Home is where the community is

Uncle Frank Laxton conducting the smoking with Aunty Leah Keegan alongside Aboriginal artist and BADAC community member Thomas Marks

The Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative (BADAC) is establishing an Elders' Living Village with the support of the Victorian Government.

Aunty Kay Lovett met her husband Uncle Ted Lovett nearly 60 years ago in Ballarat.

Whilst working, raising a family and committing to a football career at Fitzroy, the Lovetts have been each other's pillar of support.

For Aunty Kay, becoming her husband’s carer when he started to experience age-related health issues was a given. But it hasn't been easy.

"I’m so grateful for the amazing life we have enjoyed together," Kay says.

"But it is difficult being a carer sometimes, I’m grateful I have a good group of friends who are very helpful."

Uncle Edward Alfred (Ted) Lovett, a proud Gunditjmara man from Lake Condah, and a respected Elder, grew up in Melbourne but was forced into state care when he was 14 years old.

Uncle Ted Lovett and Aunty Kay at an awards ceremonyAunty Kay says this was a big part of what drew Uncle Ted to spend his life working to improve the lives of Aboriginal communities in Victoria - and ensure others wouldn’t experience the same cruelty.

In 2017, Ted received an Order of Australia Medal for his extensive service to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of southwest Victoria.

As a courageous and passionate advocate for Aboriginal rights and self-determination Kay says her husband was always determined to get Aboriginal kids back with their community and family.

"Ted really wanted to get the kids out of the orphanages. And the kids really wanted it as well, they were brought to Ballarat from all over Victoria so had little or no contact with their families which was a real concern."

With help from Uncle Ted's tireless advocacy, Ballarat’s five children's homes were closed. But as a key location during the Stolen Generations, the scars within the Aboriginal community run deep.

Yorta Yorta women and CEO of the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative (BADAC) Karen Heap says it's this history that has cemented the close-knit community today as they come together from all over the state and call Wadawurrung Country home.

"I think because a lot of people stayed after the Stolen Generation, the Aboriginal community has become very close as that was their sense of community and that was their connection to their culture and their Elders."

"Even though they’re not necessarily blood relations they adopted each other as being part of their community."

"That's why BADAC has adopted the logo of the platypus because we come from all different tribal groupings and the platypus represents us coming from lots of the different pieces of animals," Karen says.

Aunty Kay and Uncle Ted have been part of BADAC since it formed in 1979, which today specialises in Aboriginal health, welfare and community development.

There are more than 700 Aboriginal people aged 45 and over in Ballarat, and many like Uncle Ted, may need support as they get older.

It sparked the idea for the Aboriginal community health organisation to establish an Elders' Living Village in the hopes it will improve the social connections of ageing community members.

"Many of our Elders are terrified of being institutionalised once more. Some face poverty or homelessness. Many may need support with day-to-day living."

"The idea of the Elders' Living Village is to ensure we can continue to look after our elderly, so that they can have a place where they can still be independent. It's designed for people not necessarily ready for a nursing home but who need support."

"It will enable our Elders to age with dignity," Karen says.BADAC CEO, Karen Heap

Supported by a $2.6 million Victorian Government grant from the Regional Infrastructure Fund, the village will be built on Porter Street in Ballarat and engage Elders in the design of the village, which will be able to house up to 16 residents.

The complex of eight one- and two-bedroom units will include Aboriginal art throughout, vegetable gardens, a communal meal hall, and spaces for on-site medical treatment included in the designs.

Ms Heap says most importantly, this project will empower Elders and Ballarat's older Aboriginal people to continue their vital work in Aboriginal community leadership and sharing culture.

As Elders in the community, Aunty Kay and Uncle Ted have been part of the advocacy with the Cooperative to get the project off the ground.

"Some of the older generations still don't like dealing with the mainstream services and because they were institutionalised, they’ve got a fear of going into an aged care home," says Kay.

"There's a real need for this community, because when people get older where do they go? When people are on their own what happens to them?" asks Kay.

And while a move to the village isn't on the cards for Kay and her husband just yet, having the community behind her is one her strongest supports.

"Whether it's inevitable that someone with an age-related illness ends up in an old people's home- it's a possibility but I think if you can keep people home longer- if you have that extra support, I think it's really, really important."

For more information on the Elders' Living Village visit: More projects to boost regional recovery.