A devastating setback at nine years old wasn’t going to stop Norm. At 96, he still has a twinkle in his eye.
Norm is looking very relaxed on an old couch on the back verandah of his house.
He fires off a question straight away.
“Do you know long have I been in this house?"
96 years. I’ve been living in this same house all my life. So it’s pretty good that with Anglicare’s help, I’m able to stay living here. The girls are great. They do so much for me, they help me. They help me in every way possible. And I don’t think I’d still be here without them”. Norm seems very well. But his right leg seems stiff and swollen, and it turns at a wrong angle.
“I had a bit of an accident with my leg."
When I was nine, we used to have bonfires. And I’d take my little tomahawk and I’d cut branches for the fire. I really enjoyed that. Then mum got me a bit of an axe which meant I could cut down trees. The tomahawk didn’t really do the job. It would bounce off.
“Anyway, one day the axe slipped a little and just nicked me. Right on the knee. In those days there weren’t antibiotics and things. So the doctor just sewed me up, a couple of stiches. And then a few days later it blew up. Well I had to go into hospital.
“I said to the Doctor, I hope I won’t be in for more than ten days."
Because in ten days, I was turning ten years old.Well it tuned out to be ten months. In the end they wanted to cut off the leg, but mum said no. But the leg’s never really been any good since. I can’t bend the knee, and it sort of...points in the wrong direction.
“So I’ve never been able to do the things that I really wanted."
One thing that had always interested me was swimming. I really wanted to do swimming. After the accident, I tried, but I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t bend the leg. It just didn’t work. Someone said, ‘what about back stroke? Give it a go. Because you’ll be on your back. And you’ll be able to swim, use your arms, and just push off with your good leg’. Well!! That worked. And one day, I was in the school state finals! I went ok - I know I didn’t come in last!
“I used to love watching tennis. I really, really wanted to play tennis."
But I thought I could never do it. I just couldn’t move quickly and turn. So one day I was watching through the wire. And a lady said to me, ‘you’ll never be able to do that just watching. Get out there and have a go. You’ll never do it just standing and watching!’ I’ve played tennis ever since. I don’t do so well with singles. But I’ve played doubles my whole life. I’ve played every week.
For a moment, it almost seems impossible – but that’s the sort of character Norm is.
“I was sacked from my job by council."
Well not really! I actually retired at 65, because in those days you had to. I wanted to work on, but I had to retire. After I retired, I got into a new routine. Mondays, Tennis. Tuesday, I did Meals on Wheels. Wednesday I had a rest. Thursday and Friday, I went in to the Downing Central Court and watched the court cases, the big ones. I loved that. They all got to know me and I saw a lot of things. I’d bring in sandwiches for lunch and be there all day. I got to know some of the barristers. And that’s something I loved!
“Then one day on the tennis court, I was 87, and I started to feel unwell. I stopped and I was in a sweat. It turned out I was having a heart attack. They got me off to hospital and in the end I was fine. But I’m not playing tennis any more now…
“Sometimes, I get a little bit depressed I guess."
Then I’ll go down to the back shed, I’ll stop and think a bit. And I’ll say to myself, ‘Norm, there’s a whole lot of people with a lot more worse off than you. Now you pull yourself together, you get back up there, and keep moving forward.’
“The Anglicare girls are great."
What happens is, Jude and I work out together the things I need a hand with. She’s great. Just great. I couldn’t do without her. Then when the careworkers come in, I just say, ‘You go over there and read the bible’. They just look at me at first. And I say – ‘no, not that Bible. The bible that Jude and I have done. Everything I need, it’s written in there’. That tells them what to do.
“I’m pretty good. I still look after myself in the shower, but they are always here just in case I have a fall. One day, one of them said, ‘Here Norm, we’ll put this chair in the shower. So if you get a bit tired, you can just sit down.’ Well I’m 96, and I’ve never sat in it yet.
“But they’ll help me with shopping, sometimes with cooking, or doing washing. If I need it. We have a good time, I get them laughing. It’s always fun and we get on really well. So overall, I’m doing pretty good. But I couldn’t be still here without them.”
Thanks Norm for sharing your story with us. Some names and details have been changed to protect privacy.