BIG CROWD: More than 150 people attended the launch of ‘The Mallee Living Histories’ book at Princes Court earlier this week. Photos: PAUL MENSCH

THEY say that everyone has a book in them. It’s just that most of us don’t have the opportunity or the inclination to put pen to paper, and so many stories are never told.

With that in mind, last year The Mildura Writers’ Group’s Vernon Knight and Sandra Bailey thought it would be a timely idea to partner with Princes Court Homes and its residents to document some of the stories of their lives.

Twelve months on, a beautiful book has been published – the result of 15 storytellers and volunteer writer’s dedicated work, which saw residents of the home imparting fascinating chapters from their interesting and rewarding lives.

Titled, ‘The Mallee’s Living Histories’, the beautifully-presented paperback book was launched at Princes Court earlier this week at an event that was attended by more 150 residents, friends and family, local dignitaries and invited guests.

Patrons of the project, Dr Don Edgar and Dr Patricia Edgar who are both Ambassadors of the National Ageing Research Institute, were in Mildura to launch the book.

Princes Court CEO, Jenny Garonne, said that the launch was a celebration of the importance of the elderly. 

“Sharing their life stories and their enriched knowledge is something we need to acknowledge and we are grateful for their contributions – they are all such wonderful people,” she said. 

Princes Court chair, Lyn Heaysman, highlighted one of the stories which was told by former high school principal Enid Borshman, who amongst other things spent time in Antarctica in 1977.

“Really going to Antarctica with 15 men?” she said. A swift retort from Enid who was sitting nearby came back, “It was 19!” to which the room filled with laughter.

Ms Heaysman also spoke of another storyteller, Norm Jones, whose humorous tales and stories of larrikinism when he was in the army, had made for wonderfully colourful content.

Paying tribute

Project joint-convenor and writer, Vernon Knight said that while he and Sandra had worked closely on the production of the book, he wanted to pay tribute to the many other people involved, including Princes Court board member Paula Gordon and Princes Court Writers’ Group’s Ross Lake.

“I hasten to add that this was a team effort, and I extend my congratulations to the team – it was a fabulous effort,” he said. 

Mr Knight said the idea for the project was born out of a desire to have ageing people feel better about themselves and relevant.

“The social worker in me said if you want people to feel better about themselves – get them to tell their stories – and we don’t do it often enough,” he said. 

“How often do we come away from funerals saying, ‘I didn’t know that about them’ or ‘I never got to ask them about that’. This book was therefore an opportunity to change some of those things.”

Mr Knight said his group then approached Princes Court’s board and the response couldn’t have been more enthusiastic, as it was from the residents.

“Hands up in Princes Court if you want your story told? All of a sudden there was a forest of hands,” Mr Knight said. 

“We then decided that 15 stories would be about as many as we could fit into one book − the stories are between 5000 and 7000 words each. They aren’t life stories, rather they are insights into some beautiful memories and lovely experiences.”

Mr Knight said the volunteer writers who had sat with each of the storytellers had done an incredible job.

“All these people who said “I can’t write a story”, have written the most amazing pieces, and the reason for that is, the people whose shoulder’s we tapped, were people who had heart and were genuinely interested in meeting one-on-one with people to learn and capture their story. The experience has enriched us all.”

Patricia Edgar spoke of the importance for elderly people to continue to have purpose and to remain engaged in conversation and enjoy the company of others.

“I congratulate you on your project, do more, go out everyday and have a purpose and enjoy yourselves and say hello to your neighbour,” she said. 

Don Edgar said that he though the stories were amazingly honest.

“There’s very little wining and winging in this book and overall I think these stories are brutally honest, amazingly honest and heart felt stories,” he said.

“There are two quotes which I think sum up what these stories tell us about our pioneers – you wonderful people sitting here today. “I want to be in control of my own life” and you were. The second one, “You can do whatever you like – just do it” and they did. This book means that your names and your stories will continue and they will be remembered. 

“This book is a real initiative that can serve as a model for aged care everywhere else, and not just places like Princes Court, but should be taken up by people who are looking after the aged in there own homes.”

The project has sparked interest from other groups, and already there are plans for a second book which will no doubt contain more wonderful stories from the rich collective of residents at Princes Court.