Until the 1970s, elderly people in the Bega Valley community had to rely on the goodwill of family and friends to support them, or be transferred out of area when a bed became available.
Residents often ended up in facilities in Queanbeyan, Sydney, or even Melbourne.
One of the founding members of the Bega District Nursing Home (now known as the Sapphire Coast Community Aged Care Group) Edna Duncanson shared her memories what it was like at the time.
Edna said a well-known woman called Pearl Ayers had to be sent to a nursing home well away from the Bega Valley and "people were really upset about that".
She said Pearl's situation was a real catalyst for the community to start planning for a local nursing home.
In the early 1970s, a geriatric unit opened on the grounds of the Bega District Hospital, however there was a growing need in the community for more facilities that could accommodate aging residents.
In February 1974, mayor Roy Howard convened a public meeting that resulted in the formation of the Bega District Citizens Welfare Committee.
Shortly after, a fundraising appeal was launched as the community needed to raise $200,000 to qualify for a Commonwealth subsidy package of $520,000.
The local community was extremely generous over the years, with donations coming from individuals, service clubs, community organisations, as well as from local businesses.
The Bemboka Ladies fundraised with the sale of a cookbook specially developed for raising funds towards the community-owned nursing home.
Edna said she still had the cookbook up until recently, but it had fallen apart.
"I still use recipes out of it though".
By early 1975, the Bega and District Frail Aged Committee was formed and registered as a charitable organisation. It was later named the Bega District Nursing Home Committee.
It was originally a committee of Bega Municipal Council and was formed by three alderman (councillors), but shortly after citizens were invited to join.
Within a year council had chosen a site for a frail aged facility and agreed to act as trustee for the development. The current Hill Street land was purchased for $30,000.
Edna said the property purchased was originally a private home owned by the Gill family that had a lot of land around it. The home was situated where the original entry still stands at Hillgrove House.
In August 1975, Edna convened a meeting at the Bega Town Hall to establish the Bega and District Nursing Home Auxiliary to raise funds to furnish and equip Hillgrove House.
Most of the auxiliary's early fundraising activities included catering for various events and putting on balls and other functions, such as St Patrick's Day event at the Bega bowling club with "big tubs of green jelly".
"We used the money we raised to sew all the curtains and bedding at Hillgrove. Three us went to Sydney to purchase the crockery and cutlery from the government stores," said Edna.
The auxiliary also raised funds or sourced donated equipment for dining room chairs, kitchen accessories, lifting equipment, and mobile bed baths for frail residents.
Incredibly, since the auxiliary first formed its members have managed to raise more than $2.5million to continue to support the Bega facilities to furnish, provide upgrades, and provide equipment such as lifting devices.
The auxiliary's Anzac Day wreaths continue to be a major fundraiser.
Edna described the first matron (now called director of nursing) Joan McDonald who came from Cooma as a "tiny little woman who smoked incessantly - and subsequently died from lung cancer".
Joan lived in a little flat which was the matron's residence behind Hillgrove.
The official opening happened on November 9, 1979 and by January of 1982, the operation of the nursing home was handed from council the newly formed company Bega & District Nursing Home Limited.
One of the first residents of Hillgrove House was Edna's own grandmother, Catherine Collins.
Edna said it was thanks to these efforts that her grandmother did not have to be sent away from her community to be housed in her older years.
Around $1million was raised by organisations and the community for a second Bega facility opened in November of 1994. It was called Casuarina Hostel. The rest of the funds came from the Department of Community Services and Health.
It was located where Katungul Aboriginal Corporation Regional Health and Community Services Bega Clinic operates today.
In March 1998 an area of four hectares called the Racecourse Farm was purchased from the Bega Jockey Club to build a residential village called The Oaks. It was opened in 2000.
Edna and her husband Ray moved into The Oaks in 2005. They said they loved living so close to friends and the designs of the units were great - with no stairs or steps anywhere within the village.
Hillgrove House in Bega and Imlay District Nursing Home formed a mutual association in 2015, however a merger happened in 2017 and the group became known as Sapphire Coast Community Aged Care Group.
The organisation now includes home services for elderly people, enabling people stay in their own homes for longer. SCCAC's next project will be The Glen, where works started in June of 2022.
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