The occupants of an otherwise nondescript house in Swan Hill are celebrating an incredible milestone.
- Yooralla's Swan Hill residential house, Ellimatta, turned 40 in September
- Maureen Hewitt has been a resident there for its entire history
- The home provides an independent living environment for people with a disability, with support from staff
In September 1981, four residents moved into a new house run by Yooralla disability accommodation services, with the aim of giving people in the town living with a disability not just a home, but also the support to be active members of the community.
Forty years on, that house — and two of its inaugural residents — are still there.
One of them is Maureen Hewitt, who can still remember the early years at Ellimatta.
“Before I moved in the staff wanted to meet my family, so they came out to Appin to meet my mum and dad, the family, to see how I coped at home and what they’d need to do for me in the house" she said.
Ellimatta initially served as a respite house, where people would receive care over temporary stays.
Yooralla’s group manager of the home and living division, Mark Hulbert, says the staff at the house provide a number of services for the residents.
“A lot of daily living tasks, whether that be personal care and meal assistance and medication management; those kind of core activities that some people need support with, through to looking at engaging in community activities.”
“It’s just trying to make the customer’s lives as everyday as what ... a person without a disability has.”
He says there is a guest book at the house which has the name of everyone who has stayed there over the last forty years.
Five wheelchairs across forty years
Ms Hewitt has become a prominent citizen of Swan Hill, and a renowned advocate for people living with a disability in the town.
In four decades she has had five wheelchairs, the first of which lasted ten years.
She has helped a number of local buildings become more wheelchair-friendly, by actively demonstrating the difficulties with their accessibility.
“I used to be in a manual chair when I first came here, and I had to go to the bank and when I pushed the door in, the staff got worried so they would open it for me — eventually, they changed it,” she said.
“Then I worked on the police station ... I had to go and see them one day because I lost something, and they noticed there was no ramp, so they built me a ramp.”
“Sometimes ... you've got to make it obvious.”
Ms Hewitt is involved as a guest speaker with the Mallee Sports Assembly, and also shares her story with local students wanting to work in the disability support sector. Some of them have become staff at the house.
Mark Hulbert says that the bond between the staff and the customers is one of the features of the house.
“We don’t have too many other services close by and it’s good in that regard, because it's become quite self-sufficient ... it’s become like a real family and a real community within the broader Swan Hill community itself.”