Senior Victorians' full, rich lives on show in Benetas exhibition

Benetas celebrates the sometimes extraordinary lives of senior Victorians in a photo exhibition

The Knit Natter Crochet Chatter group, residents of Benetas' Dalkeith Heights Independent Living village in Traralgon, who knit blankets and clothing for those in need.

PHOTO: Gina Milicia

By Mark Brolly

September 28 2016 

Fifteen women in the Latrobe Valley who knit for those in need, a Camberwell woman who has devoted herself to education and environmental care, a Vietnamese woman who survived a dangerous boat journey as a refugee, a 74-year-old sportsman who was left a paraplegic at 18 and an 85-year-old Dutch magician who once volunteered in Mother Teresa’s House for the Dying in Kolkata are among the compelling subjects featured in Benetas’ second “Unexpected Heroes” photographic exhibition for Victorian Seniors Week.

The 20 portraits by Australian photographer Gina Milicia are in an exhibition initiated by leading aged care provider Benetas, which was founded in 1948 when a small group of volunteers from the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne began providing care and support to older Victorians. All those featured in the exhibition are Benetas clients or volunteers, from residents of retirement homes and independent living villages to those receiving respite and home care.

One photo features members of the Knit Natter Crochet Chatter group, residents of Dalkeith Heights Independent Living village in Traralgon, who knit blankets and clothing for those in need.

The group has donated many knitted items to Anglicare for distribution throughout the local area.

Another portrait features Ms Jean Riley, 87, a resident of Benetas’ Broughton Hall, Camberwell.

Ms Riley was a teacher for many years, often in small rural schools, and also was active in environmental group Landcare, which was established in Victoria 30 years ago and went national three years later. She was awarded Life Membership of Landcare, a group promoting biodiversity and sustainable management of land and waterways, 10 years ago.

Mrs Kiem Do, who is pictured in the exhibition wearing national dress, made the dangerous boat journey from Vietnam, via an Indonesian refugee camp, with her husband, three sons, two daughters and one grandson in 1982. Now 82 and living in Springvale, where she is part of the Benetas Respite Group there, she celebrates her Vietnamese heritage as an active member of the community in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs.

Mr Milan Krbavic, who had an accident at 18 that left him a paraplegic, is pictured in the exhibition in his wheelchair on a basketball court, with a basketball in hand and a medal around his neck. At 74, Mr Krbavic, a client of Benetas Home Care in Clayton, has competed in weightlifting for Victoria as well as playing wheelchair basketball. He continues to be an advocate for people with disability

Now 86 and living in Brighton, Mr Rids van der Zee has travelled the world performing magic, bringing joy and helping those in need. Apart from his time volunteering with Mother Teresa in Kolkata, he ran a children’s holiday camp in the Dandenongs. He also has been a restaurant manager, hairdresser, counsellor and, more recently, a Civil Celebrant.

Of his time at Mother Teresa’s House for the Dying, he said: “A young boy died in my arms and he died with a smile on his face. The nun says: ‘Rids, the greatest disease in the world is not to be wanted and loved.’ And she says: ‘You loved him. He died with a smile on his face.’ And that’s how it started.

“I don’t mind being old but I don’t enjoy getting old.”

Ninety-six-year-old Dr Roland Good, like the knitters, lives at Dalkeith Heights in Traralgon and like them has devoted himself to others. Dr Good is a pacifist but during World War II, he healed the wounded in Papua New Guinea and then in the Korean War, he helped establish a hospital for women and children affected by the conflict. He also worked in regional Victoria.

Two Benetas volunteers also feature in the exhibition: For the past 16 years, Ms Bette Wilson, 87, has been a volunteer at the Corowa Court Auxiliary Op Shop in Mornington, the past five of them as President of the committee. And in Glenroy, 92-year-old Jack Brook volunteers at Colton Close, bringing joy to residents and staff along the way.

Benetas CEO Sandra Hills said the “Unexpected Heroes” campaign aimed to increase understanding and respect for older people.

“Benetas is deeply committed to advocating for older people in our community and ensuring their voices are heard,” Ms Hills said.

“Older people should be understood, celebrated and respected. We have so much to learn from older people and Benetas’ ‘Unexpected Heroes’ is our way of opening up a dialogue together across generations.”

The general public also has the opportunity to share stories and photos of their “unexpected heroes” and upload them via Benetas social media using #unexpectedheroes

“We want people to share stories about their heroes because it’s amazing what you discover under a few wrinkles,” Ms Hills said.


Benetas’ “Unexpected Heroes” 2016 Photography Exhibition is in the KPMG Lobby at 147 Collins Street, Melbourne, until Friday 7 October from 9am to 5pm, except on the Grand Final Eve public holiday on 30 September and the weekend of 1-2 October. The exhibition is free.