A community project in Mildura is filling books with the life stories of local aged care residents. The project has just released its second anthology, with plans for a third.
Local writers worked with Monash University and 14 residents of Princes Court Mildura to create the four hundred-page book Mallee Living Histories, which was launched in December 2020 at a local book shop.
While COVID meant few could attend the launch, Princes Court CEO Jenny Garonne said the books are popular with the local community. “For the first book, we had to do a double publish. And we’ve had to do the same with the second book!” Ms Garonne said. “And we’re now looking at publishing a third.”
“I’ve always been one that connects with community. And I was looking for opportunities where we can enhance that community connection. Mallee Living Histories was brilliant for that.”
Writers met resident “storytellers” weekly at the Princes Court home, where they worked together to create each 5,000-word story.
The book’s publisher, Vernon Knight got the idea for the project while writing the life story of aged care resident Monica.
“There was a very elderly lady who was insistent that she needed help to tell her story,” said Mr Knight. “And she did have a great story.”
“Over time, not all that long, I put the story together, so it could be published as a book. She wanted it for Christmas couple of years ago now, to share with her daughters who were grown up but keen to know all of mum’s escapades.”
Just before that Christmas Monica fell seriously ill and was hospitalised. “So I ducked down to the printers and said, “Look, I desperately need a copy of the book, even if it’s not bound”. And I with a mutual friend went up to the hospital the night before her operation. And I said, “Look what I’ve got Monica!”.
“She just beamed. She was ecstatic. When we left the hospital that night, I said to my friend, “She’s not going to die! There’s no way known she’s not going to be around to launch the book.” And she didn’t die. Weeks later, she was at local places doing signed copies of the book.”
Benefits for all involved
Ms Garonne said the project was important for residents’ wellbeing.
“It’s helped our residents to really enhance their lives,” she said.
“For starters their esteem is really enhanced. And the families just really enjoy that opportunity to have their family’s story told.
“Interestingly, it’s the grandchildren who are benefiting, too because they haven’t been in the lives of their grandparents.
The program has influenced how Monash University trains its medical students. On reviewing the program last year, Monash researchers saw that better connections could reduce loneliness.
Associate Professor Fiona Wright said that, once COVID restrictions are lifted, students on aged care placements will spend quality time getting to know residents, with a view to more personalised care.
“With an increasing aged population, graduating students will inevitably have frequent contact with this demographic, and it is important that students have a holistic understanding of their needs,” Associate Professor Wright said.
Living Histories going national
Ms Garonne said she hoped Mallee Living Histories would inspire aged care homes across Australia.
“It’s now trying to get it into that national arena. And we have a process and the manual that we we people can also utilise to be able to take it into their own aged care facilities.”