Freda, who is 87, lives in a small village called Hill Top in NSW. If you are a ‘Hill Topian’ there is a good chance you already know Freda. Her family has lived here for a long time. Her Grandfather, who immigrated from Lebanon, owned the local grocery shop back in the day. She describes herself as ‘An honorary Aboriginal naturalised Australian Lebanese. I was born in Lebanon. I left Lebanon when I was 4 years of age in 1938.’ She still speaks Arabic and can cook up a feast. Her hands have the shakes but this didn’t stop her chopping up beautiful salads for us to share with another friend of hers who joined us for lunch. When I first arrived, Freda told me to make myself at home. She showed me where the tea, coffee, cups and plates were and told me to help myself. There was various types of coffee, teas and sugar. Here is a lady who is used to entertaining. It wasn’t easy to make a time to meet with Freda, she’s busy most of the time. She has a weekly routine which keeps her socialising and active and she shared the practical details of what she thinks and does that has helped her to stay independent at the age of 87.
Freda is an expert at the retired life, having been retired for over 40 years. She worked very hard with her husband, when he was alive, and they owned a grocery shop in Sydney for 28 years. They raised 5 sons and a couple of nieces as well. Family is very important to her and she counted over 200 members of her clan. Weekends are reserved for family who visit when they are not working. I asked how she can remember their names. She answers, ‘I put them on my calendar and every year, I write out all the important dates on my [new] calendar.’ I ask if her sons try to boss her around and she says, ‘They wouldn’t dare. I've had a lovely, lovely family, one that understood me.’
She has been volunteering for different causes since the age of 15 and still volunteers today. She volunteers with the Rural Fire Service and helps in the canteen each fortnight. She says, ‘My Mum and Dad both belonged to the bush fire brigade. I'm still in it now, we're doing catering now. I wouldn't be able to get up on those trucks anymore. Just because you got your OBE [Over Bloody Eighty], it doesn't mean you've got to ferment. Why should you ferment when you've got so much life to give and so much help to give? So we keep ourselves busy don’t we? There's people out there like me, all our volunteers. I can name 20 people that do the same thing.’
The other fortnight Freda goes to the Aboriginal Centre in Mittagong. ‘I've been going to the Aboriginal [centre] since ‘96 or something. But before that I had connections with the Aboriginal people down in Sydney. How stupid can people be? Just because their skin is a different colour. They’ve still got the same blood and the same everything as everyone else has. You’d be surprised how they have mistreated the Aboriginals in this country. You’d be surprised. You think America is bad. So, Australia is just as bad, truly, I have witnessed it myself. Why stay at home and ferment? This is what I keep telling you, why stay at home when there are so many people that need your help. They’re helping you and you’re helping them.’
On another day of the week Freda goes to a social support group. ‘The community transport picks you up from your home takes you down to the centre where you have morning tea. You’ll do your thing, like we had trivia last week, next week they're going to teach us how to use the mobile phones and get the best out of mobile phones. You might get the Red Cross coming out to talk to you about different things. You might get the Fire Brigade coming out to tell you to be prepared with this and that. Every now and again you get to make your own jewellery over there, a bit of craft and a bit of this that and everything else. They get your brains going with the trivia and other things like that. Then they give you a lunch, a two course lunch and then they bring you home again. The socialising part is the best part, because if you stay at home all you see is blank walls. It's a very costly thing though,’ she says with a cheeky smile, ‘yes it costs money, it costs you $10 for the day. Now if you can't pay $10 for the day what’s wrong with you? You meet the group, you meet people. You get out of your own section. “Oh, I've got a headache, I've got an ache or whatever it is.” You stay at home and concentrate on that. When you go out, if it's social, you forget all your troubles and everything else.’
Freda is good at connecting people in her community. On another day each week ‘I stay at home but I get people coming in for lunch… I host lunch. Live your life. Why ferment? As I keep telling you, you’re not a wine or anything like that, truly.’ Freda has a creative system to let some of her neighbours know that she wants to speak with them. They don’t have a phone so she ties a specific coloured ribbon to her balcony which signals a particular person that she wants to speak with them. But Freda definitely has a phone. ‘Sometimes I get over 20 phone calls in the day which is not unusual… I love it.’ She also has a creative way of getting her hair done. Every six weeks we have the hairdresser comes and cuts our hair. Not only me but five or six other people come here and then we have morning tea, then we have lunch, making a day of it and then they all go home.’
Freda was also talking about a new community bathroom and laundry facility for people who are homeless that had recently opened in Bowral. ‘I did not realise how many homeless people there were in this district. Not only Bowral, the Wingecarribee Shire, but Bowral is their drop off point. That's where they have put in the laundry and food and clothing. They can take their old clothes off and put them through the laundry and put new clothes on. They [the facility] want all clothes, it doesn't matter for men, women or children. So I am sure everybody has something that that they can give out to them, which is what you should do to help the people around. All I’m doing is getting the Hill Topians to bring the clothes here. I've told our friends, and the ones that belong to the groups here, when the bus picks them up from their house and picks me up, bring them on the bus with them and then they can drop them off at my house. Then I'll ring up, tell them to come and pick them up from here. I don't know what they're going to do in the winter time. It's going to be so bad. It's freezing cold and there's so many homeless.’
On another day ‘I go on the shopping bus to Bowral. That’s [with] Community Transport. I go every week, some go every 2 weeks, some go every month, it all depends. They pick me up from home here, they pick everyone else up. They drop people off at the Marketplace, then they drop you off at Bowral, you can choose whichever one you want to. If you want to go to Aldi they’ll take you, wait for you and bring you back to Coles again. It's very good. We get there between 10:00 and 10:30 depending on how many people we have on the bus and then we leave there at 1:00 o'clock. They’re fantastic, it's there for you to use. Usually, one of the helpers might go and get me a trolley. If you can do it on your own, why not do it on your own? Be very independent, you have to be. I gave up my license about 5 years ago.’ (Me: But that doesn't stop you?). ‘No, well you've got community transport. You go down to Sydney, well they wait for you. Even a couple of years ago my sister-in-law passed away down at Wollongong. I got community transport to take me down there, they waited till after the funeral and after the wake. I said I'd be 3 or 4 hours, they were there waiting for me to pick me up and bring me home again. They’re fantastic. There's things out there that you can use, use them or lose them.’
Another day of the week Freda has help with her housework. ‘I can’t clean much anymore’. She also has help to mow the lawn and trim and tidy her garden. ‘Well, they’re there to help you so why don’t you get the help?’ Freda’s health is not 100% but you wouldn’t realise this when you hear how active she is. I was very interested to learn how she manages her health, both in her attitude and the practical things she does. ‘I've had rheumatic fever twice. The rheumatic fever is a fever that cripples you all up. With the rheumatic fever they said that I would never be able to walk again. Thank God I can walk again and I could look after my family which was great. I didn't want anything else other than to be able to look after my family. And I got my wish. As you can see I eat very well, lots of fruit and vegetables. Tea and coffee, water. I have at least 8 glasses of water a day.’ (Me: How do you fit in 8 glasses of water a day?) ‘Well, you go and brush your teeth don't you? Why don't you have a glass of water after you brush your teeth? I'm taking my tablets, so you have one sip of water and have another tablet. By the time you've finished five tablets you've finished a bottle of water. Then you’re coming from being outside, have a glass of water. I know I have tea and coffee as well but in between times I have water. I've got a bottle of water there. If I feel thirsty when I'm having lunch I'll have a drink of water. If you've got it next to you, as you can see this is the second bottle I'm onto today.’
I ask Freda about pain and how she manages that. ‘Everyone has got aches and pains. Why let it rule you? By gosh I've got too much things to do haven’t I? This is what I mean, why stay at home and say, “Oh I think I've got a headache, oh yeah I better lay down”. What for? That’s the way I feel. So what? Good God. I know my back aches, I do my exercises nearly every day. Trying to get up off the chair is like you need a crane to pick you up but you do it. Now, I am sorry to say, but a couple of weeks ago, I tried to get up off the toilet and I couldn’t manage it. After that I got a chair for my toilet so that I can get up. I’ve got the sides on this [chair]. If I can’t get up I use my arms to push me up. Why complain about it? Oh yeah my heads sore, my back is sore. (Me: and you just don’t let it stop you?). ‘No, why should it? I've got a massager there that I do that three times a day.’
I asked Freda about how she managed during COVID restrictions. ‘I found it alright. No one was allowed to come near my place because I was too scared for them to get it, because I’m allergic to so many things. I crocheted, I did a lot of handiwork. I read and I tried to sort out some of the photos. I made these things for the glasses and made beads. I raised over $200 for the Fire Brigade. I found stuff to do. The phone never stopped. You see, I am very lucky, I’ve got David [Freda’s son] next door where I just tell him what I want and he’d get it for me so that was good.’
(Me: What advice would you give to people just retiring?) ‘Well live a life, don’t ferment in your own house. Take things daily. Look in the mirror in the morning, “Hey, you’re still here aren’t you?”, so this is it. What are you going to do today?’ Freda also suggests phoning your local council to find out what your local area has to offer.