Last week was NSW Senior’s Week and, fittingly, Tumut’s Murray Glen Village is celebrating its tenth birthday this Friday, March 20. The NSW Government and the Village have both been focusing on the theme of ‘social inclusion’ this year as the country grapples with fires, floods, drought and disease.
So far, no extraordinary steps have been taken since the recent outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. Instead, the village is focusing on maintaining good hygiene, ‘common sense’ and celebrating their anniversary.
A decade ago, the independent living village for 55s and over was opened by then-Mayor Trina Thomson, welcoming five “pioneering” residents into its first 17 units. Among the first to move in were Jim and Robyn Handley, formerly from Junee.
“Life’s good out here,” Jim is reported as saying to the Times during the village’s opening. Dell Bellchambers moved in later that year and still has the original paper clippings. Dell has seen a number of new residents move in and mourned the loss of former residents. Jim and Robyn passed away in 2018, but their legacy at Murray Glen is still very much alive, with their daughter, Sue Handley, now the ‘baby’ of the village at just 62 years old.
During a weekly morning tea last Wednesday, Sue spoke warmly of the “sense of family” they feel in the village. Sue is the village’s only second generation resident, so far.
“I was visiting Mum and Dad every day, so when I moved in, I knew everyone,” said Sue.
“When I was living at the farm [on Morgan’s Reserve], unless I invited someone, I could stay out there a month and no one would visit.”
Sue said at the village, she sees people every day, with regular events like morning tea and happy hours and plenty of impromptu gatherings.
Sue still works part time at Franklin Public School as a chaplain and says the village isn’t only for retirees. She recently took a counselling course aimed at supporting communities recovering from bushfires called ‘Seasons For Growth’ and is using her skills both at work and in the village.
“Here, when something terrible happens, everyone looks after you,” she said.
Dell Bellchambers agreed. During the recent bushfires, Dell’s son, Steve, and his family lost their home near Batlow and had to put down stock wounded by the fires.
Dell said she wasn’t afraid for herself during the fires, surrounded by supportive friends and evacuating early to Gundagai. She said it was difficult to know what to pack and she ended up using her phone to take pictures of the pictures hanging on her walls, because they were too difficult to keep packing and unpacking.
“Steve and Jesse went straight to Batlow to fight the fires, I was afraid for them,” said Dell.
“We at Gundagai all prayed together and we texted as often as we could. We heard about once a day how they were.”
Dell was also heading south to Wangaratta for her daughter, Ruth’s, wedding. Despite losing their home, Steve’s daughters were there, too, as bridesmaids for their aunt.
“I was prepared to lose everything myself,” said Dell, “It was a shock when they lost everything.”
Despite the tense time, Dell said the residents of Murray Glen watched out for each other, a common theme at the village. Every night before going to bed, Dell checks that the lights of her neighbours are out, and if they’re not, she checks on them.
“It’s a security thing,” said Dell, “Just checking who’s around.”
Vernita Collins is one of the village’s newer residents, a former Canberran who lived through the 2003 fires.
“So this wasn’t all that scary,” remarked Vernita.
“At least half the residents stayed here. I was surprised at how little it did affect me.”
Vernita chose Murray Glen because she was allowed to keep her two prized Shiba Inua’s, Tachi and Nara, along with several birds and a horse who lives across the road.
“You can have as much or as little to do with people as you like,” said Vernita, who is comfortable in her own company.
This theme of “social inclusion” is one which has been highlighted by the NSW Government in recent weeks, with the announcement of a new ‘Seniors Staying Social Grants Program.’
The grants range from $3,000 to $100,000 for programs which enhance, expand or create a program which “fosters social inclusion.”
“Loneliness and social isolation can have adverse effects on our senior’s mental health so we are looking to fund programs which foster inclusion and encourage positive social outcomes for people over 65,” said Acting Minister for Seniors Geoff Lee. “Our seniors can make new friends while trying out activities for the first time which can challenge their minds while helping them stay fit and healthy.”
The Village is currently looking at how or if that grant could be used to further improve social events at Murray Glen.
Ray and Olwen Lipscombe also moved from Canberra to Murray Glen, after careers in the Navy (where they met as young radio operators and were engaged during coinciding deployments to Singapore) and oil spill recovery. Married for 50 years this year, the Lipscombes were looking for a “tree change” and love what they found in Tumut.
“It’s such a pretty town,” said Olwen, “We’ve always loved this area.
“When we moved here, we didn’t know anybody, but everybody made us welcome.”
The pair have gotten involved in local clubs both inside and outside of the village, including the Tumut 5 Ways Art Studio, Probus, and the local Men’s Shed.
“This is our home,” said Olwen. “We’ve really settled here.”
The village’s newest resident, Margaret Kobier, will be moving in within the next few weeks, taking the last villa which is currently available. She said she started her search for a new home by “eliminating all the places I didn’t want to live.”
“This is sort of coming home,” said Margaret, who grew up in Ganmain and spent her teenage years in Wagga.
“I’m retracing childhood memories in the area.”