SPECIAL INTEREST MATTERS Humans of Launceston

Ms Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, today I speak about a Facebook page, Humans of Launceston, which has had a stunning response since it was started by East Launceston's Adam Page in July 2016. It features the life stories of Launceston residents. The storytelling is exquisite and the photos are beautiful. The page has received more than 19 000 Facebook likes in the last 12 months.

The trigger for starting Humans of Launceston occurred as a result of Adam's chance encounter with an elderly man in a supermarket. The man was looking for someone to talk to him, so Adam did. It turns out the man, Willem 'Bill' de Boer, was 92 years old and a retired, internationally renowned pathologist. Adam asked the man if he would allow him to share his story on social media. He said, 'Nobody wants to listen to the stories of an old man'. Adam replied, 'I doubt that very much'.

That conversation led to three Facebook posts, which received 200, 000 views. Adam says he has always enjoyed hearing elderly people tell their stories, but he has long felt that many do not feel valued in our society, such as the man in the supermarket. He wanted to do something about changing that. Humans of Launceston shows he has done a lot to personally address that.

It takes Adam five to six hours to write each story. What does he look for? Humour, stories people can relate to, honesty, references to local landmarks, retold history and journeys of love and loss.

Adam says - With Humans of Launceston, there is a raw honesty and people seem to be more forthcoming about their lives. That is a very relatable aspect of the stories' appeal, and I believe definitely part of why it seems to resonate with so many people.

The story about the late Robert Rex Burr was read by 350 000 people from across the world. Adam says after he had done the interview with Rex, he went to give him feedback about how well received his story had been. By that time, Rex was in an aged-care home in Norwood and had stopped eating and taking his medication. When Adam told him what a massive reception the story had on Humans of Launceston, Rex cried tears of happiness. He also resumed eating and taking his medication and went on to live for another six months. Rex was then able to attend the inaugural Humans of Launceston meet-and-greet fundraising event in August this year. Rex said it was one of the best nights he had ever had, and he felt as if he was the centre of the world.

Another one of Adam's favourite stories was about a lady called Irmgard. Irmgard was born in Germany and her family endured horrific experiences during World War II. The family lived in her grandmother's house in East Prussia, on the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Irmgard's following quotes are taken from Humans of Launceston -

The war had started in 1939 and we were fairly safe for a few years but eventually we had to flee as the Russians pushed their way towards us.

At that point, German soldiers told the family the Russians were about a kilometre behind and urged them to keep moving. They arrived at a town called Gotenhafen on the Baltic Sea. Irmgard's mother, seven months pregnant, was taking care of them as they had become separated from Irmgard's father and grandfather. They slept on the floor of an empty house while waiting for the next ship to arrive. Irmgard recalls -

Then a bomb went off in the house next door and blew a huge hole in the house we were in. There was fire and smoke everywhere. My mother jumped on top of us children to cover us and she screamed at us 'If we die tonight, we die together'.

We escaped from the house and ran down to the wharf to get onto a newly arrived ship.

At this point Irmgard's mother realises her daughter has left her shoes behind and insists they return for those so that she did not die from the extreme cold. They get the shoes but by the time they return to the wharf, a ship called the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, with thousands of people on board, has left without them.

Irmgard continues -

Nine hours later, a Russian submarine fired three torpedos at the Gustloff and within 90 minutes it had sunk to the bottom of the Baltic Sea. One thousand people were rescued, over 9 000 people died. Only those in lifeboats were rescued.

Irmgard adds -

Going back to get my shoes essentially saved my family's lives.

Humans of Launceston has absolutely transformed Adam's life. The father of three, rock'n'roll singer and Elvis tribute performer worked for many years as a truck driver and labourer. Running this Facebook page made him realise he wanted to work with the elderly. He went back to study to do so. Now he is working in an aged care home in Kings Meadows as a diversional therapist, a job which sees him helping older people to stay connected and engaged in society. Adam says, 'I feel privileged and honoured to spend every day with aged care members of our community. They are truly fascinating people.'

I pay tribute to Adam and all the incredible people interviewed for sharing stories which enrich our social fabric in Launceston. I especially thank Adam for reminding us that every life matters.

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