. I had to

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Feed Hannah and her sisters. Which chook is Hannah?

The hens rewarded us with real farm eggs with orange yolks. The guests and my husband, John, and I ate them for breakfast almost every day.

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Admire one of the garden rooms from the outside.

 

 

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Choose my favourite.

 

 

Set the table for one guest for a 6.15 a.m. breakfast. (The next morning there were five  for people for breakfast at 6, and no time for photography!)

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Explore the in the shed at the bottom of the property

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and discover John, hard at work.

DSCF0548Photograph reluctant neighbours.

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Persist until I found some that were more amenable

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Park in the main street, which was never a problem, especially on a Sunday. It is difficult to believe that during the Dowerin Field Days at the end of August space will be at a premium.

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Find this Tin Dog on the edge of a paddock. This is the emblem of the town, about which a whole post could be written,

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and also  a bookshop in the middle of town.

 

 

 

 

Find a sunny spot on a verandah of the main house where I could do a spot of craft work – but  where, sadly, I wrote not one word of my new book for a whole week!

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A full wood box and several stoves

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kept us warm on the odd wintry night

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What more could anyone ask for during a week in the country?

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Coming soon

Relationships Australia WA offers a new workshop which I think may have particular interest for older men and women. The facilitator is my friend, Elizabeth Brennan, a remarkable older woman with many years experience as a relationships educator and facilitator of groups of many different types. Details of the workshop are as follows:

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CHANGE AND LOSS

Healing and Learning to Live Again

Change and the accompanying experience of loss, is part of everyday life.  Life itself begins with loss – the separation from the womb.  We are continuously faced with separation, endings and major changes.  In order to move on, let go and embrace what is new, we need to grieve the loss. How we mange loss and grief greatly effects our relationships and our well-being.

This workshop will discuss how to:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the grief process
  • Identify personal core issues of grief
  • Identify place in the grief process
  • Learn skills to assist the process
  • Develop strategies that will enable moving on
At  22 Southport Street, corner of Cambridge Street WEST LEEDERVILLE on  Tuesday 29 April  2014 from 9/30 am to 12.30 pm

Cost: $25

For further information and to enrol please phone 9489 6322

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 THIRD NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ELDER ABUSE

Advocare is proud to be at the forefront of combating elder abuse in Australia and will host the 3rd National Elder Abuse Conference. Entitled ‘Unlocking Solutions’, our organising committee will embrace a program that looks into all aspects of elder abuse.

Already regarded by industry leaders as a must attend event, this conference will bring together dynamic global experts to share information on topics that will assist in elder abuse research, intervention and policy. There will also be plenty of opportunities for networking, reacquainting with old colleagues and meeting new ones.

The two day conference will be followed by a unique one day workshop which will look at the practical and theoretical applications that arise from the conference.

I encourage delegates from different professions to attend, as unlocking solutions to elder abuse requires a collaborative effort from all counterparts.

Register your interest for the conference and workshop and help change the outcome for thousands of elder abuse victims in Australia.

See you in Perth.

Greg Mahney

Chief Executive Officer, Australian Representative for the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse; Chairperson of the Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

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Invitation to Submit an Abstract

We invite you to submit an abstract for a contribution to the 2014 Conference Program. The deadline for abstract proposals is Friday 2 May 2014.

Abstracts should generally be limited to the suggested themes and underlying topics. Thought provoking, creative abstracts are highly encouraged to stimulate the interest and participation of delegates throughout the Conference.

Conference Themes

Research and Innovation

Areas such as research projects, technological advancements and innovative new practices, and new ways that organisations are doing ‘old business’.

Projects

Projects that have helped your organisation to recognise, respond or record elder abuse, including but not limited to help lines, databases, identification tools and marketing strategies.

Collaboration, Information Sharing and Engagement

Different ways in which your organisation works with others to spread messages, promote ideas and events, fund projects and activities and share valuable information and statistics. We are also looking at ways in which you think we can better record Elder Abuse ie managing statistic, National Linkages.

Education, Training and Workforce Development

Including, but not limited to new and existing training programs, tertiary courses and other workforce development methods.

Learning from Other Disciplines

We are looking for ways in which elder abuse agencies can learn from other disciplines that excel in areas such as information sharing, reporting and recording, victim protection, relationship building and fundraising.

Future Visions

We are looking to find out new ways to further advance the prevention of elder abuse eg changing perceptions, changing laws, changing the way we look at or think about things.

For guidelines, click to contact Advocare Inc., or call Advocare on 9479 7566 and speak to Greg Mahney.

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Launch of new protocol

Last week, around a hundred professionals whose work involves older people and their well-being attended a launch of a document, Elder Abuse Protocol: Guidelines for Action. The event was hosted by Advocare Inc., the lead agency of the Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse:WA* (APEA:WA) at the Leadership Centre of the Australian Institute of Management. As the inaugural CEO of Advocare Inc. I was privileged to attend and delighted to see the work that these two organisations are doing.

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The new Protocol provides general information about elder abuse, as well as information about appropriate responses to elder abuse for staff who work in organisations that deal with older people.

A story

A seventy-year-old woman in a nursing home finds two masked men in her room early one morning. She yells for help but they knock to the ground and she suffers minor bruising. The intruders steal two handbags containing small change that belong to the staff on duty. The incident is reported on television news and on page 5 of the local newspaper. The intruders are later caught and convicted of break and entry, assault and theft.

Another story

A woman of similar age who lives in a nearby suburb does not escape so lightly. She has slight paralysis on her left side as the result of a cerebrovascular accident (stroke) a few years ago. She’s mentally alert and competent and lives alone with some support from aged care services. She  completes a couple of cryptic cross-word puzzles a week; enjoys putting 1 000 piece jigsaw puzzles together; and sees friends regularly.

Unfortunately, many years ago, thinking she was preparing well for her old age, she donated enduring power of attorney to her only son so that he could manage her finances if she was ever incapable of looking after them herself. In the weeks while she was in hospital immediately following the stroke, when she had temporarily lost her decision-making capacity, he assumed power of attorney and took control of her finances.

Now he refuses to relinquish that power. He manages her bank accounts, pays all her household bills, gives her an allowance for food, and maintains tight control over her money. She is distressed by the predicament she finds herself in. The most recent episode was his response when she asked for $200 from her bank account to replace her shabby tracksuits and underclothes.

‘Don’t be so silly, Mum,’ he said.You don’t need new clothes. You don’t go anywhere. Why waste money on stuff you don’t need?’

The son may not see his behaviour as elder abuse. After all, he might argue, the old lady’s needs are being met. He is only looking after the inheritance he will, in his opinion, rightly acquire when she dies. He does not acknowledge that he no longer has a right to her power of attorney or access to her finances; and the money he ‘refuses’ to ‘give’ his mother is not his, but hers.

There have been no headlines in newspapers about the financial abuse of this old woman, nor are there likely to be in the near future. Financial abuse of elders takes many forms, and this story is simply one illustration.

There are other kinds of violence inflicted on older men and women by their families and ‘friends’ – people everyone expects they should be able to trust. Elder abuse includes physical, emotional and social abuse and neglect. We don’t hear a lot about it. No one likes to admit they are being mistreated and many older people are afraid to talk about it.

‘Elder abuse is not something newspapers like to cover,’ a journalist told me earlier this week. ‘Even if I wrote a really good article, it wouldn’t be printed.’

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Short personal history

In the 1970s, domestic violence was not considered a crime. Men were allowed, under the law, to rape their wives. Police frequently sided with the perpetrator when called to a scene of domestic violence. The courts and the churches often turned a blind eye to the plight of victims of familial violence. They declined to condemn perpetrators in the same way they blindly failed to condemn perpetrators of child abuse.

The second wave Feminist Movement went some way to change community attitudes towards domestic violence.

In the 1970s a group of people, all of us passionate about social justice, set up Emmaus, the second women’s refuge in Western Australia in an old, four-bedroom house that we rented in Inglewood. We had little money, a great deal of goodwill – and no government assistance. Emmaus was soon full of women and children escaping violent husbands and fathers.

In the early 1980s, I was invited to represent Community Health Nurses on the Western Australian Advisory and Coordinating Committee on Child Abuse. At the time, I was working as the nurse in a high school and encountered children who were victims of abuse on an almost daily basis.

In the early 1990s, farsighted social workers, counsellors, teachers and others concerned with the welfare of women, children and families began to make connections, not seen before, between domestic violence and child abuse.

These days it is widely acknowledged that domestic violence in all its forms including child abuse is never OK.

But so far in our society there has been no major breakthrough in attitudes to elder abuse . Elder abuse receives little publicity and is barely recognised, perhaps because older people in our society receive less respect than they deserve.

New developments

However, there are some organisations which work tirelessly to bring this injustice to the consciousness of the community. 

 Advocare Inc. and the Alliance for the Prevention of Elder Abuse:WA (APEA:WA) are two such organisations. They define elder abuse as ‘any act which causes harm to an older person and occurs within an informal relationship of trust, such as family or friends…Abuse can take many forms, including financial or material abuse, neglect, emotional or psychological abuse, social abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse’.

According to APEAWA, elder abuse is underreported. But it is estimated that between two and five percent of older people will experience abuse, which means that between  6 000 and 15 000 older Western Australians could be affected.

Section of audience at launch of Elder Abuse Protocol

Section of audience at launch of Elder Abuse Protocol

The protocol launched last week states:

In addressing elder abuse, the rights of the older person must be supported. Older people have the right to make decision, take risks, or refuse supports and interventions, as long as they have the cognitive capacity to make informed decision and can understand the consequences of those actions.

Message

If you think you may be, or could in future be, the victim or elder abuse, or if you suspect someone you know may be the victim, please ring Advocare Inc. on (08) 9479 7566 and talk to an advocate who will provide information about the steps you can take, and if necessary support you.

Congratulations

Congratulations to everyone involved in producing Elder Abuse Protocol: Guidelines for Action, such a successful launch, and to those who supported its publication, especially the Department of Local Government and Communities for funding.

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*Agencies which comprise APEA:WA are Advocare Incorporated; the Department of Aboriginal Affairs: Department of Local Government and Communities; Department of Health WA; Disability Services Commission;  Legal Aid (WA); Office of the Chief Psychiatrist; Office of the Public Advocate; Public Trustee; WA Police; Western Australian Local Government Association.

Thank you for visiting my blog. 

Ageing with Style – Elizabeth Worts

My sister Elizabeth Worts at work in one of the units of her bed and breakfast

My sister Elizabeth Worts at work in one of the garden rooms of her bed and breakfast

An elephant swayed from side-to-side as she picked her way down the side of mountainside in a jungle in northern Thailand. She felt her way with her trunk to test the terrain before she put each enormous foot carefully into a tiny space between loose rocks.

The mahout on the creature’s head turned around to where I clutched Elizabeth’s arm in terror. If it hadn’t been for my dear sister, my life would have been much less adventurous. And I would never have been perched so precariously on a  platform on the animal’s back, waiting to be thrown to the ground and trampled underfoot.

‘Very safe,’ the mahout called, laughing as I shrieked. I swear could hear him thinking, ‘Silly Farang!’ (foreigner).

‘Grandmothers like us should be at home sitting in rocking chairs,’ Elizabeth said calmly, ‘not rocking around like this on the backs of elephants.’ She didn’t seem at all fazed by that experience or others that followed.

A mahout and his elephant (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

A mahout and his elephant
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

In the eight years she lived in Bangkok, Elizabeth orchestrated the most amazing adventures for family and friends who flocked to her apartment in Soi 12, Sukhumvit, right in the heart of Bangkok. She showed us the tourist sites; we explored China Town and travelled the Chao Phraya River on over-laden local ferries where we rubbed shoulders with Buddhist monks – taking care not to touch and so defile them – and with old men holding live chickens and old women clutching babies on their laps.

Elizabeth took me on boat trips on the tiny klongs (canals) that criss-crossed the city, mostly hidden from tourists. We visited the Klong Toey slums near the port with a Redemptorist priest as our escort and a vicious cock-fight an unexpected and unwelcome spectacle. At an international charity workshop we talked to the nuns and to the young women from slum districts who were learning to make patchwork bags, placemats and quilts. One day when we went looking for a medical museum that I’d read about, we even found ourselves in the morgue of a hospital with corpses placed haphazardly on trolleys and only partially covered with grey blankets – and no staff in sight. That was really scary!

When not playing hostess to Australian guests, my sister could often be found in an orphanage in the slums, feeding and cuddling babies or playing with toddlers.

‘I’ve learned not to go to the babies that cry the loudest,’ she said. ‘They get all the attention. I pick up those that are lying quietly. They’re passive because no one cuddles them.’

Fast forward twenty five years. Now my still energetic seventy-two-year-old sister lives in Dowerin, a tiny country town almost 160 kilometres north-east of Perth in the central wheat-belt region of Western Australia – as far from the bustle of Bangkok as it’s possible to imagine. Apart from the few days each year in August, when the Dowerin Field Days attract thousands of people from all over the State to the agricultural displays on the football oval, it’s quiet in the town.

Elizabeth and Peter on their wedding day

Elizabeth and Peter on their wedding day

Always the consummate hostess, Elizabeth owns the Dowerin Bed and Breakfast with her husband, Peter Worts.

‘We thought this lovely house looked like a B & B the minute we saw it,’ Elizabeth says. ‘I’ve travelled overseas and all over Australia and stayed in lots of home-based accommodation. I love entertaining, and thought I could probably do as good a job as many other people in hospitality.

‘Peter and I came to Dowerin ten years ago to semi-retire. We’ve obviously failed at that!’ she adds.

Welcoming corner in spring sunshine

Welcoming corner in spring sunshine

The Dowerin Bed and Breakfast has become a home-away-from-home for many people from government departments who visit Dowerin and the surrounding areas, as well as for tourists and business people travelling in the wheat-belt. Elizabeth’s attention to detail ensures that guests enjoy a warm welcome, delicious food  and a comfortable room or purpose-built garden unit where they can sit on a veranda and enjoy the expansive rural views.

Wheat crop seen from veranda

Wheat crop seen from veranda

During the Dowerin Field Days, the bed and breakfast accommodation bulges with visitors. Some people even park their caravans on the property for the duration of the Field Days. Breakfast begins at six each morning as people prepare to set up and staff their stalls and exhibitions. At the end of each of the busy days, a party atmosphere prevails as twenty or so guests and visitors sit down to three-course, restaurant-standard meals. People book a year, two years ahead, for the privilege of staying at the Dowerin Bed and Breakfast during Field Days.

As well as running the bed and breakfast and helping Peter with his business, Shades Pergolas, Elizabeth has immersed herself in the life of the town – book club, craft group and art classes. She is also a long-term member of the North East Wheat Belt Travel Association, which promotes tourism in the region. As a member of the Country Cousins network of Western Australian farm-stay accommodation, she actively helps to maintain the standards of the network and attends regular meetings and conferences in regional Western Australia.

This active, much-in-demand grandmother of ten and great-grandmother of four makes time to drive to Perth almost weekly – a three-hundred-and-fifty kilometre round trip – to visit family and friends. She often takes care of her younger grandchildren, either in Perth or during school holidays at Dowerin. She regularly visits her daughter and grandsons who live in Bridgetown. Beautiful crotchet rugs, knitted jumpers, hand-made gifts flow from her hands for new babies, toddlers and the older children.

Austin and Elizabeth celebrate his first birthday in Bridgetown

Austin and Elizabeth celebrate his first birthday in Bridgetown

Elizabeth with her grandson Mark (l), great-granddaughter Chloe, and son Steven

Elizabeth with her grandson Mark (l), great-granddaughter Chloe, and son Steven

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth and Peter holiday regularly – in Bali, in Thailand, where Elizabeth’s son Damian manages a restaurant, or further afield. Last year they spent five weeks in England, where they visited Peter’s relations and went to some of the places where he spent  his childhood. Often they take their caravan on short trips to the beach; to the outback where they camp on stations near water holes, perhaps to see the wildflowers in the mid-west; and to places in between.

The Worts on the Hoe, Plymouth UK, 2013

The Worts on the Hoe, Plymouth UK, 2013

Energetic and full of enthusiasm, my sister is a woman ageing with style. Perhaps one day, she’ll settle down in that rocking chair she mentioned in Thailand. But I imagine that won’t happen soon!

Make a stand

An article in the West Australian’s financial pages a few days ago left me almost choking over my muesli. A financial adviser wrote on ways middle-aged children could protect ‘their’ inheritance. My elder-abuse-antenna shot up. Such an ageist, abusive idea!

The article  suggested that the children should set in place enduring powers of attorney for their elderly parents. When – not if, but when! – the younger people had to make plans to care for the seniors, they would have access to control over the parents’ finances.

There are a few problems with this advice.

The first is that everyone should arrange to give their enduring powers of attorney to someone they trust, in the same way everyone, not just old people, should make a will. Blank powers of attorney documents can be bought at most newsagents and Australia Post shops. Solicitors can also assist. The documents require the signature of the person donating the powers and those of two witnesses.

Enduring powers of attorney provide some legal protection against the possibility of financial abuse or exploitation following an accident, the onset of dementia or some other unfortunate event which might impair a person’s decision-making process. Who gets to look after your finances is not something that should be left to chance.

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The second problem with the advice in the newspaper is that older people should not allow anyone decide who will have these powers: it is their decision about their own future. Sons and daughters can suggest that mother or father puts powers of attorney in place, but the idea of the children attempting to put them in place suggests coercion, even potential abuse.

Statistics show the prevalence of financial abuse of older women and men that is actually reported in Australia. The statistics are probably the tip of a very large iceberg. And it seems that relatively few older people recognise that they, too, can be victims at the hands of those they should be able to trust.

Most older people understand that strangers can harm them financially and in other ways. But it is too shocking to think that our own sons and daughters, step-children, grandchildren, other relatives or friends would harm us, intentionally or unintentionally. No one likes to think something like that could happen to them!

Everyone, including old people, should obtain and maintain control of their own financial affairs. This applies even when a person is part of a couple. When one partner deals exclusively with shared financial matters and makes the decisions, the survivor can be left unable to manage for themselves should their partner become incapacitated or die. Decision-making can then be taken out of the hands of the survivor, sometimes with ill-effect.

I worry when I read articles such as the one in the newspaper. Misleading information such as that makes it easy to assume that adult children have some rights over their parent’s money or property; easy, too, for children to expect to be given access to their parents’ funds.

Ageing and advocacy

Twice during the last week I’ve been reminded sharply about the importance of advocacy in the lives of older people.Advocacy is a simple concept: it means standing by another person who needs support to confront a more powerful person or institution. The more vulnerable a person, the more he or she may need an advocate to address neglect, bullying or abuse, whether intentional or not. Even the strongest among us may need the support of other people when we are ill and in hospital.

A supporting hand

A supporting hand

Anyone can advocate for another person, regardless of the relationship between them. At one level, a lawyer who represents a client in court is the client’s advocate; parents regularly advocate on behalf of their children to a variety of people; and a student who stands up to a bully on behalf of a weaker child is also an advocate.

A few months ago I posted about a friend of mine who was a patient in a private hospital. As a retired registered nurse with considerable experience in aged care, I could see clearly that my friend was not receiving the care she required and to which she was entitled. In addition, as a patient in the hospital, she suffered several serious mishaps . These could have been prevented with better assessment and attention. They have impacted severely on her recovery and her on-going quality of life.

Several issues relating to the care and treatment of my friend were apparent, and I believed they should be addressed by nurses, doctors and other staff who were responsible for her care. One that worried her most was that she was moved from ward to ward several times without explanation. On one occasion, she was left sitting in a chair following a general anaesthetic because the bed to which she was being moved in another ward was still occupied.

I began to think it was highly probable that poor care of older patients might be endemic in that hospital. One of the additional positive outcomes of advocacy is that hospitals and other institutions often amend their practice as a result of well-measured complaints. This leads to better care for everyone who is or will become a client or patient.

Because my friend is not only an older person, but was also very unwell at the time, I discussed her position with her, and then wrote on her behalf to the chief executive officer of the hospital.

My written complaints were not addressed with me by hospital management, but several staff members entered into discussions with my friend (although she was very ill) and one ward nurse had a brief conversation with me.

As she was still ill and a patient in the hospital, likely to remain so for some time and perhaps even to be readmitted in the future, she was not prepared to discuss the issues with staff on the floor, even she was unhappy with the care she was receiving. She was afraid that there would be repercussions if she complained.

‘Patients can be punished if they say anything the staff doesn’t like,’ she told me. ‘As old nurses, we both know that.’

As my formal complaints to the hospital had not been addressed to my satisfaction (or that of my friend) when she left the hospital, I took the matter further. A third party told me in a telephone conversation that ‘the hospital thought’ that all the complaints had been resolved. And in spite of my first letter clearly stating I was acting as my friend’s advocate, they thought I was ‘just a friend!’

Some of the important lessons that I learned in ten years as a professional advocate were that anyone act as an advocate on behalf of another person; advocacy goes into the fray as hard as it needs to; and does not give up until the end of the matter. Obviously that hospital has not learned the same lesson. The story continues…

Another old woman who is much loved by a number of people lives in residential aged care facility. Last week, following a visit by one of her friends, there was a discussion about apparently poor care the old woman had received recently. I suggested the friends could address the matter with the director of nursing, or they could contact an advocacy agency for support. The friends thought that the woman’s family should be told of their concerns and the decision to deal (or not) with the concerns should be left to them.

In my experience, staff members in most aged care facilities and hospitals recognise their duty of care; they want to provide the best attention and treatment for their residents and patients. Often, a timely word to a senior staff member from whoever witnesses problem behaviour results in prompt resolution of the issue. There is often a written complaints procedure that will help if the complain is not resolved immediately.

Bystanders who do nothing to assist a vulnerable victim of neglect or abuse become part of the problem.

In Western Australia, for more information about the rights of residents and assistance with making a complaint about a residential aged care facility or a Home and Community Care Service, contact Advocare Incorporated.

For assistance with a complaint about a hospital, contact the Health Consumers Council

There are similar organisations in other Australian states.

Holiday-at-home

My husband and I have begun to talk about an overseas holiday at the end of the year. I’m amazed how quickly the mention of a holiday sends us to our tablets to research new venues and the old ones we love and return to often.

‘It would be fun to act as if we were tourists in Perth for a change,’ I suggested. ‘Let’s find some places we haven’t been for a while. And some new ones. Let’s pretend we’re seeing this city for the first time.’

Before we go anywhere new, John and I make lists of the major and minor things that we’d like to do while we’re there. With a list that includes experiences that take a whole day to those that take half-an-hour or less, we never run out of ideas.

Best meal -  in a local café when we were 'lost' in Lyon (France)

Best meal – in a local café when we were ‘lost’ in Lyon (France)

Because we are an old man and an old woman, we build in lots of rests – but that doesn’t mean we always find a park bench or have afternoon naps. Often we catch a passing bus or ferry to an out-lying suburb or village we would not otherwise see. Our spontaneous bus trips have yielded some of our most exciting travel events and richest memories, to say nothing of the best meals in local cafes where tourists rarely venture.

 

A few minutes research was all it took to find plenty of new things to do in Perth. With the scene so easily set for a mini-break, we invited my daughter, Anne to join us.  Together, we made a list of twenty places close to Perth that could fulfil our fantasy of a short holiday.

Each morning for a few days we set off, open to the wonder we might experience if we were in some distant location. Days with temperatures in the low 30s, sandwiched between heat waves, were perfect for our too brief stay-at-home-holiday. We didn’t always stick to the list; in the end we made several spur-of-the moment decisions which were also very satisfying.

One new place we wanted to see was the Rio Tinto Naturescape in Kings Park, opened at the end of 2011. Part of Kings Park overlooks the Swan River and the city of Perth. It is said to be one of the largest inner city parks in the world. Until a few years ago, I hated the thought of development of the Park, but having seen the changes wrought by the Kings Park Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, I now welcome the new. This innovation did not disappoint.

We knew we’d enjoy our visit better if we had a child or two with us, so we enlisted my granddaughters Amelia Nancarrow (12) and Claire Linton and her daughter (my great-granddaughter), Elizabeth, who will be three in March.

Designed and constructed with the help of a large donation from the mining company, and with the support of other benefactors, the 60 000 square metres of bush has been landscaped to provide an area where children can be free to build cubbies, climb rocks and towers of different heights, swing from ropes and trees and become immersed in free play in the bush.

Amelia Nancarrow at the rope swings

Amelia Nancarrow at the rope swings

The natural-looking creeks and pools took me back seventy years, to when Dog Swamp in Yokine – now the site of a large shopping centre five kilometres from the centre of Perth – was indeed a swamp. Dog Swamp was two block from where I lived with my parents in North Perth. It was where we built cubby houses in the bush, and the ‘big kids’ made canoes from old corrugated roofing iron. We little ones watched enviously as they paddled (and often sank) their craft, while we played in the murky water on the edges. I have no memory of adult supervision – in those days the big kids were expected to look after the little ones.

Elizabeth Linton and her aunt, Amelia Nancarrow in one of the pools

Elizabeth Linton and her aunt, Amelia Nancarrow in one of the pools

Two Nature Activity Officers greeted us at the entrance. They were clear that this is not a playground but a naturescape, and that there is a limited visitor capacity at all times. Bookings are essential for large groups. School classes are invited to participate in the education programs provided.

There are a few simple rules:

  • Adult supervision of all children is mandatory
  • Stay safe – watch out for the natural hazards one expects in the bush: prickly bushes, spiders, bees, snakes and water
  • Take your rubbish home
  • No picnic rugs, folding chairs or anything that detracts from the natural appearance of the area.

Other rules preclude throwing rocks; riding bikes, scooters or skateboards; pets; smoking and alcohol; balls; large shelters and birthday parties.

But the rule I like best of all says, ‘Shh…Listen and be gentle. You are entering a fragile, natural environment. Please look after each other.’

A gentle hush permeated the area for the whole time we were there. We heard birds, but no raised voices; there was laughter and obvious cooperation between children and parents. Children of all ages, including Amelia and Elizabeth, challenged themselves to climb rocks and ropes; paddle in pools with sharp, rocky bottoms; walk on logs across streams; find tadpoles and little fish; build cubby houses.

Elizabeth Linton and Amelia Nancarrow in a cubby-house with Anne O'Callaghan watching

Elizabeth Linton and Amelia Nancarrow in a cubby-house with Anne O’Callaghan watching

There was a level of intensity through the area that I don’t very often observe, as children learned about the environment by playing in and reacting with it, rather than on playground equipment and playing fields. Parents and grandparents sat on logs and watched the children, or involved in their youngsters’ play.

This grandmother/great-grandmother went home feeling peaceful and full of creative energy. Our tourist outing to the Rio Tinto Naturescape in Kings Park was an eye-opener, a trip down memory lane and a joy. I can’t wait to go back.