SPEAKING UP: Rural voice for ageing Australians Maria Berry at Celebrate Ageing Embolden 2018.
SPEAKING UP: Rural voice for ageing Australians Maria Berry at Celebrate Ageing Embolden 2018. Julian Meehan

Rural voice advocate Maria Berry

MARIA Berry is putting the voice of rural seniors on the map by working to improve their profile within the national conversations around ageing.

The former nurse and health consumer representative has started the business Communities of Respect to benefit rural, remote and isolated communities.

"It's about bringing out the rural voice," Mrs Berry said.

"We have got some wonderful organisations and wonderful people doing work nationally, but it doesn't always include the rural community in that a lot of ideas and a lot of thoughts run around what's happening in metropolitan areas."

Last year Mrs Berry, 54, turned a corner.

Up until then the Victorian country-born woman had cared for her two parents who lived through the trauma of an early inheritance gone wrong when a family member started to exploit her parents and intimidate her own family.

Mrs Berry then had to deal with her father's dementia and the complex issues around his care and aged care accommodation, while the relentless financial abuse continued.

While her experience deeply disturbed her and her ailing father, Mrs Berry has learnt many valuable lessons about getting older while living in a rural community.

Mrs Berry has volunteered with Senior Rights Australia and the Victorian Clinical Leadership Group into Improving Care of Older People, and consulted to Celebrate Ageing's Embolden Festival 2018.

After speaking at last year's National Elder Abuse Conference, delivering the Lived Experience session which focused on her experience of elder abuse experience, and listening to the conversations that come out of that presentation, Mrs Berry realised "that at a grassroots level there is a lot more we can do within our communities to respect, look out for, involve and connect with our older people particularly with what's happening in our health system".

Most recently she was part of the Older Persons Advocacy Network webinar sessions that worked on the new Charter of Aged Care Rights.

Maria has set a goal for herself of using her profile and her fledgling Communities of Respect business to work with national organisations, not against, to address ageing issues in the rural areas.

"Every community is individual with their issues such as transport which is a huge issue compared to metropolitan areas," she said.

"Another is social isolation.

"You can be socially isolated anywhere, but if you are an older farmer out on your own, you can become more isolated."

It has taken Mrs Berry 10 hard years as a volunteer to gain the respect of national organisations that have been seeking her views.

She now wants to share with them on a professional basis the real issues and the real stories to help them understand what these communities are trying to deal with.

Some of the bigger picture issues she will also talk to these organisations are ageism, how age friendly communities can be created and getting kids be reconnected with older people.It's going to take years to effect change, but by opening up conversations within rural areas through community forums she sees changes can happen."Organisations have the right intent, but they haven't got the lived experience," she said. "They have worked in their organisation, but not worked on the ground.

"I have done the full circle, the whole lot, which has given me a really good insight into what the organisations are trying to do.

"I can see the frustrations of the carers and the farmers out there that haven't got their planning done well including some of the inheritance issues.

"I want organisations to listen to the rural voice." she said.


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