Ian is a gentleman’s gentleman. Softly spoken, loves a yarn and is thoroughly enjoying his retirement since he has built a new network of friendships on the back of a social education program run by ACON’s ageing program known as the L.O.V.E. Project. L.O.V.E. stands for Living Older Visibly and Engaged and sets out to promote social engagement and empower members of the community that are aligned with LGBTI identities.
There were 12 mature students signed up to the L.O.V.E. self management program to learn about LGBTI specific issues such as financial awareness and legal rights, medical care and housing, as well as tangible ways to improve social connectivity. According to Ian, this course ticked all the boxes, he is still socially engaging with 9 of the 12 enrolled students. He is comfortable discussing his life journey before L.O.V.E. and how social isolation was a disturbing, intrusive feature of his mature years.
Leaving his family behind in Queensland, Ian moved to Sydney as a fresh young man with an inquiring mind. He stumbled upon a 12 months ceramics course at the back of an aquarium that was a family run business. Within 4 months of the course, he was teaching other students, the family saw something special in his effort to learn and the ease he could convey creative and technical skills to others, he was born to teach. He inevitably set up his own studio where he worked endlessly for 25 years. He taught ceramics but he also became an ambassador for a special, complicated process called ‘slip casting’. This creative community constantly pushed him to new realms and he really loved the process and was happy with his achievements. His life, at that time, was centred around ceramics, other ceramicists and gallery owners.
Towards retirement he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he realised too late that the efforts he had applied to his studio and teaching had been detrimental to a work/life balance, he had not maintained friendships and had little social standing. Friendships within the artistic community had been more transient in nature and most connections had been lost through sheer global distance. Ian has no family either, the move to Sydney was an escape from mental abuse from siblings and his father. “I am what I am, that’s it,” he says.
In his darkest hours, over-medicated and lonely after accidents, surgery, losing pets and friends, Ian, in his recovery, thankfully stumbled across an advertisement for an ACON event, ‘Afternoon Delight’, a movie matinee and tea party encouraging social engagement for LGBTI seniors. He knew he had to make a change or die unhappy and so he collected himself and made attendance a priority. Activities and events delivered by the LOVE Project are the entry point for LGBTI seniors to access other health services, garner information and ultimately connect with their community peers.
With that virginal excursion now far behind him and other outings, courses and events in the calendar, Ian is a vital and engaged participant in his own life and that of his comrades. He is a mentor of sorts to young LGBTI individuals that are realising their current freedoms are mostly thanks to the compromises and fight of sexual minorities of yesteryear. Ian has found many ways to combat social isolation but he believes his closest companion and true lifeline is Beau, his pet rabbit. “A house becomes a home with a pet,” he says with such obvious simplicity.
- Ian's story, as told to Nat Power
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