The Southern Cross The Southern Cross

Read the latest edition. Latest edition

Super gran spreads her wings


Retirement can be the most fulfilling time of your life, especially when helping those in need. Kath Melbourne found joy through volunteering and an unexpected chapter in the Fringe festival spotlight.

Print article

When Plympton parishioner Kath Melbourne retired in 2015 she didn’t slow down.

In fact, she did the opposite. The mother of five and ‘Grandma’ to 10 has never been the idle type. It’s just not in her nature.

Before retirement, Kath spent 25 years as the state and national coordinator of a student exchange program called STS which facilitates international educational experiences for high school students.

“I’ve always been involved with young people,” she says. “During my time with the student exchange programs, I was responsible for more than 1000 students hosted by families here in Australia.”

Next, she worked for Youth for Understanding (YFU) student exchange programs and watched over students on exchange in South Australia. “Then COVID hit and the students were sent home,” she says.

“Suddenly I was twiddling my thumbs wondering what I was going to do.”

Kath and her husband packed their caravan and hit the road, travelling to Western Australia for a 14-week holiday, “dodging COVID all the way”.

Upon their return, Kath spotted an opportunity in her St John the Baptist, Plympton parish newsletter. Birthline Pregnancy Support needed extra volunteers for data entry duties. “I thought, ‘I can do that’. I’m a typist from way back. I started at Birthline on November 18 2022”.

Birthline Pregnancy Support Inc was established in South Australia during 1972 as a not-for-profit volunteer organisation to support women and their families facing unplanned pregnancy and pregnancy loss.

The services include non-directive counselling via a 24-hour phone line, face-to-face counselling, pregnancy testing, resources and information, after abortion care and recovery, emotional support, material assistance, pregnancy loss and grief counselling, and a local services directory. The goal is to provide emotional support through compassionate, confidential, non-judgmental, and cost-free services.

Kath felt instantly welcome among the 45-plus volunteers and soon found fulfilment well beyond anything she imagined.

“You get to know the counsellors and you’re just amazed at their empathy and just how warm and receptive they are to people who ring up.

“As I confidentially record the data on the computer, I get to read the sad stories of the ladies who are trying to deal with an abortion they had six weeks ago, six months ago, four years ago, even 10 years ago. They’re still reaching out for counselling. It just breaks your heart.”

Birthline also offers a material assistance program that provides new mothers and with pre-loved and new baby items donated by the community. These items include cots, prams, car seats, change tables, baby clothing and nappies.

When Kath saw a need for more donations, she contacted friends, family, and neighbours. She and the parish secretary also set up a ‘giving tree’ at her parish.

She was delighted with the generous response. Now, the Birthline offices on Magill Road, Kensington Gardens, are home to many donated items waiting to find a home with new parents in need.

“We always need new donations, particularly newborn baby clothes, baby car seats (the capsule kind, not booster or toddler seats) and nappies,” she says.

“We have a big demand for those here, but we don’t get many of them. The biggest shortage we have is newborn baby clothes. We haven’t quite found a network to tap into for that yet. When we received a $100 voucher under the giving tree, that’s what I spent it on.”

It’s just another example of how passionate this doting grandma is.

When she’s not babysitting her grandchildren, aged from 18 months to 17 years old, Kath can be found at church where she is a member of the parish pastoral council. She is also a reader, commentator, Eucharistic minister and is on the RCIA at Plympton.

“I am a community visitor at Ashford Hospital twice a month too,” she says.

“We take communion to the Catholics in Ashford. There is a team of seven of us but we are
in need of two or three more volunteers to cover the full month. It is a very rewarding ministry.”

For the past 35 years Kath has also grown seedlings for Trees for Life.

It’s quite the workload but she always makes time for singing.

“I sang in high school, and then in the car,” she laughs.

These days, it’s more serious. This year, Kath is performing in 12 Adelaide Fringe shows as part of Gospo Collective’s ‘Whitney – The Greatest Love of All’ which runs from February 27 to March 11 at Gluttony.

How did a grandma from Adelaide become part of one of Australia’s leading vocal ensembles? She simply asked.

“When I retired, I thought how am I still going to be involved with young people? By chance, I went to the Fringe and saw a show called ‘Jackson by Gospo’. Afterwards, I told one of the performers I wanted to sing in the back row. She said ‘come with me’. And she took me and introduced me to (leading lady) Charmaine Jones.”

That was six years ago, and Kath has been on stage ever since.

“That’s how I’m involved with young people again,” she says.

“The choir has a junior section, teenagers and adults. At 71 I’m the oldest by 10 years but they won’t let me retire.

“They all call me ‘choir mum’. That’s my nickname because whenever the young kids have a problem, they come to me. I try to look after them.”

A gruelling rehearsal schedule helps her learn the vocals.

“The biggest challenge for me is the choreography. Doing dance moves as well as singing is challenging but apparently singing and dancing is good for keeping dementia away. That’s my aim.”

Kath is also handy with needle and thread.

“I am often asked to fix costumes for the performers, and I have a friend with MS who asks me to do her sewing for her once a month.”

, Kath (centre) and fellow performers promote Gospo Collective’s ‘Whitney – The Greatest Love of All’.

Kath (centre) and fellow performers promote Gospo Collective’s ‘Whitney – The Greatest Love of All’.

Her grandchildren bring Kath the most joy and it’s a role she’ll never step down from.

“I love looking after them. I just had the youngest one over for his first sleepover. That was a big deal.”

Kath also continues to host the occasional exchange student and can’t recommend it highly enough.

“I’ve got one here now and another one coming from Italy. We’re also welcoming the daughter of the first student we hosted in 1989 and I still get Christmas cards and messages from past students,” she says.

“It opens your world up.”

Similarly, Kath says anyone thinking of volunteering at Birthline shouldn’t hesitate to explore their options which include admin or office support, telephone counselling, advertising and social media, gardening and maintenance.

Birthline will run a free Telephone Counselling Course in May. The course runs every Wednesday night for 10 weeks. Donations can be made via or call 08 8331 1223.

More People stories

Loading next article