Val

An interview about life and community at
Nightingale Evergreen
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Tell us a little about yourself, and how you came to live at Nightingale Evergreen.

I was born in Carlton. I'm an inner-city person. I didn't have any siblings so it was just me and my parents, and we were really close-knit. I cared for my parents in South Melbourne until they both passed away, and then I moved to country Victoria. I’d found myself in dire straits financially, and had to find a home quickly, but because I didn’t have any rental background or references, my choices for housing were very limited.

I made contact with [community housing provider] Women's Property Initiatives through the Matrix Guild [a charity and advocacy group for older lesbians]. I’ve been a member of the Matrix Guild for many years, so I knew there were people out there who cared. 

We were expecting Nightingale Evergreen to be ready in late 2020. I thought I could bear where I was living, until then. But then Covid hit and it was an absolute nightmare for two and a half years. I was very isolated in the regional town where I’d ended up. I was living in a room which was smaller than this lounge area. I was financially strapped because the only income I had was the age pension, and my rent was expensive. It was very depressing.

I moved into Nightingale Evergreen in July. I’m just so blessed, I feel like I’ve been given a second chance in life. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. It’s really hard out there if things go wrong. And if you’re aged, I think it’s even harder. 

How have your first couple of months in your new home been?

What kept me going for those two and a half years was watching The Village grow on social media. I would also come down from the country to watch it being built and I’d spend the day down here, and I knew that I would love it. 

It’s just wonderful. The bonus is the folk living here, the young people. It’s just so vibrant. I feel alive again. I’m sure they think I’m a bit daft; I walk around with this big grin on my face. 

It’s given me another lease on life. The residents here really took us [WPI tenants] into their fold. They invited us to join the building WhatsApp chat, and really made us feel welcome. 

I like the word ‘family’, because I feel that I've been embraced and that this is like a family. It’s a good feeling.

Do you plan to join any community activities, like gardening?

I’ll probably pull out plants, thinking they’re weeds. I’ll be taking instructions!

What does your life look like now that you’re back in your hometown?

I live a simple life. I love nature. I go to the zoo. It’s right on the doorstep! I just walk out of here, up the bike track to Anstey Station, and then take the train to Royal Park.

I like live theatre and I’ve been to see a play at La Mama. I’m able to do things I did back in my mid-life, that I really enjoyed. Like going to the Nova

It’s just really good not to have money problems and to know that you’ve got a roof over your head for as long as you need it, and you’re not going to go hungry. I look forward to having a long, happy life.

Where are some of your favourite local places in Brunswick?

I go on walks and scamper up the laneways. I just love it. You sit and have a coffee at Bertoncello, and you could be anywhere in the world. And Mamma's Boy, with tables out the front in Sparta Place, down at the corner near Tripovich Street. They have fantastic Italian. It’s like in the old movies with Sophia Loren.

Sustainability is a central part of the Nightingale approach. Was that important to you?

Definitely. That was a big part of getting to live here. I’m better at recycling than I am at gardening! 

The hydronic heating is just wonderful, and good to know the power is coming off the solar panels on the roof.

I feel that I’m contributing, and spreading the word. Get rid of your car, you don’t need it. The car share works, I’ve had a go at that. It was pretty scary, but I thought, I’m going to bite the bullet! I love the fact that the cars all have names, like Wolfie. I booked Wolfie and we went off to visit one of my friends over in Clayton South. It was a good experience. I know I have a vehicle whenever I need it.

How do you feel about the induction cooktop?

I do a lot of wok cooking, and that’s great. My coffee pot wouldn’t work at first because it’s an Italian one: it’s  aluminium. But I bought an adapter for it from a coffee shop just down in Victoria Street. 

The Matrix Guild plaque on your front door honours the memory of Sara Elkas. What do you know about her?

Sara was a founding member of Matrix Guild and actively engaged in all aspects of it until a few months before her death in 2017. Sara’s Flats (3 in total) have come about because Sara generously left Matrix a bequest for the purpose of housing older lesbians.

There have also been other Matrix members who have left bequests to Matrix to continue helping other lesbian members. I certainly will be bequeathing my Estate to Matrix as an expression of my gratitude for the help I have received.

I am just really grateful that there are organisations like Women’s Property Initiatives and Matrix Guild to help women in need. I don’t know where I’d be now without them.

Published September 2022

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Nightingale Evergreen
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