Our Elders profile series: Ruth Phillips

Ruth Phillips, who is 95. Photo Bruce Jacups

Ruth Phillips, who is 95. Photo Bruce Jacups

We came to Melbourne from Germany in June 1939. It was just before the war and I was 15. It's not about whether we wanted to move or not. I'm Jewish so we had to escape. To come to Australia you had to have a permit, which cost £200. It was a scary time, but when you're young you take it in your stride. I didn't really understand what was happening - although I don't think many people imagined how bad it would get.

I had a lovely childhood. I was an only child and I was spoiled rotten. I got lots of love and I had a beautiful aunt and grandparents and I went to school.

I often think now about when we left. When we left Germany, it was just my parents and I. We took a train to Hamburg and then a boat. My grandmother came to see us off. My father's sister too. I was happy as Larry. I was going to go on a big trip. And now I think, how terrible.

Everyone is gone.

This is why I'm so proud of my family now. I'm very family-oriented. I got married young, at 19. I have two children. Six grandchildren. Eight great-grandchildren. Two stepsons. All my family came together for my 90th birthday.

My parents and I were the only ones left and now I have this wonderful family and I think 'up yours'.

In Melbourne, my father got a job in a factory and my mother got a job too, though she'd never worked a day in her life before. I worked looking after two children. I slept there and I had never seen blankets, we only had doonas in Germany. I didn't know how to make the bed!

Australia is my home. I went back to Berlin in 1990 or 1991. Hated every minute of it. I could not speak German! It just went away.

In 1975 my partner and I were looking for somewhere to retire, where it's green all year round. The places at the beach were all too touristy. We arrived in Bellingen and my partner said, "This is a nice place". I've been here ever since.

There's a heck of a lot of difference between 75 and 95. There's a lot of difference between 1 and 20! Many people my age are not all 'with it' anymore. I have a problem with that because when we're talking I wonder: "Is what they're saying true, or is that in their imagination?"

I'd like people to recognise old people, to see they are there and that they may have something to offer. I don't like retirement homes. I'm against putting the young ones here and the old ones there; I think we should mix, because we all learn from each other.

You want people to see you. They don't see you anymore when you're really old. You're not there. That annoys me. It's actually quite strange. I don't really know why this happens. And they shout at you - that's another thing. They think you must be deaf. Please don't shout at me. And they call you 'darling'. Now that's it - that's it. That does it!

Nobody tells you how you're supposed to behave when you're old. Nobody writes books on what's going to happen to you like they do for teenagers. You want to do things but your body won't let you anymore, you've got to get used to all that. If you think you'll be like you are when you're 40 when you're in your 90s, you're bloody well mistaken. Your body lets you down.

Nobody writes books on what's going to happen to you like they do for teenagers.

Ruth Phillips

I have my dog Lily. Wherever I go Lily goes. I read a lot. I knit. I crochet. I like to talk to people but I don't find many to talk to. When you get to this age, your friends are gone. You can make new friends but they don't know your past and your past makes you.

My best friend just died in last November. She had dementia but she had good dementia. She was really happy. I saw her once a week in the nursing home. She had some bad lucid moments, but when she was away with the fairies she had a wonderful time.

The thing I fear now though is for the people who were in concentration camps. If they get dementia they might live all that again. To me that is just too cruel. Horrible.

Ruth Phillips. Photo Bruce Jacups

Ruth Phillips. Photo Bruce Jacups

See also