Never too late to enjoy life for two Emerald aged care residents

Shirley Finnott celebrating her 100th birthday. PICTURE: SUPPLIED

By Tyler Wright

Two local aged care residents are living life to the fullest in 2024, with a first-time tattoo and a 100th birthday on the roster for the pair.

It was Emerald Glades resident Gillian Murphy’s love of hedgehogs that inspired her first ever tattoo at at 83 years of age.

“I’m English and we used to have hedgehogs in the back garden coming up for a source of milk, and I’ve always liked hedgehogs,” Gillian said.

“I’ve collected them as I travel around…and I don’t know why I decided to have a tattoo of one; it just happened.”

Social Support Coordinator at Lifeview Emerald Glades, Marc Zywaczewski, took Gillian to a local parlour for the experience as part of the Lifeview Aged Care’s Magic Moments program; which ticks off bucket list items for residents.

“Gill just had a quick thought, ‘I’d like a tattoo,’ and I’m like ‘great, let’s do it,'” Marc said.

“I started googling pictures on the spot and then within a couple of days we found one that we liked, and then I just googled ‘Emerald tattooist’ to see what was around and happened to find one in Emerald.”

Gillian said the process was surprisingly “very painless”.

“I thought it would be painful, but I didn’t feel a thing,” she said.

“I’m very glad I did it. It’s not interfering with my life at all, except for interviews like this.”

She may even take the opportunity to get more ink; next time a Union Jack to represent her country of origin.

“The tattoo itself is very, very nice, very small, very neat, and I give her a kiss every day.”

Marc said it is “never too late to dream”.

“It’s really cool for me to be able to fulfil excitement and purpose and meaning in their lives,” he said.

“It’s something that we should never ever lose no matter how old we are or where we find ourselves in life.

“I love being able to create the extraordinary for them; that it’s never too late to create the extraordinary.”

Celebrating another milestone just doors down from Gillian in the same complex is centenarian Shirley Finnott; who turned 100 years old on Friday 2 February.

“I was actually born in South Yarra, I grew up in Carnegie,” Shirley said.

“[I] went to Carnegie primary school, and then I was brought up by the repatriation because I lost my father when I was five and we didn’t go to the ordinary state schools; we went to what they call the repatriation class.

“I went through the school there and then they advised you to take the trade, so I took dressmaking.”

Shirley’s job as a dressmaker at Mutual Store on Flinders Street, helping dress who she called “the ladies of Melbourne”.

“They’d come in and stand in front of the mirror, and they’d have to show me what they wanted done, and I’d pin it, and then take it away to the workshop, and we’d do whatever they wanted,” Shirley said.

“In those days, the sales girls had long black frocks on.”

Falling ill, Shirley would leave her favourite job as a dressmaker, but would continue working throughout her life; eventually adopting two girls with her husband.

“I got married and we lived in East Bentleigh, my husband suffered with dementia and I nursed him for 15 years, then I got cancer of the bladder and I had to finish up in hospital,” she said.

“My husband kept saying to the girls at home, ‘where’s the woman that looked after me?’ [they said] ‘the woman that looked after you was your wife, she’s in hospital at the moment, but she’ll be coming back,’ which I did eventually get back.

“I haemorrhaged on the theatre table…and then they had to make up their minds with they’re going to go in again to the op or give me radiotherapy; I had radiotherapy.”

Sick due to the after effects of treatment, Shirley’s husband passed away with her finding herself on her own in a big home.

It was three years ago Shirley made the move to Emerald, where one of her daughters lives, and has been here ever since.

It has become a mission of hers to turn 100, with celebrations at her residence and a visit from Monbulk MP Daniela De Martino to mark the occasion.

“It came quickly, and I just kept saying ‘I hope I can make it,” Shirley said.

She will also have a celebration with family and friends at the Emerald RSL on Saturday 3 February.

“We were brought up differently to what they’re brought up today… we sat down, we had our three meals a day, and we went to our school, or we went to our work,” she said.

“We bussed or we walked it, or we trained it, and I never got a car until I was 41, [I got a] license when I was 41.”

Shirley’s advice to the younger generation is quite simple.

“Work hard, eat their food properly, and eat enough,” he said.

“Just be good and caring, and try and live at home with mum and dad as long as you can.”

For Shirley, the secret to living such a long life is “in the genes”.

“Everyone along the way, when I was about in my 90s, went into hospital, they’d say ‘what’s the secret?’ I’d say ‘there’s no secret, it’s in my genes,'” she said.