As we grow older, how we express our identities shifts as a result of mental and physical limitations, along with our response to the way society expects us to age.

LivingProof, an exhibition running from March to June at the Migration Museum, shares the stories of 10 residents, consumers, family members, staff and volunteers at Bene Aged Care.

In the succinct words of writer Rosa Matto: “If we ignore our storytellers we are lost.” Her words, complemented by the poignant photography of Italo Vardaro, offer a window into the often over-looked moments of joy, beauty and engagement in the elder care community as we all age in our own way.

How it came about

As we enter the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021–30), we must ask ourselves: What does it mean to grow older – for individuals, their families and communities?

Ageing affects us all differently, from our 30-something chef Roberta el Sharkawi to Maria, who as a teenager fled Slovenia for an Italian refugee camp with her two younger sisters, and our vibrant, 106-year-old crossword-loving Winifred. Each has a lifetime to bestow.

At Bene Aged Care, we strive to create a special kind of family and care philosophy that embraces and values individuals from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds.

In faithfully capturing the accounts of our storytellers in words and images, LivingProof uncovers an unquestionable sense of identity and spirit amid the rich tapestry of relationships among our older people and those who care for them.

LivingProof is a celebration of the human spirit and a challenge put forward to reimagine life in ageing and question how society might innovate to bring greater meaning, dignity and joy to each individual.

Rosa Matto Writer

This undertaking with Bene sought to give voice to residents, staff and volunteers; to ask them to tell their stories one more time, assuring them there was a sympathetic ear.

It became more than that. We proposed not to relive the chronology of the past but to find the essence of joy in the present. Starting from a place that was comfortable for the narrator – a doorway in a backstreet in Benevento, a border crossing in Slovenia, a hotel kitchen in Findon, the choir loft of a suburban church – the sound and rhythm of each story differed.

Italo Vardaro Photographer

The power and beauty of the still image is that it captures a split second of awareness that you can never reproduce. The process can’t be rushed. And yet for this project I found myself working in a confined residential home where life was as busy as a beehive.

It was a project that made me connect with strangers who were somehow familiar. I felt a connection, a kinship and an understanding. I came to understand why the staff always talked to me about how privileged they felt to care for the residents, the rewards they received by giving care and receiving love in return.

A few of our storytellers

“I like to go to the gym. The young people there know me and massage my legs and make me exercise on the machines. But I am very strong already, I walk every day.”

Maria, 83, Bene Padre Pio consumer

“Sometimes, my wife is not present. I see her but she is not there. The pain is indescribable: it reduces me to tears. I have to remember the joyous times, the pride we have for our children and the life we made.”

Giuseppe, 90, daily visitor to Bene Campbelltown and husband to resident Tina for 70 years.  

“Some days are so busy, I don’t finish my crossword. I have the newspaper delivered every day and after breakfast I read the paper quickly before I get down to the business of the crossword. If I feel up for the challenge I do the cryptic.”

A very sprightly Winifred, 106, resident at Bene Italian Village.

“Sometimes I paint their nails. I love bright colours and glitter but they are a bit more reserved, going mostly for muted colours and ignoring my suggestions of bright purple with green glitter. I’m working on them.”

Lynne, volunteer at Bene St Clair.

Our special thanks to principal sponsor Jaymel for their significant commitment to the project, and to the Migration Museum for hosting the exhibition.

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