Thanks for Asking

Dear Association Members,

Since my last email on April 6, we have heard from quite a few Members, sharing their experiences under our COVID-19 restrictions, through our “Thanks for Asking” initiative. We shared stories from Leonard Sargant OAM (Wyoming) and Brian Mackander OAM (Warilla) in my Easter update, and you will see more in the May Issue of The Order, due to be published around 20 May.

In the meantime, as we commemorate ANZAC Day in a more distanced way than ever before, we are thinking of all of those Australians who have given service to our Country, both during war times, and in peaceful times. We are especially thinking of our first responders, medical professionals and all those who are making it possible for Australia to deal with this global pandemic in the best way we all know. By supporting each other and following the guidance of our leaders.

Following are three more stories from “Thanks for Asking”; Suzanne Medway AM and Patrick Medway AM, (Sydney) Nancy Serg OAM (Sydney) and Wendy Borchers AM (Tuncurry).

Thank you to all of those Members who have shared their stories about living through COVID-19. Please contact Louise Davis, our Communications & Community Liaison (louisedavis622@gmail.com) if you would like to share your story.

12th May 2020

Dr Sundar OAM, Bella Vista, Professor Shirley Randell AO, Sydney and Mrs Maria Hitchcock OAM, Armidale.

1) Dr Sundar OAM
The restrictions are really good for not spreading the Corona viral infection in the community. It has a very mild impact on my routine life. Of course, I need to watch everywhere I go and am unable to meet my colleague’s friends and Family in person.
I find it is easy to contact our friends on Whats app, Instagram, Facebook, Mobile phones etc. I use Zoom on my mobile and chat with all my family members and Friends.

When the restrictions are lifted, first thing I will do is to meet my daughters, sons and grandchildren. Go for walks, eat at places I used to go with the family. Meet my colleagues.

Activities for our OAA members? I suggest we could use Whats App to share our ideas, some cooking recipes; share jokes, share photos; and maybe raise money on members birthdays on Face book for worthwhile charities. Dr Sundar OAM

2) Professor Shirley Randell AO, Sydney
I didn’t think it would be so dark. And I was quite right. At first the comments everyone was making, and I was reading about – the darkness of being in isolation for maybe six months, perhaps longer – seemed daunting. My own experience however has been illuminating.

There is a particular Biblical verse that has surfaced in my memory from my religious teenage years, and has been reinforced by the Seekers song I tune into on Spotify while in isolation in my apartment in Sydney: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens”. I am seizing an opportunity that does not come by often, a time of large-scale, forced reduction of activity and I am so appreciating the breaks this has given me.

It has been a time to return to some essential things I have neglected for so long given my hectic lifestyle, like concentrating on my living space. I put the blinds up as soon as I get out of bed and they stay up all day, unless the sun demands two or three hours of protection in the afternoon. Now I enjoy frequent glances at the trees and green grass and gardens of Hyde Park during the day, the sunsets in the evening, the lights of the war memorial and even the lit-up buildings that surround the Park at night.
I have made time to tidy cupboards and drawers that have been an unholy mess for many months. I have even cleared my study desk, unable for so long to be used for its purpose, covered with photos, papers, pens, jewellery. Ah jewellery! – some pieces were in their proper home in the cupboard, some loose on shelves, some still in the travel container that I took to Rwanda, the unpacked box from Geneva on my desk. I learned one of my neighbours on the same floor is a jewellery expert and we have spent some happy hours sorting, cleaning, repairing, placing earrings and bracelets on their stands, badges in a separate box, necklaces in their home but this time separated by colour and country. No longer now the hectic hunt for the right coloured necklace, earrings, bracelet in the rush before leaving home too late for an appointment. Today I was ready for a Rotary Anzac Day Zoom meeting in a few seconds, going straight to the right containers for my Rotary badges, necklace and matching earrings. If I ever travel abroad again, I have separate containers for Rwanda, Bangladesh, PNG and Pacific jewellery that can be packed in an instant.

Having time for sorting the medicine cupboard has produced another significant achievement. I have had a thermometer on order for the last month and discovered I already have not only one but two in two different places that I had not seen since settling back into my Sydney apartment three years ago.

This has been a time for pruning, for removing the things that are a distraction or a misuse of my time and energy (I need to work more on that!), a time for change, for growth, for doing something new, even for prevarication. Making time to listen to music, watch television, extend social media contacts, try something new, like continuing all my board, committee, social meetings by Zoom.

As sunlight streams into my home this beautiful Autumn afternoon, I take time again for voice connection, telephoning a grandchild in Townsville, a niece in Pakenham and a colleague in Perth, interrupted by a welcome catch-up call to me from a former workmate now in Cairns. I have already talked with each of my four children this morning about their 6am remembrances and shared the excitement of my two-little candle-carrying grandchildren in Canberra on FaceTime.

I have been so encouraged by the stories I am hearing from around the world and here in Australia about how people are looking out for their neighbours, how communities are gathering (often virtually) to stay connected and uplifted. To see how people are maintaining connection in spite of distance and separation. So, while being physically isolated from family and friends and in what could be quite dark times for some, perhaps really dark for many, there is light for me that brings joy and gives me hope. For me, working at home in isolation has not been so dark at all.

PS My Iranian friend on the 15th floor cooks a stew for me at least once a week. My Italian jeweller friend has declared herself my ‘carer’ and both shops, cooks and shares wine with me. So does my one daughter in Sydney, who brings me fruit and vegetables every week from Leichhardt. How could I possibly think it would be dark?

Thanks for Asking, Shirley Randell AO, Sydney.

3) Maria Hitchcock OAM
Here’s another story for your collection.

My husband and I are basically hermits at heart so we are actually enjoying the lockdown. We live on 8 acres west of Armidale NSW where I run an online native plants nursery called “Cool Natives’. Online business has boomed so much I am spending a lot of time in the nursery. I envy those people who have had time to clean out cupboards. My son urged me to grow winter vegetable seedlings and these are selling well. I go downtown once a week to do my posting, deliveries and shopping. Australia Post has been a big problem with parcels arriving very late which is bad for sending live plants. Australia Post only refunds the cost of postage not contents. I’ve had to eliminate parcel post and now just use a courier or express satchels.

I tried going to Woollies early in the morning to shop but nothing else is open at that time so I won’t be doing that again except to get toilet paper which is still in short supply on our shelves. We’ve only had 4 cases of Covid19 in our area but most older people are cautious. I get my flu shot today and it will be at a clinic held in the park across the road from the surgery. A lot of businesses in my area are still operating in some kind of manner but I think our local rural economy will be hard hit. The garbage is still being collected thank goodness. We have our own water and solar panels so are fairly self-sufficient. Being country people, we’ve always had a good stock of dry and freezer food so the shortages didn’t affect us much.

My husband tutors Mathematics to students of his former private school. He’s had to switch to online tutoring but the school situation is so chaotic he doesn’t know how it will go this term and he may lose a lot of students. My grandchildren live in WA and I believe they may be going back to school soon. I offered to help with reading etc. if necessary. We usually communicate by Skype. I try to keep in touch with friends by phone and I am involved in a Think Tank which meets online once a fortnight and puts out a regular media release. Lately we’ve been involved in a big online protest about a local issue which happily ended with Councillors voting it down.

I’m growing my hair but have an appointment with the foot clinic next week and hope that is open. It’s a very strange time for all of us – a time to take stock of what is really important. I suspect overseas travel will be out until we get a vaccine. That might be good for the country as people will take domestic holidays and help restore some of those communities devastated by drought, fire and flood. We might also be able to swap tourism with NZ which would be good. NZ is a spectacular country with so much to offer. They have almost eliminated the virus which would make it a safe place to visit. People are already talking about reviving manufacturing and building our economy in a different way. I hope that involves reducing inequality which has been allowed to worsen over the past 20 years and seen a lot more people living in poverty. We have also seen who are the truly essential workers in our economy – the health workers, carers, supermarket people, chemists, truckies, police, teachers, public servants and a myriad of others behind the scenes who are often not well paid. I think this pandemic has been a big wake-up call.

I hope all our members are safe and secure and managing to fill their days with stimulating activities.
Maria Hitchcock OAM.


1) Suzanne Medway AM and Patrick Medway AM, Sydney.
We decided to self-isolate in mid-March, and only venture out of our house for a half-hour walk each day. We shop via Coles Online and have found the service to be excellent. We have been able to obtain most of the items we need. We took the advice of NSW Health and went to our local doctor to receive the flu vaccine.

With our volunteer work, we are on the board of the Australian Wildlife Society and have been able to have daily contact with the lady who runs the national office, so the administration of the Society is proceeding as usual. At our February board meeting, our financial advisor recommended that we consolidate our investments under one investment, and luckily, we followed his advice. He cashed in the Society’s investments from the market and was a little worried about the world situation so held the funds in cash. Consequently, we haven’t lost any funds from our investments. The only question now is when do we reinvest?

The Society held its March board meeting via Teams through Microsoft 365. We all agreed that this worked fine, and will be holding our “virtual” board meetings each month for the foreseeable future.

On a personal front, Suzanne has a half-hour video catch up chat with a group of 12 friends that used to attend the gym together. They drink their morning coffee and chat about what has happened over the proceeding 24 hours. In the afternoon Suzanne has a video chat with her three sisters, and then in the early evening a video chat with the grandchildren. In this way, she is keeping in touch with friends and relatives. She also enjoys Facebook and has contact with lots of overseas friends and family.

Patrick tends to keep in contact via the mobile phone but has been holding video meetings with his RSL board and his Lodge members.
We are tending to eat more, unfortunately, but have been enjoying our evening glass of wine and cheese and biscuits.

Suzanne Medway AM & Patrick Medway AM

2) Nancy Serg (nee Borg) OAM
As seniors (74-75yo) my husband and I have been in Lockdown at our house since mid-March. We are physically restricted in what we can do for others due to this. We miss shopping and a coffee at the shops. We miss visiting our families. Doctors have cancelled some appointments. We had to cut our own hair, with ok results. Getting roof quotes another issue. At least the plumber came with good results.

Here are some activities that have kept us fully occupied. Our focus has been firstly on our immediate large families and friends.

To lessen the isolation of us all, we keep in touch with family and friends in Australia and overseas with emails, Facebook, Skype, What’s App, Messenger, Viber etc and lately ZOOM meetings organised by our daughter Jeannette James. It is soul satisfying and heartening to see our 3 children and 8 grandchildren all together on Zoom etc, they want to come and play, have semolina and home -made chick pea patties etc. I sent them some.

I viber’d my 101-1/4yo mother Agnese Borg via my sister’s iPhone. Mum has dementia, lives at her own house, cared for by my sister Mariza. Mum wanted to know why we don’t visit any more. But we made her laugh and that’s what mattered.

My sister sent a Facebook video of Mum pushing her wheelchair determinedly in front of her. Her attitude brightened and she became her usual jovial self. So heartening to see and watch. Sitting in front of the TV all day is not conducive to this mother of 10 children, 21 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

We felt better for having watched the Good Friday Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on TV via iPhone chrome. We intend to follow Easter Sunday celebrations in the same way. I sent notices of this to family and elderly friends to ease their loneliness. Making Easter cookies, we will leave them behind the front door to be collected by our children.

We have been catching up on house, garden and shed clearances. Clothes wardrobes too, sending clothes to St Vinnies etc. My husband made extra shelves for the laundry and he is working on other projects. The sewing machine was oiled. I cut long school trousers into shorts for the grandchildren. My daughter gave me an Art Inspiration book and to my surprise I sat 2-1/2hrs and finished a drawing she said it was beautiful….I was so proud.

When restrictions are lifted, we will go to Sunday Mass and Thank God. Visit our 3 daughters. Catch up with shopping, Doctors’ appointments etc, Invite our children and grandchildren over. Help our daughters with childminding when required. Bake a cake with an Aussie Flag on top of the icing. Visit my mother at St Clair NSW. Catch up with my siblings. Organise a picnic at a park for whoever can make it to celebrate our freedom. Go for a walk at our nearby lovely and peaceful Crestwood Park. Catch up Ladies meetings. Debrief Lockdown and Corona sagas out of our systems. Go to movies, re-book cancelled tickets to Opera, Ballet and local Theatre Plays etc. Practise singing and catch up with choir when practical. Go for a long drive up the coast – I miss the smell of the sea. Book a short break to a country homestay to support the farmers etc.

The OAA NSW could consider holding on line meetings, organised by a tech savvy person or a forum for seniors at home whilst in lockdown. This would certainly help isolation, foster friendships, sharing of ideas which will benefit us and the community.

Nancy Serg nee Borg OAM

3) Wendy Marlene Borchers AM
My name is Wendy Marlene Borchers AM and I live on the mid-north coast of NSW at Tuncurry. We are extremely fortunate to live in such a pristine environment where our apartment overlooks the azure waters of Wallis Lake, where the estuary meets the Tasman Sea. This morning I watched pelicans lazily soaring on a thermal and our local bottle-nosed dolphins searching for their breakfast. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, is extremely hard to take.

All activities in which I am involved as a volunteer have been cancelled: A History Group; the Forster & District Combined Probus Club (I am the Speaker Convenor this year); the inaugural Pacific Palms Writer’s Festival, June 26-28 next (on which I am co-convenor); our fortnightly gatherings of mahjong players; all Marine Rescue events, except for surveillance in the Tower, obviously mandatory duty. This, of course, has left a huge gap in our daily routine but my husband Max and I are practicing self-isolation and keeping in touch with friends via e-mail and the old-fashioned telephone. Both of us have visited supermarket stores on the early hours dedicated to Seniors, on separate occasions, only to find frayed tempers and empty shelves, so we probably won’t do that again but will revert to shopping for fruit and vegetables at a splendid greengrocer in Forster’s main street, along with meat from our butcher there.

I received my AM in 2015: “For significant service to the film and television industry as a researcher, producer, archivist and to the preservation of Indigenous heritage.” When I finally retired from the ABC, after 40 years’ service, my supervisor honoured me by transferring all my files to my home computer. Once upon a time I was enthusiastic about seeing some of the Treasures of ABC Archives given another run and was given a couple of months to work on the idea. It eventually evolved in a series called ‘The Way We Were’ with Mark Trevorrow, not quite what I had in mind but I loved it anyway. There is a movement afoot to give this project new life. Just imagine how cricket tragics’ would leap at being able to view footage of West Indies Tests of 1961 once again, in these uncertain times. We believe there is an audience out there who would love to see some of these shows again and it would assist in promoting the true value of the ABC to Australians. I hope this comes to fruition.

I’m also enjoying our enforced isolation in that it’s just great to be able to read a book, without feeling I should be doing something more constructive.

Thank you for the opportunity to voice my opinion during these weird and amazing times.
Wendy Borchers AM, Tuncurry, NSW

Best wishes to all of our Members,

Peter Falk OAM
Branch Chairman
The Order of Australia Association NSW
pfalk@bigpond.com