It’s my first time to visit Riverton, a small town in South Australia known as the heart of Gilbert Valley. As we drove through the main street, there were three art galleries and a few antique sandstone buildings which, I believe, were erected in the mid-1900 when the first settlers arrived in the place.
|The hallway in the care home, with handrails on the walls.|
Riverton is approximately 85 kilometres southeast of my place. The sealed roads and highways were occasionally pine-lined; and across the endless horizon were the flourishing wheat and barley plantations, and the blossoming canola that creates a patchy artwork of verdant rolling plains and bright yellow hills. As we came closer to Clare Valley and Auburn, there was a very distinct transition of vegetation from a rich, blooming field to those leafless vines and melancholic vineyards...
|The residents and the caregiver in the lounge.|
I went to Riverton not as a tourist, though, but as a friend. Together with Tony and Jane, and their 3-year old daughter Ella, we accompanied Aling Siony to the Riverton Hospital which is also a centre for elderly care in the region. We visited Charles—Aling Siony’s husband who will be turning eighty-four by the end of this month. Charles has been in the care home for more than a year now, and every time he sees his wife he would say, “I think I’m gonna die...”
I, actually, don’t want to think how Charles and the other residents have survived in the care centre. Don’t get me wrong, aside from the inevitable smell of soaked adult pads, the hospital is very clean and tidy, equipped with a complete range of age-care facilities, and by the looks of it, I can say without second thoughts that the entire building has been regularly maintained inside-out. I believe that every member of the staff is well-trained to run the centre and is competent enough to offer the best care to their residents.
|The residents' shared room.|
...but it is the sense of belongingness that concerns me the most. The caregivers may have been doing the same job for years—skilled and knowledgeable, but the fact that they aren’t even related by flesh and by blood to their patients is truly an emotional pain for me. Elderly people don’t just need excellent care of their competent caregivers, but genuine love and care which should and could only be given by their own family. There are twenty-two residents in the ‘home’, two of them in each room but they don’t even know the name of each other, and couldn’t even remember the life story of their roommate. A ‘care home’ is not a home!
We were sitting in the lounge when Charles asked Aling Siony to take him to his dad. He said he wants to see his father, and his brother. Aling Siony held the hand of his husband and squeezed it, she blushed and dropped a tear... the truth is—Charles’ dad has passed away many years ago... dementia had possibly made him believe that his dad was still alive.
Charles asked Tony to open the built-in case of his walker; he said that there’s a lemon and a grapefruit inside. Tony obeyed, and to my surprise, there were fruits in that box! Charles took the grapefruit, handed it to Aling Siony and said, “This is for you, dear. Take it home.” We soon realized that the fruits have fallen from the tree standing in the backyard of the elderly care centre.
When it was time for us to leave, Aling Siony took the visitors book of her husband so she could sign. The last entry was June 23, 2010—a visit made by herself, Jane and Ella. In the first Sunday of September, Australia will celebrate father’s day. I wish that Charles’ children from his first four once legal wives (but now legally-divorced) will come and say hello to their dad (Aling Siony is the fifth, and the couple hasn’t been blessed with a child).
|Charles, Ella (the grapefruit behind her pink backpack), and Aling Siony.|
I will be celebrating my fourth birthday in Australia this month. I am definitely getting older and older... in this Land Down Under where the conception and views about elderly care are very different from what we have back home. I have been granted with a permanent resident visa in this country, and with what I have seen in Riverton today, I am reconsidering my plans to achieve the ultimate immigration status down here.
|The dining, with the lemon and grapefruit trees outside.|
I am looking forward to visit Riverton again, not to see the home for the aged but to explore the town and discover more about the real heart of Gilbert Valley.