Our community family

Helen and Pete Bowman are never happier than gazing out at their cows peacefully grazing in the paddocks of their 112 acre farm outside Bairnsdale and watching the birds swoop and dive.

Pete, 85, and Helen, 75, left their massive sheep and cattle station at Wulgulmerang, some 133km north of Bairnsdale a couple of years ago, to move to their current smaller property. And they couldn't be happier!

Pete had a stroke a few years ago, followed a few months later by a horror car crash which resulted in him breaking his ribs, pelvis, a couple of vertebrae and puncturing his lung. “But Pete’s tough and although he uses a crutch to get around outside, he’s doing just fine,” Helen says.

Helen has lung cancer, which is under control and does not stop her from tending to her veggie garden. And with the care they get around the home and garden through his home care package, they’re doing just fine.

Helen says during their 56 years of marriage, they’ve weathered two horror bushfires, marauding dingoes which targeted their sheep, droughts and locusts.

“I can still vividly remember the sound of the locusts eating the crops,” Helen recalls. “A dark swarm flew over the farm, and within seconds the fields had been reduced to just dirt!”

The couple, who have four children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, visit Bairnsdale to do their shopping and attend medical appointments. “But Pete gets antsy,” Helen laughs. “He keeps on saying ‘let’s get out of here and go home.”

Pete loves the land so much he will pick up litter along the country roads. “I don’t tolerate rubbish,” he says.

They’re one of the growing number of clients in the vast Gippsland area which extends from the Latrobe Valley to the NSW border in the East, and from the mountains to the coast, with the Uniting AgeWell home care office based in Bairnsdale.

Over the last few years client numbers have more than doubled, with growth steadily continuing.

Care organiser Karen Armistead says word of mouth or what she refers to as “the bush telegraph” has contributed to much of this growth, which in turn also supports small local businesses, creating a feel of “one big community family.”

“We use small trusted local providers, like gardening services, plumbers and those clearing webs during this current spider infestation,” Karen explains.

She and Care Advisors Deborah and Annemarie make welfare calls to clients’ and also check how else they can be supported, for example using their home care packages to buy equipment like mobility aids or adjustable beds and chairs. There’s a registered nurse on the team, which means clients with higher needs can be supported.

“Our direct care workers travel long distances to visit clients, many of whom live on farms, and they always tell them no matter whether there’s heat, fires, snow, floods or drought, they’ll be there for them,” Karen explains.

And they are.

In the Gelantipy area, Marg Woodhouse, 84, is another client receiving help around the home and garden.

Marg says she’s grateful that her husband, who died of cancer 18 months ago, was able to be nursed at home with everyone and everything he held dear around him.

“Norman was stubborn alright,” Marg laughs. “He lived with cancer for over 12 years, and point blank refused any treatment. He was a community figure, very much involved in restoring the Wulgulmerang Recreation Reserve after it was reduced to ash during the 2003 fires, and he said he wanted to manage the last stretch of his life his way.”

And he did, thanks to his home care package through Uniting AgeWell.

“They were wonderful,” Marg says. “They were there every step of the way for him. He had a very peaceful death.”

To find out how Uniting AgeWell can support you in the Gippsland area call (03) 5152 9699.

  • Cropped vertical Helen and Pete Bowman