Friendships Sealed with PARO

Sitting in her favourite armchair in the sunshine at Aurrum Brunswick, an elderly lady gently stroked the fluffy white fur of the creature in her lap. She spoke softly to it and in return, the creature lifted its head and made friendly, almost lifelike sounds in return.

She had made a new friend – in the form of PARO, a robotic baby harp seal. PARO is described by its inventor, Dr Takanori Shibata as “a therapeutic companion robot, designed to improve sociability and communication between patients and caregivers.”

“A seal was chosen because no one has a preconceived idea of how a seal should behave – unlike cats and dogs” says Dr. Shibata.

PARO is a robot seal covered in pure white synthetic fur with built-in intelligence providing psychological, physiological, and social effects through physical interaction with humans. Inside are two 23-bit CPUs (central processing units), which can process voice recognition and imitate animal behaviour, enabling PARO to develop its own character. PARO has five different types of sensors over the body that allows it to perceive people and the environment, and respond to touch, light, sound, temperature and posture.

Weighing about the same as a newborn baby, PARO has the ability to learn new words and remember the voices different people. At Aurrum Brunswick alone, PARO is regularly spoken to in Greek and Italian as well as English.

PARO has been proven as a stimulating and engaging tool for dementia sufferers all over the world. There are over 300’000 people in Australia living with dementia, with that number expected to rise significantly over the next decade, so the introduction of PARO to the Australian market is great news for family members and carers of dementia patients.

John’s 65 year old mother is a resident at Aurrum Reservoir and he says since being introduced to PARO, his mother is happier than ever. “When I saw her this morning, I left the room for about five minutes and when I came back in to sit with her she said ‘Are you still here? I’ve got my PARO now – I don’t need you anymore!’” he says laughing. “Whenever PARO is around the smile on her face is just beautiful. She gets excited. She’s happy.”

Aurrum is planning to make use of PARO across all of its sites in Victoria and New South Wales. “We wanted to take part in a good quality initiative,” says Area General Manager, Glenda Walker.

Not only is PARO extremely practical and therapeutic for people with dementia, research has also shown that it alleviates the symptoms of people who suffer from depression and anxiety and in some cases even reduces the need for medication.

PARO was developed in 1993 by Dr Takanori Shibata and officially released commercially in Japan in 2005. In 2009 PARO was introduced to Europe, with Denmark at the forefront of adopting this innovative technology. “I’ve been working on a few different kinds of PARO, each designed for specific purposes. For example, this PARO here is great therapy for elderly people, especially those suffering with dementia.” Dr. Shibata says.

“In the cases for children with autism or Down Syndrome, I’ve been developing a PARO that can be used to train children in social skills. There are also ones in development to deal specifically with developmental problems and psychological problems.”

Professor Peter Disler is an accomplished senior physician and academic at the University of Melbourne and has seen the positive effects of PARO first hand in his work with Aurrum. “I know as well as anyone how difficult it is to deal with the behavioural side of things with people with dementia.” He says. “There’s so many electronic devices nowadays, that memory is becoming largely irrelevant. But behaviour is a real challenge, and whatever we have to improve it, is good. Through my observations, I’ve found an improvement in behaviour and satisfaction amongst residents and a generally high acceptance of PARO. I think it’s a fantastic thing.”

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March 5, 2015   No Comments

Still Sculpting after 50 Years

Prolific 80-year-old Yarra Glen Man of Steel, still sculpting after fifty years.

Ernst Fries, one of Australia’s most celebrated and awarded sculptors staged a retrospective exhibition on his property and gallery Linden Gate at Yarra Glen during January.

Conveniently, the still-active craftsman has ten acres to display his prolific works going back fifty years, though a number of his large, impressive stained glass and stainless steel sculptures are situated in churches, at the Melbourne Magistrates court,  Mckenzie Park in Yarra Glen and multiple international, national and regional galleries and private collections. His output is in the thousands.

It is no surprise that Ernst still works full time in his expansive and well-equipped studio/workshop with views of the valley, vineyards and mountain views.

From the age of seven until eleven Ernst grew up (or survived) under the Nazis in the small German historic town of Würzburg. He saw too much death and destruction for anyone. In the last weeks of the war, hundreds of thousands of bombs razed the once decorative town.

Ever since, each day has been a bonus for Ernst and he has made the most of every moment. Despite a ‘dicky’ knee, he is in his workshop every day and has numerous projects on the go. He even found time to complete a Masters in Fine Arts in 2010, based on “Light Colour and Spatiality through the medium of Delle De Verre glass.

This engaging father-of-six, craftsman trained as a jeweller/goldsmith in Zurich before arriving with his Swiss wife, Rosmarie in 1959. After overcoming the shock of Bonegilla (migrant camp), the culture-shocked couple moved to Melbourne. To support his growing family he initially took on the job as a water and sewerage designer. To cope with the mundane work, in the evenings he would work until midnight on his art.

Ernst enjoys the challenge of working with precision on large geometrical sculptures. His silver, goldsmith background and engineering studies are evident in the meticulous design he takes with every commission. His sculptures can be up to six metres high and seem to defy gravity in cantilevered positions, some engaging the wind as an interactive element and refracting the light. Commissions often involve stainless steel and Dalle de Verre (stained glass), concrete, rare timbers, resin and sensory lights.

Visitors to Art at Linden Gate Gallery will see a cross-section of five decades of Ernst Fries’ diverse work in all shapes, sizes and materials. One of the standouts is a bronze head of a newly arrived migrant. The look on the face is one of terror and confusion, tinged with hope; feelings Ernst and his late wife shared when they landed in this far away mysterious land fifty five years ago.

They will also see Ernst’s handy work as a builder on doors, windows, walls, balustrades and even the B&B accommodation. It seems everything he touches turns to art; a rich legacy indeed. For more information regarding Ernst’s art or the artistic accommodation see

February 1, 2015   No Comments

Season’s Greetings

Hi Everyone,

Well what a year it has been! This combined December/January issue comes to you a few weeks from Christmas and I hope you enjoy it. For me the year has been challenging but immensely enjoyable and I have loved every contact from you the wonderful readers of Fifty Plus News. Your overwhelming positive response to the change of ownership and the changes that have been made along the way have buoyed my spirits. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

To the wonderful regular advertisers I also send my heartfelt thanks. Coming on board with a new owner, and new to the industry, these people are the unsung heroes of Fifty Plus. Without them it wouldn’t exist. I ask you to support these wonderful people and businesses wherever possible.

All the new advertisers over the year who have come on board thank you. The Fifty Plus name and brand is growing and an ever increasing group of new advertisers are finding us and enjoying positive results, certainly a great situation for both them and Fifty Plus.

As we head into Summer I urge you all to take care around water. Given the statistics from last year which saw an increase in those over 50 losing their lives when swimming or boating, please take care out there.

I would like to thank Len, the wonderful guide we had on the walk through of the Urban Koorie Tour I attended in November. His passion for his culture and the wish to share it with everyone was infectious. I learned so much from him and recommend the tour to everyone. That’s Len on the front cover.

2015 will see some more positive changes coming our way with the addition of social media and an updated website. I’m really looking forward to catching up with more of you in the New Year as I have been firmly chained to the desk this year.

To everyone out there, no matter your faith or belief, I wish you and your families a wonderful and safe festive season. May 2015 be filled with peace and happiness for all. Watch out for Fifty Plus in February.



December 4, 2014   No Comments

Coming Home to Bundoora

COMING HOME is a social history exhibition exploring the history of Bundoora Homestead as a Repatriation Mental Hospital for returned servicemen from 1920 until 1993. It tells a story of state and national significance, and reveals elements of a little known chapter in the care and management of veterans suffering from mental disorders as a result of their war service.

Historical photographs from the National Archives of Australia, Australian War Memorial, Red Cross and City of Darebin Art and History Collection will be on display. Also included are artefacts, artworks and personal stories from a wide variety of private and public collections.

After the First World War (1914 – 1918), the Commonwealth Government identified Bundoora Park estate, a 1890s Queen Anne style federation mansion and its grounds, as a suitable site for a Convalescent Farm. For some ex soldiers it would take 10-15 years before their condition was diagnosed and they entered Bundoora Park. Many never left.

In 1924, the site became the Bundoora Repatriation Mental Hospital and was the first psychiatric facility established in Victoria to provide on-going care and rehabilitation for veterans with an accepted psychiatric illness due to their war service.

Labelled as ‘War Derelicts’, ‘Neurasthenic Soldiers’, ‘Shell-shocked’ or suffering from ‘Anzac Nerves’, little was understood about disorders known today as P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or other conditions resulting from trauma.

During the 1930’s the veranda’s were enclosed with mesh and canvas blinds to house the ever growing number of patients. The Red Cross played an important role with services, activities, socialising and care packages.

Significantly, in 1948 at Bundooora, senior medical officer and psychiatrist Dr John Frederick Joseph Cade AO (1912 – 1980) conducted research which led to his discovery of the successful effects of using lithium carbonate as a mood stabiliser in the treatment of bipolar disorder (then known as manic depression).

An important relationship featured in the exhibition is that of Sergeant Henry ‘Lofty’ Cannon, a long term patient at Bundoora. He was a medical orderly with the 2/9 Field Ambulance and Changi prisoner of war, who nursed Ronald Searle (1920-2011), renowned British artist and satirical cartoonist while working on the Thai-Burma Railway. Searle perilously documented this period, which included drawings of Lofty and the brutal camp conditions.

COMING HOME also tells the stories of a number of significant military personnel associated with the City of Darebin including Able Seaman William Williams, the first recorded Australian service fatality for the First World War, Victoria Cross winners Sergeant William Ruthven (WWI) and Private Bruce Kingsbury (WWII) and Corporal Rodney Breavington, a Changi POW who was executed in the Second World War.

Many of the records of this important chapter of Bundoora Homestead were lost in a flood in the basement and Curator Cassie May is appealing to the public to help fill in the gaps. If you had a relative or know of someone who was treated at the Repatriation Hospital please contact her via email 


Friday 3 October – Sunday 7 December 2014

Wednesday to Friday 11am-4pm, Saturday & Sunday 12 noon-5pm

Bundoora Homestead Art Centre

7-27 Snake Gully Drive, Bundoora

Entry is FREE

November 2, 2014   No Comments

Uniting the Generations

As time passes we lose so much valuable knowledge and history of our elders, grandparents and loved ones. This information is often not passed down, so to make sure the lives of our residents in Brighton are celebrated, Mayflower Aged Care has teamed up with St Finbar’s Primary School to capture the amazing stories and history of the residents.

“We welcomed the opportunity to be part of this unique program, Mayflower has put together” said Steele Anderson, Grade 6 Teacher at St Finbar’s Primary School. “The program allows our students to get in touch with the local community, celebrate their lives and connect with the social values we pride ourselves on; care, compassion and respect.”

This program developed by Mayflower Lifestyle Manager, Joanne King has brought together local students to interview aged care residents about their life. The students worked in pairs talking to residents about where they grew up, their family and key milestones in their life. “After a number of interviews the students developed a biography of the resident’s life and presented it to the resident and their family”, said Ms King.

“It was truly wonderful to see the students interacting so freely with older members of the community and the residents looking forward to seeing the students and sharing their stories” said Ms King. “Students have thoroughly enjoyed the process and look forward to visiting their elderly friends in the future” Mr Anderson said.

In term 3, 14 students participated, developing biographies for 8 residents. This program will become a part of the curriculum for St Finbar’s. Mayflower has found the biographies to be invaluable for staff to learn more about the residents, for family to chat to their loved ones about their experience and for the students to create new found friendships.

October 2, 2014   No Comments

Fields of Rainbows

Join us in the Tulips for the perfect day out at your own pace. The Tesselaar Tulip Festival will see you recharge as you breathe in the picturesque views of Tulip fields in bloom and distant Mountain ranges. Visitors will discover over a million spring flowering bulbs, including over half a million breathtaking Tulips on show.

Sit, relax and enjoy live stage shows, take a tractor ride around the fields or try your hand at some Dutch games. You can stroll through the historic gardens, pat the alpacas, pick a bunch of tulips, indulge in traditional Dutch foods and other treats, see beautiful garden displays, visit our fairy garden, the clog shop and find treasures in the souvenir and market stalls. Admire and vote in the people’s choice award of our sculpture exhibit for your chance to win a $250 Tesselaar voucher.

We have a variety of tasty treats on offer with Poffertjes, Croquettes, Reifkoek, Frikandellen, Baked Potatoes, Waffles, Sandwiches, Pies, Sausage Rolls, Cakes, Biscuits, Gozleme, Dutch Kibbeling (fish bites), Pizza and other treats to choose from. You are more than welcome to bring a picnic lunch to relax and enjoy in the gardens. Seniors will also enjoy a free tea or coffee if they visit during Seniors week. A wonderful, memorable day out and one found nowhere else in Victoria.

We have a variety of live entertainment on stage throughout the festival. During Seniors week you can enjoy Dutch Treat with old time favourites or the Cheek to Cheek Jazz Duo on stage along with Angela & Russell showcasing their ballroom, latin and salsa techniques with dance demonstrations. Also discover the Dutch Barrel Organ, a musical novelty bringing back the sounds of the 19th century.

Tulips only flower in our climate for four weeks each spring, so come join in the fun and festivities among a rainbow of colour. Whatever you do, don’t forget the camera as plenty of photo opportunities abound with Windmills, flowers and staff in traditional Dutch costume.

The 2014 Tulip Festival opens Thursday September 11 & runs daily until October 7 with a variety of theme days on offer including Turkish 12-14th, Seniors 15-18th Dutch 19-21st ,Children (during school holidays 22-25 & 29-2), Food, Wine & Jazz 26-28th and Irish weekend 3-5th. Visit for further information or Phone: 03 9737 7777.

September 3, 2014   No Comments

Hooray For Bollywood!

Bollywood was the theme for the latest Celebration of Life event, attended by 280 older people on 25 June 2014.
The Northcote Town Hall was the venue, and as with previous events the participants from 15 aged care facilities across Melbourne had a ball.
The Huffers and Puffers, a 27 piece big band of retired musicians, revealed their natural talent for Bollywood music, and kept everyone dancing all afternoon.
Organised by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the regular Celebration of Life events aim to do just that. The initiative has earned the Brotherhood a recent partnership award from the Anglicare Australia National Awards for Excellence and Innovation.
Paul Brophy (aka the Maharajah), who manages the Brotherhood’s Sambell Lodge in Clifton Hill and organises the events, was thrilled with the turnout and feeling of the day.
‘These events are such a great opportunity for people to come together, dance, socialise and enjoy themselves – it is fantastic to see everyone getting so much pleasure from being here,’ he said. “The collaborations between Aged Care homes has been pivotal to the success of the events. Trish Crow and her team of volunteers from Mary McKillop Aged Care did an amazing job preparing for the event.”
The next Celebration of Life event will take place in November 2014.

August 3, 2014   No Comments

Melbourne Hosts the World Premiere of Street Requiem

On Saturday June 7 I attended the world premiere of STREET REQUIEM presented by the School of Hard Knocks.
The first half of the program was dedicated to choirs who had taken part in the Eisteddfod held during the previous week. Of particular note was the Dunstanza Choir (Dunstan High School, located in Alexandra, Central Otago, New Zealand). Sixty strong with voices of clarity and unison, this choir swept all before them in their competitions and deservedly so. The audience was universally appreciative of their performance.
After a short intermission where many conversations of praise were heard for the various choirs’ performances, there was also anticipation for what was to come next.
STREET REQUIEM, Conceived by Jonathon Welch and created in conjunction with Kathleen McGuire and Andy Payne aims to bring a sense of peace, remembrance and hope to communities struggling to come to terms with street violence and a loss of safety on our streets. It is a beautiful piece of contemporary work including additional English, African and Persian lyrics alongside a modern setting of the traditional Latin texts. While at times deeply moving, the work is essentially optimistic and uplifting. Gospel, Celtic Indigenous, Classical and contemporary genres and instrumentation reflect the multicultural and multi faith traditions of modern city living.
One of the highlight moments at the beginning of the work has a didgeridoo being played while a soloist, Mortezar, from the Voices without Borders choir sang from the balcony. This moment in time encapsulated the very best of Australia now and into the future where old and new share and include each other without prejudice.
From the first notes of Introit to the final strains of Lux Aeterna, it was a journey of the soul filled with regret, sadness and empowerment. The combined choirs were contrasted with lilting solos by Liane Keegan and Danielle Matthews along with Jonathon Welch who sang together with Liane during the program as well as conducting during the first half.
The audience stood as one at the end clapping and chanting their enjoyment of the performances just witnessed. The conversations as we filed out into the cold were of wonderment. It’s safe to say we all left a little more enlightened and recognisant of those whose home are the cold streets. It was touching to witness at least one audience member purchase a red carnation from a lone flower seller who may have been one of the very people this work acknowledges. Lux Aeterna – Remember them.

July 1, 2014   No Comments

A call to Arms!?

I find it ‘interesting’ that the demographic that has been called on the most in the past is again being asked to step up once again. Those over 50 have been called on in several wars, peace keeping missions and the like and now are once again being targeted in the budget. The readership of this paper has a very large spectrum of lifestyles. There are those who barely make it from one pension day to another and others who live more comfortably. Those who are unemployed but still want or need to work and those who are retired and finally able to follow their dreams. If there is one thing I know, it is that this readership demographic is intelligent, determined and has the ability to think outside of the square. Perhaps the call to arms should be to stand up and have our say. Bring our ideas to the table and make sure we are heard. This age demographic knows a thing or two about living within their means and building a stable and prosperous nation at the same time. So stand up, be heard, and don’t become invisible.
Onto a brighter note, where would I be without the engaging readers 50+ has? From sending story ideas, segment topics and feedback you are all wonderful. In this issue you will find the 50+ short story competition is back, so get out your pens, pencils or computers. For the poets out there don’t worry you are not forgotten, there will be something for you in the coming months. Thank you to all those who entered the Mother and Son competition, the winners are announced on p18. Congratulations.
Your response to another call to arms is very evident in the amount of communications I received on volunteering. It is staggering to me that businesses cannot leverage off the experience and abilities of those in the over 50 age bracket. Given the life and work experiences they have, some use this to keep their skill levels up in the same profession they did or continue to work in. Others attend training courses supplied by the organisation and learn new skills. It seems to me that if organisations large and small can invest in and be grateful for the 50+ demographic of volunteers it certainly proves their worth to be in paid employment. Businesses need to stamp out the ageism that exists and gain a fresh perspective. Think of the untold benefits of partnering life and experience mentoring with the fresh faced work force that brings their own concepts to the table. Working together instead of choosing only one side of the coin businesses would build strong, sustainable futures for shareholders and workers alike.
For any group or organisation wanting to recruit volunteers please let me know and 50+ will get the word out.
Until next month stay safe and enjoy.

June 2, 2014   No Comments

Thank you!

I want to take the opportunity to thank all those people and organisations who have contacted me expressing delight that A) 50+ is back and B) that they enjoyed the April edition.

The April edition would not have been possible without the assistance of Margaret and Scott and again I pay homage to them. Scott has also assisted with some layout this month as well as I settle into the job. Thank you Scott!

Much of the positive feedback from readers has centred around some new segments such as Going Places, the Poirot DVD competition and the gardening article. I have had dozens of entries for the competition and choosing a winner was extremely difficult.

To our wonderful advertisers who jumped on board and have re-committed to further their association with 50+ I give my whole hearted thanks. and not least to those new advertisers coming on board. Please support them where you an. They’re great folk and without them we couldn’t exist.

Next month we are featuring 50+ careers, business and volunteering. Today it is not uncommon for people over 50, 60 and beyond to still be in paid employment, or looking for employment wither by choice or circumstance. So if you have a business that you want to promote that is of benefit to our readers, a job opportunity or know of some volunteering opportunities please let me know.

I will also be looking at the positive impact volunteering has not only for community and society but also for the volunteer themselves. Do you volunteer and have a positive story to tell? Refer to the Letters column for contact details.

I hope you enjoy the May issue. Keep the feedback coming and for the mums and grandma’s out there, have a great mother’s day.

Until next month, stay safe and enjoy.



May 12, 2014   No Comments