The two of us

Carers Fay Van Ekern and Barry Gill have been supporting each other for 30 years. Photo Megan Ceran.
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Two carers are helping each other endure against the odds. Megan Ceran reports.

A Tarneit woman who is grieving the loss of her son and her
partner disabled in a workplace accident say they are determined to act as carers for each other.

Fay Van Ekern, 72, says that Indian-born Barry Gill, 64, has helped her cope with the loss of her 45-year-old son who died last year of heart disease.

“It’s only him and I. He looks after me and I look after him,” says Fay Van Ekern, who has survived breast cancer in recent years.

Barry Gill sustained brain damage in 2005 when his head was struck by concrete. He lost his index finger in a separate workplace accident.

“I have only one person who I like,” he says of Fay.

The couple first met in October 1988 and have been together for 30 years.

“He answered the door…I thought ‘he has a lovely smile,” she says.

“I said, ‘you can come and start living with me,’” he says.

They lived in a bungalow in Altona North until they built a house in 1994.

Fay says her faith is “very strong, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

“We believe God gives us more. I’m still out there in the community. Whether it’s the Aboriginal community, helping in the Salvos…it’s no good sitting at home,” she says.

Her father was taken from Ararat as a part of the Stolen Generation when he was five years old.

“They didn’t want them in the community. His mother ended up in the Royal Park Mental Hospital…there was all shame in those days,” she says.

Although she may never find out where her grandfather was from, she says that she is accepted in the community as Aboriginal.

Barry, a farmer before migrating from India, regularly helps take homegrown carrots and pumpkin to a wheelchair group at their church. “When I see something to do in the community, I just go and do it,” he says.

Since his accident, he has lost 60 percent of his cognitive ability. The pain medication he’s on makes it difficult for him to get the words out, he says.

Fay says that he looks after her very well.

“You can’t say that he’s not a good man. He does all of the dishes and vacuums,” she says.

She experiences constant hot flushes caused by the hormone replacement therapy for breast cancer. Her hernia was torn in an operation for a collapsed lung.

“I can’t move my arms above my head,” she says. “I’m always in pain.”

Her son’s death in May last year took a toll on the couple. He had moved to Albury and started working for the Department of Human Services (DHS) a month earlier.

“It took me a long time to get his body back. There was a big trouble up there with the Coroner’s Courts,” she says.

His passing has made the couple even more dependent on one another.

“He was the best son ever,” she says.

Despite the challenges they face, the couple say that they are determined to live together in their house and receive aged care rather than go into a nursing home.

“It’s a challenge to keep the house and pay bills,” she says. At 64, Barry is too young to receive the pension.

They recently attended a function at which Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Luke Donnellan visited Carers Victoria, a non-profit organisation which supports the couple, to announce State Government funding of $160,000.

Pictured alongside the Minister for Carers, the Hon. Luke Donnellan, Carers Victoria CEO Andrew Scott, and other Victorian carers.

The funds will go towards respite services for Aboriginal, other culturally diverse and regional carers.

“You make a huge contribution, many billions of dollars, that is simply not recognised enough,” he says.

Both Fay and Barry acknowledge the work of Carers Victoria and the community in their journey.  

“He looks after me and I look after him. That’s what Carers Victoria are helpful for,” she says.

“If you work for the community, the community gives something back,” he says.