Jeanette has 25 years of experience in being retired. She is 85 years of age and ‘just starting on this 85 year old bit, but my entry into it is how I intend to go [on]. I don’t want to change it until it just gradually happens.’ Jeanette is cheerful and positive which I learn is partly due to the way she has turned fund raising for causes that are close to her heart into a lifestyle. She says she was told, ‘Don’t look at the big picture because it’s too big and you’ll be turned off but look for what one person can do for another and multiply it by all those who are interested and that’s how we help the world.’ She explains, ‘This is why older folk, if they haven’t got an interest, don’t have that joy in their life. They sit and they think of themselves rather than somebody else. What can you do for somebody? We’ve been involved in it for years. All the things that you can do for somebody else. It’s lovely. You do it too darling. Do it. Get out and do something for somebody. I couldn’t go to Ethiopia and help over there. But if I can make some jam here and sell it … it makes me able to use my talents to do things that I can’t go and do.’
The two causes Jeanette and her husband of 60 years, Ron (who passed away early in 2020) support are the Catherine Hamlin Foundation and World Vision. The Catherine Hamlin Foundation helps women in Ethiopia who have suffered childbirth injury - obstetric fistula. Jeanette had a difficult child birth with her first son and recognises that without having had excellent treatment in Australia at the time, she would not have done as well. Her other beloved cause is World Vision and the various programs they provide such as sponsoring children, preschool in the West Kimberley region for indigenous children and World Food Aid. ‘I just feel that I am here to tell people about the things that I support. And it makes me happy to be able to spread the word. There’s a lot of World Vision stuff goes on in Australia and we don’t know about it. I raise funds to do it. I make jam, about 16 varieties. $11 000 I made last year with jam and things. Ron and I used to have market stalls but now I have jam in 4 different places. They just put [out] a box of my jam and one of those flyers. One place has raised $12 000 or $13 000 over the time they have been doing it. Half [goes] to the [Catherine Hamlin] Fistula Hospital and half to World Vision. Once a year, the World Food Aid program through World Vision multiplies what you can give. Last year it was 18 x what you were [able to give] and I was able to give $3 000 for that. Once you get involved in those aid agencies the work is just amazing.’
Jeanette also supports other initiatives in her community and around the world. ‘I’ve got a little knitting group and we’ve got two [kids] in our little knitting group that we sponsor. We knit squares for rugs and we send rugs to the nursing homes. I’ve got ladies that crochet hats with a little flower on the side, instead of a beanie. They’re a little bit more upmarket and I knit men’s beanies with cables in them. Others knit mittens and scarves and I knit collar scarves that you tuck in just the neck. The BDCU bank put my craft and things in [to sell]. Tea cosies and my hand towels and the hats and bits and pieces as well as a box with all the jams in it. Did you ever hear of fish and chips jumpers? Twenty odd years ago in Africa the babies were being taken home from hospital in newspaper because they’re so poor. And all over the world, people were suddenly aware of this and they started to knit little jumpers to take the babies home in. So these little jumpers have been knitted by the thousands all over the world. They’re just a little jumper, and you see, on a new born baby they just go on and you can change the nappy at the bottom. I’ll come home and there will be a little bag on the door knob from ladies here that have knitted me a little bag full.
‘The benefit you get out of it is the joy of doing it. I get joy in getting to pick the colours for the tea cosies. If you put a price on them that people will buy, then it multiplies doesn’t it? If you’ve got it sitting on a shelf and it doesn’t sell, why did you do it? And people say, “Oh, it’s slave labour.” I said, “No it’s not, I enjoy it”. This is another one of the crocheted rugs I do. This is for people in the nursing home. They can sit in a wheelchair and it doesn’t dangle around under the wheels. So there is always something to do. You see I have that second bedroom in there absolutely full of stuff; rugs to take to nursing homes that the ladies have done, little jumpers that we knit for Fiji. If we all think of how blessed we are, when you look at other countries, think of your blessings, and think of how we can share that joy that we’ve got with others. Just to do it. Because we are not just here on our own in this world. We are here to share, to make it for everybody.’
‘Every morning when you wake up, you’ve got the whole day ahead of you to do the best you can with it. It’s up to you. You wake up in the morning, it’s your day. You’re the one that’s in charge. Nobody can make that day for you. You’re the one who has to do it. That’s what life’s about. If you don’t make it and you get to the end of the day and think “well, I really didn’t make much of that day,” well, you’ve got another one tomorrow. What you do with it is up to you. There’s nobody else. A lot of them just sit around and wait for the world to come to them, well it doesn’t. You’ve got to get out there into it. And I’ve done it for years. Get up in the morning and think, “What have I got to do today?” That day is not touched yet. By the end of the day if I haven’t got it done well there’s another day, I’ll put it into the next one or whenever. And if it doesn’t get done it doesn’t get done. Sorry. I mean you can’t eat off the floor in my place, I vacuum when I can’.
In her early retirement years Jeanette and Ron had leadership roles in different community associations. ‘We’d had an interest in the Community Association in Colo Vale where he was the President and I was the Treasurer. We’d been involved in Church activities all our lives so we understood organisations and the structures. And that is why organisations are failing, because people don’t know [about the constitution rules for associations]. You see, I grew up in those girl’s groups that were structured and you had a treasurer and you had a secretary and all those things. Well now, Probus Clubs are closing because they can’t get people to do the committee work. We’ve always been part of making sure what we were in worked. And if you’re not prepared to make it work you are not as committed as you should be to what you are involved in.
‘Ron and I started two Probus Clubs. We started one here in the Highlands, after he retired. There was a notice in the paper. There was a men’s group in Bowral who wanted to start up a combined group so they could take their wives. So off we went to the interest group. When he walked in the door somebody said, “Oh I am glad you’re here, you can be the first President.” You’ve got to have people in an organisation to start it that does that. Well then, I was the first Treasurer wasn’t I? So, we started that and that happened for about 9 years. We got 120 [members] and more and there were waiting lists so we said, “Hey, we could drop off the twig with people on the waiting list before that happens.” So, 9 of us started, had another group meeting, so we formed Nattai and Nattai’s been going since 2003. And we’ve got around about 70 to 80 [members]. Interconnection is what it is all about.
‘I wrote three little books about Colo Vale when we lived there. I went there and I said, “I want to know the history of the place.” Well, people start these little places, little villages, and how did it all come about and what struggles did they have? I did one [book] on 10 years of the Probus Club [we started] so they knew what we had done, so that new people knew what the background was. Be interested in what’s out there. Interest yourself. I just love history and I loved social history of where I live, and I need to know. You don’t just live in a house and that’s all it is. You live in an area. You live in a country. You live in the places that make the place where you live. You’ve got to be interested in things. The facilities are there, we’ve got libraries that have got massive amounts of social history. Make the time to go and look. Be interested in knowing what is made [there] and what is around. If you see a little old building or something, go to the library, if you’ve got a minute, and see if you can find out about it.’
It has been 16 months since Ron has passed away and I am curious how Jeanette is not upset when she talks about him, after they were married for so long. I ask Jeanette how she has coped.
‘You have your days. I’ve just kept on doing the things that we both always did together. And I’ve been so busy. I’ve been busier because I’ve had to do what he did as well. See, we shared everything and that’s what I miss so much, because he was under my elbow and screwed the lids on the jams and he washed up. And I can see him sitting there saying, “I don’t know, you always make a batch of jam that I haven’t got the labels cut up for.” And it was true because when I sit down now I’ve made a batch of jam and the labels aren’t cut up and I have to cut it up. Don’t change your life, don’t change your life because your partner’s gone, just continue it. Do the things you did together so that you can remember them. He’s still with me. He’s still with me in the things I do, because we did them for so long. But I’m still a couple, he is part of me, we were a partnership for 61 years. You can’t forget that, can you? It’s just part of you, it’s just your life. That’s the way I’ve looked at it. I know others don’t do it that way.
‘I find the hardest thing probably [is] I don’t drive and have never driven. So it means that I have to arrange transport to anything I need to do through community transport or a taxi or ask a friend. You’ve got community transport, which is a blessing. They’re lovely people. Some of the drivers are delightful and they’re so caring. I can use that and I can use the taxi service. All you have to do is make the very most of them and be thankful for them because some places don’t have them. You don’t have to stay home. Although I did find that covid was wonderful for me because I could do things at home. The lockdown part of covid was good for me at that time. I think I’d been flat out.
'During covid I was blessed again with lovely people who wanted to shop for me. In my knitting group I’ve got a younger woman, about 41 or 42, she works and she used to cook things for my stalls when I had them. She sent out an email and she said, “In covid, if you want somebody to do your shopping for you, I’d be prepared to do it, let me know.” Well, she’s a lovely friend, she pops in once a week. “Mother Hubbard” she calls me, because I’ve got a cupboard.
One of the ladies who is a receptionist at a place that sells my jam calls in on her way home from work and she’ll get me things at the shops. She gets me to look up all the specials and if there is anything I want her to get for me she says, “I’ll have some of that too.” (Me: So you’re helping her too?) Yes, so she’s helping me and she can talk to me on her way home, and that helps her too.’
(Me: So this is how it’s done? From the different interests and groups you meet connections that then can help you with different things. You don’t sit at home feeling lonely, angry at your family because they haven’t visited you?). ‘Oh no, no. You know they’ve got their lives. They know as long as you’re healthy and you’re happy, they’re happy. “Mrs Have-A-Chat” they call me. Life is wonderful, it truly is wonderful, if you look for the best, that’s what it is.’