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Ode to creatures great and small


When carer Gaylia Johns read the poem ‘I Spoke to You in Whispers’ to Wallaroo’s Star of the Sea Home for the Aged residents during an in-house Anzac Day service in 2021, it brought tears to their eyes.

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Poet Neil Andrew’s poignant words tell the story of a soldier and his wounded horse and puts a spotlight on service animals that perished during war.

“The soldier says to his horse, ‘You were not given a choice to come to war, I was’,” Gaylia said. “Some of the residents said, ‘Isn’t that true’.”

The impact on residents was so obvious Gaylia decided to find a way to recognise the animals of war.

It didn’t take long to find the information she needed. The National Day for War Animals (known as Purple Poppy Day) is February 24.

The Purple Poppy display at Wallaroo’s Star of the Sea.

The Purple Poppy display at Wallaroo’s Star of the Sea.

Purple poppies are used to commemorate deeds and sacrifices by animals at war.

Gaylia (pictured) was so moved by the sentiment a commemorative display was created in the foyer at Star of the Sea.

“Purple Poppy Day became something close to our residents’ hearts after that reading on Anzac Day,” she said.

“We wanted to honour the animals, including the companion pets that keep war veteran’s company. They help them in a big way.”

Gaylia enlisted the help of the Northern Yorke Peninsula Quilters who created a large quilt, picturing purple poppies, a camel, a horse, a donkey, dogs and a pigeon. A dog statue, and a wreath adorned with crochet purple poppies also formed part of the display.

“I am so very lucky to have special and clever people in my life,” Gaylia said.

“The Yorke Peninsula Quilters went into overdrive to make sure our beautiful quilt was ready in time. Janene Curnow and Colleen Horgan made the knitted and crocheted poppies, Liz Rowan used her expertise to put the beautiful wreath together, and Mira Whitwell, one of our valued volunteers assisted in setting up the display.”

The display was of great interest to families, friends, staff and residents.

“We always have a display to celebrate significant occasions. I was thrilled with our first Purple Poppy Day display and we will build on it for next year.”

Each occasion, including Anzac Day, is recognised with a specialised quilt, some of which are still in the making.

“Our residents are of the era where days like this are significant, and we want to continue the tradition on their behalf.”

Nancy Hann, Roma Bryan, Margaret Gross and Betty Berty.

The visual spectacles lift moods. “When people walk into the foyer at Star of the Sea, the display is the first thing they see and they remark upon how absolutely beautiful they are,” Gaylia said.

“Anzac Day is fast approaching, and our beautiful quilt is ready for display.

“We are also very fortunate to have our own personal bugler Aaron Jenkins, who is a member of the Kadina and Wallaroo Band. Aaron has a very busy morning on Anzac Day and Remembrance Day. He plays The Last Post at several venues throughout the morning, but never misses an opportunity to play for our residents.”

Staff and residents also recite the ode. “It is just so moving. You can see that it touches their heart strings.”

Gaylia began working as a carer for Star of the Sea 25 years ago.

“Full time sometimes felt like nine days a week,” she said.

“Over the past six years I have started to wind back. I’m passionate about what I do. Two knee replacements haven’t stopped me yet.”

Gaylia is inspired every day by the residents, particularly two centenarians; one aged 102 and the other 104.

“They are remarkable ladies with so much wisdom and knowledge between them that they love to share,” she said.

Norm Bruce with the Purple Poppy display.

On International Women’s Day residents were treated to foot spas, sparkling wine, chocolates, and strawberries and Gaylia recently went out of her way to find two bantams for one of the residents.

“This gives him a purpose and responsibility. It’s the little things that make such a huge difference and mean so much to them,” she said.

“It’s not about me and it’s not about you, it’s all about them. I will go above and beyond to try to make a difference. That’s why I do this. You really have to care, have compassion and empathy to work in this industry.”

It is rewarding work. “At the end of the day, if you’ve made someone smile you have made a difference. Everyone needs an interest and a reason to get out of bed in the morning and this is mine.”

Star of the Sea is one of two aged care facilities owned by the Catholic Diocese of Port Pirie, the other being St Joseph’s House at Port Pirie.

By Neil Andrew

I spoke to you in whispers
As shells made the ground beneath us quake
We both trembled in that crater
A toxic muddy bloody lake
I spoke to you and pulled your ears
To try and quell your fearful eye
As bullets whizzed through the raindrops
And we watched the men around us die
I spoke to you in stable tones
A quiet tranquil voice
At least I volunteered to fight
You didn’t get to make the choice
I spoke to you of old times
Perhaps you went before the plough
And pulled the haycart from the meadow
Far from where we’re dying now
I spoke to you of grooming
Of when the ploughman made you shine
Not the shrapnel wounds and bleeding flanks
Mane filled with mud and wire and grime
I spoke to you of courage
As gas filled the Flanders air
Watched you struggle in the mud
Harness acting like a snare
I spoke to you of peaceful fields
Grazing beneath a setting sun
Time to rest your torn and tired body
Your working day is done
I spoke to you of promises
If from this maelstrom I survive
By pen and prose and poetry
I’ll keep your sacrifice alive
I spoke to you of legacy
For when this hellish time is through
All those who hauled or charged or carried
Will be regarded heroes too
I spoke to you in dulcet tones
Your eye told me you understood
As I squeezed my trigger to bring you peace
The only way I could
And I spoke to you in whispers…


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