My friend Helen needed to spend some time with her 89-year-old mother who had just come out of hospital, but her home town is 500 km away and she was reluctant to make the trip on her own.  I know the family and offered to come with her.

The countryside was a picture after all the rain of recent months, and having grown up in the country myself – Mudgee, in central NSW – I found the journey delightful.  Being in the small town of Baradine (pop about 600) was no hardship either, with the leisurely life of providing company for a convalescent.  It mainly entailed sitting by the fire at night watching TV before going to bed at an incredibly early hour, or sitting on the back steps in the afternoon soaking up the sun.

Helen in the sun

Of course we also did the jobs that we were there to do, but they didn’t amount to any more than we would be doing in our own homes, mainly getting meals and washing up and providing endless cups of tea.  One afternoon we went into nearby Coonabarabran for an appointment and then a cafe.

Coffee with an amazing 89-year-old

Coffee with an amazing 89-year-old

White frosts in the morning, and clear sunny days, quite idyllic.

Unfortunately the stress level zoomed upon arrival home to the discovery that my car had mysteriously disappeared.  (I had gone with Helen in her car.)  This was apparently my fault for coming home a bit earlier than planned, because the car had been loaned to a friend and should have been returned by the time I arrived.  My shrieks of What is his name?  and, Are you sure he has a licence and not suspended or anything? and, Can you promise he never had a drug conviction or DUI or anything? and, If he has a prang I am immediately reporting it stolen!!  … were not appreciated and I admit my shrill interrogation did escalate the stress level all round, especially when the car was still not back by dark.  A text message about being “stuck in traffic in Sydney” did not endear.

Anyway the car was back by 9.30 pm so I fell into bed wondering how much houses cost in Baradine and whether they have a nursing home there.

Don has always been a prolific letter writer.  In our scrapbook I have numerous letters to the editor that were printed, and a few copies of some that weren’t.  He sent helpful suggestions for improvement, to people or institutions, on many occasions — as a result of which we have a vitriolic reply from poet Les Murray (Don loved Murray’s poem “The Whip” but suggested some other images that could have been included) and a huffy two page lecture from Art Gallery Director Edmund Capon (years ago, when Don’s comment that aboriginal art should have a more visible presence than down in the semi-basement did not endear).

Anyway, it seems that in this area as in many others, as Don is unable to do something, the mantle has fallen to me.  I find myself writing letters to the editor about various issues quite frequently.  Mostly none of them see the light of day.

However, last week I wrote to columnist Peter Fitzsimons, head of the Republican movement, avowed atheist, and one of the best columnists around.  He had written a piece extolling the virtues of the Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Centre and I wrote to him:

Dear Peter,
 An avid reader of your columns, I respect your devout atheism but thought you might be broad-minded enough to acknowledge that the Kings Cross injecting room about which you were so affirming is actually run by the Uniting Church.  To be accurate, it is run by “Uniting Care” the social justice arm of the Uniting Church.
 Just thought it worth mentioning as I note that devout atheists seldom miss a chance to note the dreadful things that sometimes happen in the name of the church and so perhaps it is worth swallowing hard, gritting the teeth, and admitting that sometimes the church is doing something good.
 Barbara Dufty
I of course told Don what I had done and he was completely stoked.  He beamed non-stop and asked me to read it again to him several times.  And then, to his credit, Peter Fitzsimons did indeed acknowledge what I had written, and without naming me, the following week his column said this:

Thumbs up to injecting room

Have an educated guess how much flak I took last week for my contention that, despite how counter-intuitive it might seem, it actually IS the best health policy to give clean needles to pregnant 16-year-old drug addicts in the Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Centre. (For, however appalling an act it is for the 16-year-old to so inject herself, the alternative is all too frequently for her to use infected, used needles in dark alleys – which is even worse for mother and foetus.)

The answer is, just about no flak. There were one or two narky and ignorant tweets, but 98 per cent of the reaction was regretful agreement. That is how far we have come and why it is not only moral madness, but political madness, for the Baird government to try to block access to the injecting centre to pregnant women. In terms of emails received, however, one lady did make a fair point.

“The Kings Cross injecting room,” she writes, “about which you were so affirming, is actually run by Uniting Care, the social justice arm of the Uniting Church. Just thought it worth mentioning as I note that devout atheists seldom miss a chance to note the dreadful things that sometimes happen in the name of the church and so perhaps it is worth swallowing hard, gritting the teeth, and admitting that sometimes the church is doing something good.”

Bravo, Uniting Church.


Don has glowed this whole week on account of the letter and response.  When Luke the cleaner comes into his room with a mop, Don will say to him, Have you heard of Peter Fitzsimons?- read him the letters, Barb.  When Mel brings in his tray with lunch, he wants me to read to her, and anyone else who wanders in.

The thing is, he now refers to it as “our” letter, and, Barb can you read that letter “we” wrote to Peter Fitzsimons, and his reply.

Which of course warms my heart and makes me think I should try to do “Don” things more often on his behalf.

The Electoral Commission take seriously any complaints, and they got back to me at some length about my complaint.  They listened intently, and asked a lot of questions to get all the details correct.  The guy explained some of the difficulties they encountered in trying to staff mobile polling stations in such places but he was not being defensive, or challenging anything I had said.  I suggested they needed to allow longer periods of time in aged facilities, they needed to have staff properly trained in understanding that no one who comes to vote may be prevented from voting, and that the staff themselves were not up to scratch since anyone with a grain of commitment in that situation would absolutely not have left the premises when there were people wanting to cast a vote.

He agreed with all of that and said they had received other, similar complaints from aged facilities and in fact several others from Bayside, and they were looking closely on how to do it better next time, including some of the issues I had mentioned.

Before we ended I said, “Actually I want you to know that despite all my indignation I have to tell you that the two institutions we have in Australia that I am most proud of, are our electoral system which I believe is second to none in the world, and secondly our census collection which also is a blueprint for the world.”  He gave a bit of a rueful laugh and said Yes well they are also in the gun at the moment so maybe we aren’t doing so well after all.

But our census collection, like our electoral system, is something we should be proud of, and those glitches everyone is complaining about are nothing more than glitches and they will get sorted out in due course.

I live down the end of a long driveway.  At the top of the driveway is a small shop/service station, and my water meter in located by the fence at the side of the shop.  In the 8 years I’ve been in this house there haven’t been any problems except for last September when a car backed away from the petrol bowser and backed over my water meter, and it cost me $400 to have it fixed —  because of course the shop owner had no idea who had done it (naturally).

water meter

But the little shop has been completely renovated, with new petrol bowsers being installed and a brand new concrete apron has been laid in the whole area.

When I got a notice from the Water Board telling me that they are updating and replacing everyone’s water meters and would I please remove the obstructions and make a clear space around my water meter, I didn’t know what they were talking about.

Until I went up to the shop to have a look and realised they were quite right and my water meter is not at all accessible!  It has been concreted in.

water m3

And yes, it is completely wedged in.

water m1

I’ve talked to the shop owner and the Water Board numerous times because obviously it is going to be no small matter to jack-hammer up all that concrete.  Water Board have put a temporary hold on the matter because it won’t be resolved soon.  They tell me it is now a “civil matter” between me and the shop owner and so of course it will no doubt will involve letters of demand and all sorts of stuff that exhausts me to think about.


Bayside has been in a state of upheaval over the past few weeks.  We are having major renovations.  It’s all a bit inconvenient, with the dining room being out of bounds for several days while the plasterers and tilers and painters got in there and did their stuff, and we have had to side-step ladders in the corridors and sometimes take the long way round to the wing because whole sections are roped off.  But in a nursing home any change to the routine is interesting, and so we can stand and chat to the painters wondering how they are going to paint right up to the skylights and finding out where have they come from (they all seem to have thick accents) and other chit-chat with patients and passers by, and the residents seem to be enjoying the contact and are coping well with the invasion and the disruption.

Originally we had neutral shades, basically cream walls and floor, with a touch of blue.


Now we have feature walls that look much more impressive.


And finally, carpet.  This is the final result for the wing we are in.


Only thing is, the staff are unhappy about the difficulty of pushing trolleys along carpet rather than lino, and the cleaners are taking longer because they have to move the vacuum cleaner from power point to power point rather than just moving along the corridor with their mop.  And nurses have expressed doubt about the hygiene of incontinent residents in a carpeted area rather than lino.

I looked up Google and found that there is big trend away from carpet because of the hygiene factor.  A Monash University study of 2014 that found an alarming occurrence of superbugs in nursing homes, and ended with some recommendations that included, firstly upgrading hand hygiene to alcohol based wash and installing many more sinks and wash-basins than are currently prescribed, and secondly replacing carpet (which apparently is the norm in most nursing homes) with lino.

Monash University researchers carried out swab tests on 115 residents of four facilities in Melbourne, and found that more than a third of them were infected with antibiotic resistant superbugs. In one facility, nearly half of the residents were infected.  The study raises the question as to whether care facilities need to be more physically structured like hospitals – including the abandonment of germ harbouring carpet for lino.  “Nursing homes are usually lined with carpet,” said Professor Grayson. “When dealing with incontinence on carpet, steam cleaning is cosmetic. It’s not anti-bacterial. So there’s the question of changing carpet for lino – but how do you balance that need with the fact that these facilities are meant to be homes for people.”

Meanwhile, however, we all think it looks great and are enjoying the change.

I don’t know why I get so upset when I learn that one of the residents has died.  It is, after all, “God’s Waiting Room”.  But when I walked by the nurses’ station yesterday afternoon and saw there a sympathy card for staff to sign, for George Davison, I welled up on the spot, completely shocked, and had to take a few moments to compose myself before I went in to Don.  Maybe it was so unexpected because he had not been sick and in fact I spoke with him only a few days ago. George totters up the corridor each afternoon to sit with his wife Barbara who is also a resident.  (For some unknown reason they have not been put into a room together although she shares with another lady.)  George loves to see me come visiting with our dog Jebby, and he invariably asks, “No little dog today? I was a life member of the RSPCA.”  He always has a vague smile and then repeats several times over that he was a life member of the RSPCA.

But it isn’t just George and it isn’t just that it was unexpected.  I always get upset with I find out they have “lost” someone.  Sometimes I shock myself by bursting into tears on the spot.

Maybe it is just the sudden unavoidable awareness that the grim reaper is hovering in that place.

Everything worked out fine and we both did pre-poll voting on the Monday before the election.

Mind you, it was quite expensive as we had to get a taxi to the local pre-poll centre which was in a neighbouring suburb, and then got the taxi to wait for us.  There was a surprisingly long queue but when the electoral officers spotted Don in the wheelchair he was brought in by a side door and they were most helpful in getting us both through as quickly as possible.  The enormously wide ballot paper for the Senate was of course impossible for Don to handle (over 110 cm wide, ie more than a yard) and in any case he found the whole process rather confusing even though he was very clear about who he wanted to vote for.  So I did the actual marking for us both.

After we had both voted we got the taxi to drop us off at the shopping mall for lunch, and then the driver came back later to run us back to the nursing home.  In all, it cost over $70 even with the disability discount, and my friend says I should include the bill when I send my complaint to the Electoral Commissioner.  I know that of course they won’t even consider paying it but I am doing just that, in order to make my point!

Actually I must admit it was nice for Don to be back at a polling booth and go through the melee of people thrusting how-to-vote cards at us and all the rest of it – something that he himself did for years, polling day was always something he enjoyed.

And after lunch we met up with a friend as we were waiting to go back.

Voting Day

Don has always been vitally interested in politics.  Ever since this election was called, he has been asking “When can we go and vote?”  Several times each week he would ask, “Are we going to the polling booth today?”  So I would explain “No, it’s only May and the election isn’t until July, it’s ages yet.”  And then June, and then in recent weeks I started to get more specific and said, “Remember that they come here to the nursing home the week before the election, and we’ll go to the activity room and vote, I haven’t heard which day they are coming.”  I wasn’t sure when they were to come but I wasn’t worried.  Last election Don was not well so the two electoral officers came to his room with the papers while I was there, and he voted.

This time could not have been more different.  The two electoral officers who came two days ago were apparently designated a two-hour timeslot, and so they did their two hours and then left.  No matter that there were 8 or 10 people queued up in the corridor, with walking frames or in wheelchairs, patiently waiting to go in.  Staff said, “You can’t leave yet, there are people waiting who particularly requested to be up and ready and out of their rooms early enough to be here in time to vote.”  The electoral officers simply said, “We were to be here from 9.30 til 11.30 and it’s 11.30, so we have to leave.”  And leave they did.

Don was one of the people to miss out.  Needless to say I was – and AM – livid.  I am writing to the Electoral Commissioner and also plan to phone someone locally tomorrow morning (Monday) to ask some difficult questions.

Meantime, I decided to get postal vote papers for Don.  Alas Morisset Post Office had none left (“we were only allocated 100 and they ran out long ago”) and suggested kindly that if the person was in a nursing home it is quite easy to have them removed from the roll.  Of course at that suggestion I almost exploded with indignation.

Don has to vote, he would be completely gutted if there was an election and he hadn’t voted (even though we live in a safe seat and there is basically no serious contender even standing).  The wheelchair taxi doesn’t run on weekends so there is no question of getting to the actual polling day, but I checked out where there is a pre-polling booth and have booked the wheelchair taxi tomorrow for us to go there.  It will be difficult, and it will be expensive, but he will get there and he will vote.

That solution is not available to everyone of course.  Only a small number of residents have both the capacity and the family support to leave the facility at any time.  So a whole group of old people who wanted to vote, had every intention to vote, and made an effort to be at the appropriate polling place, have been disenfranchised.

I often wonder about the residents without family.  The staff are quite wonderful in their care and diligence but there are a lot of residents and only a few staff in the wing – for our 28 residents there are usually two or three staff depending on the time of day – so they can’t pick up on everything.

About a week or so after Don’s “touch of the flu” I thought one day that he seemed really ill, hot, dreadful cough, deeply sleeping – so I went to track down the Registered Nurse in charge of the wing and asked if Don had a temperature.  She looked at me blankly and said they were no longer monitoring because he had recovered from his illness of the previous week.  “But what about that terrible cough he seems to have developed,” I said, “That cough is really worrying me.”  She asked the nurse who had been on that morning, and it seemed there was no need for concern, yes a bit of a cough but it is a dry cough and he always has that.

Luckily I was persistent this time, insisted it was not a dry cough at all but what I term a death rattle, and I was certain he felt hot to the touch and had quite a high temperature.  Turns out I was right, the temp was high and when they got Don to cough for them they started running here and there organising a doctor’s visit, who diagnosed pneumonia.  Only early stages, and antibiotics were pumped in and he is now fine.

I think it makes a big difference having family to visit.  Not just to keep a sharper eye open for health problems, but also knowing what the person likes, what will make their life a little happier, asking staff for little things they might not know about.  I noticed one residen never seemed to get a visitor for years on end.  Then one day I saw a woman visiting her and wheeling her outside to the pergola for afternoon tea, stayed for hours.  It was her daughter who lives overseas and rarely gets back to Australia.  She told me her mother had always been an outdoors person who hated being cooped up inside so the best thing anyone could do for her was to take her outside for a little while as often as possible.  I hadn’t the heart to tell her that I could scarcely remember her mother ever going outside, but I did urge her to tell the staff and get them to put a sign in her room.

Last week I was stopped on my way in, to the news that Don was not well, nothing to be alarmed about but a slight temperature, loss of appetite, and a bad cough.  A touch of the flu, so they were keeping him under observation and I could expect him to sleep a lot and be asking for fluids.

I said, But he had the flu shot only last month.  Turns out the flu shot is not 100% prevention, there is still a chance you can get the flu after you have been vaccinated.  You probably won’t get it, but if you do, it will be much milder.