ABC Gippsland, 23 August 2022

A Victorian town has found a unique solution to stop its senior members having to move away as regional Australian communities struggle to house their elderly when they lose independence.

Key points:

  • Swifts Creek Bush Nursing Centre purchased a property
  • It plans to build nine units for the elderly and one for emergency accommodation
  • There is a lack of aged care services in the area

Rural nursing group Bush Nursing Centre has purchased a property in East Gippsland to build independent living accommodation for the aged community.

The two-hectare farm in Swifts Creek’s north-west was sold at auction on Saturday after the owner of the property died.

The centre purchased the property using money collected through community fundraisers, bequests and donations over the past 10 years.

It plans to build 10 units on the land: nine units for the elderly, and one for short-term crisis accommodation.

Desperately short of options

Swifts Creek Bush Nurse Centre manager Sue Carroll said a lack of accommodation for the elderly sparked the idea.

“[Some are] not nursing home sort of ready, but they can’t manage their properties or their large houses and then they have to sell up and leave the community,” Ms Carroll said.

A block of farm land with hills in the distance.
The farm is 300 metres north-west of Swifts Creek’s town centre. 

The closest aged care facility is in Omeo, about 26 kilometres north of Swifts Creek.

A community meeting garnered unanimous support for the project, with all 34 attendees voting in favour of it.

Giving back to the elderly

The proposed two-bedroom units feature a kitchen, dining room, living room, laundry and a bathroom including a shower fitted with a chair and handrails.

Ms Carroll said the homes would give back to the elderly community.

“People feel devalued as they get older and they’re the ones who have done all the work in the community,” she said.

“They’re the ones who have grown the community and supported the community, so we feel we need to give back to them.”

Swifts Creek resident Janne Smith said the accommodation would be great for the elderly who wished to downsize.

She said her 84-year-old mother lived alone in a large house in Swifts Creek.

“It’d be great for them to have an option to go to something small, but still be self-sufficient or at home, but with some extra care,” Ms Smith said.

Prime location

She said the project, which would be built about 300 metres from town, would increase accessibility for the elderly living on farms by reducing travel time.

A street in the middle of a small country town with hills in the distance.
Janne Smith says the units will provide older people with an option to downsize.

“It would give them that option to be within walking distance of a store rather than driving,” Ms Smith said.

“It’s a big drive in and once you get to the stage where you shouldn’t be driving anymore it’d be great to still be independent, still be able to go and do your own shopping.”

Cluster communities

La Trobe University chair and John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research director, Irene Blackberry, said it was important for communities to step in when the government failed to provide housing.

“It is actually a good thing to see that the community actually are coming together to help solve the problems themselves,” Professor Blackberry said.

A woman smiles for a portrait picture.
Professor Blackberry says rural communities have a shortage of aged care services.

Professor Blackberry said “cluster communities”, where people of similar age lived near each other, provided independence alongside accessible care.

“It’s about options for people to continue to live in that community because as people get older, they need to have some support,” she said.

The Bush Nurse Centre has started applying for several Australian Government grants to fund the construction of the units.