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Cane farmer brings guitar-playing pastor to Feros Care Residential Village

After 50 years of cane farming in the Murwillumbah region, Rod Bartrim is now living a peaceful life at Feros Care’s Wommin Bay Village.

But there was one thing he missed – his regular church service and his tattooed, guitar-playing pastor.

“I’m 94 and I always tell people I’m the happiest and luckiest old man that I know,” Rod said.

“I sat on a tractor most of my life and I didn’t meet many people at all; my church was my community and I’d go to (Church of Christ) Murwillumbah every Sunday. We would have lovely services and then coffee or lunch afterwards.

“When I first came here to Wommin Bay, a mate would pick me up each week so I could still go to church, because I don’t drive anymore. But then he got too unwell to drive and I had to stop going, which was a bit sad for me.

“So I decided to ring up my minister – he’s got tattoos and he plays the guitar, which I really love – and he agreed to come and do a service here for us once a month. It’s so wonderful.”

Having that spiritual connection once again has been the icing on the cake for Rod.

A different kind of aged care village

He came to Wommin Bay about a year ago, but it wasn’t easy for his family to convince him to make the move.

“About 20 years ago, I went to a nursing home to visit someone. And when I left that place, I said to myself, ‘I will never go into a nursing home, no matter what happens’,” he said.

“When my wife passed away, I found out I wasn’t a good cook.

“I got Meals on Wheels to bring food to me, and I was doing okay, except I was falling over and hurting myself all the time. My son suggested coming here to have a look and I agreed.

“As soon as I looked at the rooms I thought, ‘oh my goodness, this isn’t like anything I imagined’. I knew it was a wonderful place to spend the rest of my years, and now I don’t want to be anywhere else. I can’t be

The fun, community spirit which Rod has come to love at Wommin Bay is a far cry from his life on the land.

Life before Feros Care

He grew up on a dairy farm and left school when he was 14 to help his dad and brothers.

“Us young blokes got tired of milking cows every day, so we suggested to Dad that we get into sugar cane, and he actually took our advice,” Rod said.

“Before we could start planting the cane, we had to dig out these huge oak trees – and that was in the days before tractors. It was very hard work. But we ploughed our 60 acres and started to become cane farmers.

“Unfortunately, it was a very bad time to start. The 1954 flood hit and it was enormous. Our land stayed wet for a long time; it basically became a swamp. We almost failed in sugar cane.”

However the brothers persisted and soon developed their land into fertile ground for cane and acquired and worked on nearby farms, ending up with more than 200 acres of land to look after.

Rod said it was around this time they started using machinery.

“We’d finally started making a little bit of money, so we bought these lovely big tractors and suddenly life on the farm was a lot easier,” he said.

“By the time I was 60, I sold my farm and retired. I’ve had a good retirement. My wife and I hooked up the caravan and went around Australia – that was a wonderful experience.

“I’ve been so fortunate to have had a lovely wife, and three lovely daughters and a wonderful son.”

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