Culturally Appropriate Independent Living Units Planned for Victoria Area Indigenous Community

Like many of his contemporaries, Uncle John Walker often struggles to deal with loneliness.

The Yorta Man Yorta lives alone in a suburb where he often finds “there is no one to talk to” and “loneliness can be a problem”.

There are over 700 Aboriginal people aged 45 and over in Ballarat, and many are expected to require culturally appropriate support as they age.

So the city’s Indigenous community-controlled health organization has proposed plans for an “elders’ village” that it hopes will improve social connections for aging members of the community.

The eight-unit, one- and two-bedroom complex is designed in consultation with elders, with Aboriginal art, vegetable gardens, communal dining and spaces for on-site medical care included in the designs.

Karen Heap says she doesn’t want to put residents in a place where it feels like an institution again.(ABC Ballarat: Christopher Testa)

Karen Heap, CEO of the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-Operative (BADAC), said she expected the village to “change the way people feel”.

Ms Heap said there were other Aboriginal-only aged care homes, but she was unaware of any other culturally specific independent living units in Victoria or even across Australia.

Maintain vital independence

Many older members of Ballarat’s close-knit indigenous community arrived in Wadawurrung Country decades ago after being forcibly separated from their families and taken to orphanages and children’s homes.

“We don’t want to put them in a nursing home where it feels like it’s a bit of an institution again,” Ms Heap said.

“Especially when they’re not quite ready for it, not medically ready for it.

Plans have been filed with the council and the co-op hoped construction could begin this year.

The project has also received $2.6 million from the Government of Victoria.

Downtown Ballarat.
BADAC’s proposed village for elderly Aboriginal residents is close to Ballarat town centre.(ABC Ballarat: Christopher Testa)

An example for future generations

Uncle John said living closer to the Ballarat CBD would make it easier to see relatives and feel part of a community.

“I will be with other uncles and aunts; they are all like family,” he said.

Uncle Ted Laxton, a man from Gunditjmara, said the village would also give younger generations of Aboriginal people the assurance that they would be cared for in old age.

Uncle John said he hoped the village would be “a springboard for future projects that they consider”.

“Hopefully as they get older there will be more facilities like this available in 20, 30, 40 years,” he said.

James C. Tibbs