After more than 50 years, workers on the Snowy Mountains Scheme are reconnecting through The Snowy Group, run by Woden Community Service.
The Snowy Group is just one of many social groups helping boost the physical, emotional and mental health of Canberra’s senior citizens.
Tuesday and Friday social groups, also run by WCS at the Harmonie German Club, are helping seniors form new friendships and beat feelings of loneliness, boredom and social isolation, especially after the COVID-19 lockdowns.
WCS Social Groups co-ordinator Sandy Van Der Toorn says former Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric workers get together at the club once a month and talk about old times.
“Many of the members are in their 90s and love nothing more than to meet up with others they may have worked with over the years,” she said.
“They love sitting down to a traditional lunch and reminiscing about the building of the scheme and sharing their personal stories.”
Through the group, two men finally met each other in person after having only ever spoken over the radio during the construction of the Snowy Scheme.
Members regularly enjoy trips to Jindabyne, the Snowy Centre at Cooma and the Snowy Scheme Museum at Adaminaby.
The weekly WCS mixed social groups are also a great way for men and women to connect, share their stories and learn new skills.
“We have a variety of organised entertainment, including arts and crafts, watercolour painting and indoor sports like golf and bowls,” she said.
“This gives people an opportunity to learn something new and to keep their minds active.”
The Tuesday and Friday groups also have guest speakers from bird groups, the Red Cross, health organisations and antique collectors, and of course, live music is always a hit – from Elvis shows and belly dancing, to old-style rock and roll.
“We have a day once a year when everyone brings something special to talk and reminisce about,” Ms Van Der Toorn said.
“The photos and family heirlooms create such a lot of interest and people are finding they have so much in common when we do something like that.”
As a way to say thank you to the German Club manager Paul Berger and his wife Leanne, the catering contractor at Knuckles Restaurant, a former member Siggy, who passed away in 2020, donated an artwork that will be hung in the club.
“Siggy taught himself fine embroidery and made an incredible artwork of the Neuschwanstein Castle, which he donated to Paul and Leanne,” Ms Van Der Toorn said.
“It was his way of saying thank you for supporting our group over the last four years.”
Siggy made many friends that kept him going during difficult times following the loss of his wife.
The Friday social group members enjoy regular picnics and outings to regional areas, such as Yass or Cooma.
Whenever there’s something happening in or around Canberra, like Music at Midday at Duntroon, the Enlightenment Festival or National Gallery exhibitions, Ms Van Der Toorn says WCS tries to arrange a group outing for the seniors.
Over the years, many firm friendships have been made during the get-togethers, with people meeting outside the group and ringing each other up to check on their welfare.
The generosity of the Harmonie German Club has allowed WCS to continue operating the social groups and The Snowy Group, with new members always welcome.
“Being an iconic Canberra club for 60 years has made for a great multicultural connection with our Snowy Hydro group, including some of our Italian clients,” Ms Van Der Toorn said.
“We’d love to see Canberra seniors from all backgrounds come along, meet new friends and become part of this very special community.
“Our members are generally singles, often feeling lonely following the loss of their partner and we encourage people who may be in a similar situation to reach out.”
WCS offers transport to the venue and can often help out with other seniors support services.
To join one of the senior groups, or find out more about the seniors support services on offer, contact Woden Community Service on 6282 2644.