Former journalist Reg Barlow is able to continue his lifelong love for writing while living in residential aged care.
Reg Barlow, a 72-year-old resident at Sir William Hudson Memorial Centre in Cooma, New South Wales, is the editor of the provider’s quarterly newsletter Chatter Box.
Barlow, a radio and print journalist for almost 50 years, has been a resident at the facility for 18 months.
While living with Parkinson’s disease, Emphysema, chronic pain, two leaky heart valves and need for a double knee replacement, Barlow occupies his time with his editorial duties.
Barlow is motivated by his passion for writing but his favourite thing about being editor is taking and receiving photographs for the newsletter and deciding the layout of the publication’s content.
“I really like working out what’s going where,” Barlow tells Australian Ageing Agenda.
“The newsletter is something that gets me around the nursing home taking photos of various events and if I’m not available then others take photos and email them to me,” Barlow says.
The newsletter covers news on topics trending in the residential aged care industry as well as local events. Recently he has covered the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety hearings and an ANZAC day memorial service held at the facility.
Barlow commenced his career in 1970 as a broadcast journalist with 2QN, a radio station based in Deniliquin, NSW. After 18 months he moved to Lithgow-based radio station 2LT and later to 2HD in Newcastle. Barlow moved into print journalism in 1976 at the Newcastle Herald, where he also worked on smaller rural newspapers.
In 1991, Barlow became a lay chaplain at Don Geddes Memorial Nursing Home in Rathmines on Lake Macquarie.
“I became a lay chaplain because my father-in-law built the Lutheran church there… and the priest never came,” Barlow says.
Barlow spent eight years as lay chaplain there, where he says he conducted approximately 90 funerals while still working as a journalist.
Later he worked at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery in Canberra and the Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga. He moved to Cooma upon his retirement at the age of 65.
Barlow says after seven years and a number of health issues and trips to the hospital including a near-death experience resulting from receiving an over-dose of Norspan pain-relief patches, he is still passionate about journalism.
“I love writing, it’s so important,” he says.
“My biggest two achievements are reporting on the 1989 Newcastle earthquake and the resulting inquest some 18 months later. Thirteen people died and 160 people were injured… I worked 48 hours straight before I got a break,” he says.
He says print is his favourite form of journalism because it allows more creativity.
“In radio you have 90 seconds to tell a story and that’s it. In print… if you have a passion for something, you can show it a lot more than you could on radio,” Barlow says.
He says “deciding what to leave out” is the most difficult task of being an editor.
“You’ll always have someone come to you and say, ‘why didn’t this picture go in?’ so you’re always fighting with all that and that’s the real challenge,” he says.
Barlow’s typical day living in aged care varies depending on the day of the week. He usually attends church on Sunday, goes shopping on Tuesday and has a visitor on Wednesday. Barlow says he occasionally attends concerts held at the facility and walks as much as possible every day.
“I’ve got to walk as much as I can, but now we’re getting into winter, I can only walk around the nursing home because it’s too cold to go outside,” he says.
Barlow is also part of the facility’s men’s group.
“I keep busy, like now with the royal commission on, I’m glued to the laptop listening to it and then I download the transcripts. It’s a huge undertaking to read through all of that and work out what I’m going to put in the next royal commission update,” Barlow says.
He says aged care providers should facilitate residents participating in certain roles.
“Getting residents involved is a great thing because it adds purpose to their lives. There are many things residents can do like folding small laundry items, knitting for various fellow residents and being involved in planning activities residents can enjoy.”
This article appears in the current edition of Australian Ageing Agenda magazine (July-August).