A lifetime of caring as a nurse then moving into volunteering keeps Olive on the go into her nineties

Olive at St George's Health Service in Kew.

It’s the weekend before the Medical Mission Aide’s Autumn Festival in Balwyn, and Olive is at home cooking up a storm and potting plants for the fundraising stall at the annual event. Four date and walnut loaves, a dozen jars of lemon butter, two lemon slices, a tray of biscuits, a potted maidenhair fern, two potted parsleys and four pelargoniums later, her work is done.

Olive wants to get things moving for Wednesday’s stall because she won’t have time during the week, because her weeks are always crowded. Every Monday she spends two to three hours visiting sick and frail aged patients at St George’s Health Service in Kew, and on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays she volunteers at the Medical Mission Opportunity Shop in Balwyn.

One of the residents at the retirement village where Olive lives in an independent unit, asked her if she was new to the village as she hadn’t seen her around before. I told her I’ve been here 15 years, but I’m in and out like a Yo-Yo, always on the go with my volunteering commitments, she says.

Olive, 92, a former nurse who trained at the Gippsland Base Hospital in Sale in 1942, has been volunteering at St George’s for 18 years. She says her nursing background steered her towards spending her retirement as a volunteer visiting sick and aged people in hospitals. Through her nursing career she lived in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, working for the medical boards in each state, and nursing vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians in many remote locations. Returning to Victoria, she undertook a number of roles including as Matron in charge of Kilmore Hospital for many years and as an infant welfare nurse in East Kew. The mother of one and grandmother of two, retired from the paid workforce in 1982 and has been volunteering ever since.

In March Olive had to stay home for a week with her feet up to help heal a small ulcer on her foot. I was sick to death of sitting at home and knitting – I couldn’t wait for my foot to heal because I have so much to do, she says.

By being a volunteer I am still involved in the caring profession which I enjoy, she says. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction to be able to do things to help others, especially for those patients who have no family support.

Kate Bellamy, the coordinator of Volunteer Services at St Vincent’s Hospital, says Olive astounds the clinical staff at St George’s – a campus of St Vincent’s Hospital – with her bright and caring nature and her unwavering commitment to enhancing the lives of others around her.

All her life, she’s put the care of others before her own by offering them her support; especially towards those who can be at their most vulnerable, Kate says. She inspires others every day with her bubbly disposition and her caring nature. Clinical staff at St George’s, especially young nursing students are truly inspired by Olive – who has spent her lifetime helping others. Everyone knows Olive and looks forward to Mondays, when she spends four hours on the ward. She lifts everyone’s spirits.

Olive says she is very fortunate to have kept fit and well to be able to volunteer. She believes it’s important to stay active, eat well and look after others.

It’s important to keep active – to keep going, she says. If you like dancing, then go dancing, if you enjoy gardening or walking then keep doing it, she advises. And you don’t have to retire if you don’t want to; you can work part time or work as a volunteer, because working is good for your brain, it keeps you socialising with people and it keeps you active and healthy.

Olive says some people when they reach a certain age think they “can’t do this, or can’t so that”. But Why can’t you, is her reply. Why not try?