Life is about making connections says Karana’s Jean Giese

Ask 96-year-old Jean Giese what matters in life, and she answers without hesitation.

“In the end, it’s all about relationships,” she says. “Connecting with people. That’s what’s important.”

A fairly recent resident of Baptcare’s Karana residential aged care community, Jean has discovered that several staff members grew up in Nepal, so she talks with them about what she saw and learned while trekking in that country.

Her decades of bushwalking were not just about experiencing nature but also linking with others of like mind. “I was punching above my weight with my bushwalking and made lots of younger friends. They still stay in touch and come and visit. I recommend young friends to everyone!

“I am a Life Member of the Melbourne Bushwalkers. I’m not sure what my favourite walks have been, but Nepal was wonderful, and so are the classic walks in Tasmania. The mountains in Austria and Switzerland are also special.”

Jean was born in Perth and trained as a nurse in Fremantle. She moved to Melbourne with her husband, Methodist Minister Roland Giese, and three children in 1965.

Roland was passionate about music and social justice. He died aged 50, several years before the Methodist Church became part of the Uniting Church. “He would have loved that. He was what we called an ecumaniac.”

Jean is a Life Member of the Australian Labor Party and retains a strong interest in politics. “I don’t talk a lot about it here – we all know you should steer clear of religion and politics in conversation – but I feel strongly that we need things to be fairer between the haves and the have nots. I can also see such a divide between young and old at the moment.”

An enthusiastic attender of live arts events, Jean barely missed a Melbourne Theatre Company show in 45 years, as well as enjoying opera and ballet. The best performance she’s ever seen? Katharine Hepburn playing Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew on an Australian tour in 1955.

In 2002, Jean was awarded an OAM ‘For service to education through the Hawthorn campus of the University of the Third Age, and to the community,’ recognition of her leadership and engagement.

“What does life mean? We are all looking for explanations. I don’t know the answer. But relationships, as I said, are what matters.

“I am very happy to be here at Karana, with lots of people to chat with. I used to visit here, I had my name down for a long time, and I’m very happy to be here now.”