The golf course that made a dream come true

Behind Oliver Green’s fading eyesight and precarious balance is a man who has lived an extraordinary life in his 96 years.

Born south of London in 1920, Oliver joined the Royal Air Force as soon as he was able. He was a fighter pilot during the first two years of World War II when he was shot down in Egypt.

“I was badly hit and luckily the plane didn’t burst into flames when it hit the ground,” he recalls. “I don’t know how many days I was walking in the desert without food, water or shelter but one morning I saw camels in the distance.”

Those camels were a tribe of Beduin who took the starving Oliver in, although they too were struggling for water. Only a couple of days later, before he’d even had time to recover, a young German officer travelling Egypt by motorcycle came across the tribe with their battered English pilot. 

“The German officer took me to his dug out and then I was handed over to the German army police and that was it, I was a prisoner then for four years in Germany,” tells Oliver.

Oliver believes in writing your own destiny so he braved a prison break from the hospital compound at Dulag Luft III. He and three other inmates found a weak point, and made a break for it.

“We made it into the cellars and found out where the coal was delivered into the cellars, and we prised up that hatch, and escaped through it. We ran across without the guards noticing and jumped the fence,” he says. “We were free for seven days. It was very difficult, it was late-October, it was freezing cold and we had no food, no shelter or anything.”

The trio were apprehended and taken back to the camp.

The days and months dragged and the conditions were appalling. Life was harder than any man should ever endure. One of the officers, also a prisoner, had managed to keep a ladies golf club in his belongings, so Oliver set up a little golf course to keep up morale.

“We made little balls and eventually they became quite well done and sturdy. One of them is still in the museum in the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to this day. Little things like that kept us alive,” he says. “I wouldn’t recommend being a prisoner of war.”

Oliver made a second escape, this time a successful attempt into the hands of the Americans, which saw him eventually make it home safely. He had been gone for six years, but he jumped immediately back into his Air Force life.
Old photos of Oliver
“You don’t want to look back, you only want to look forward in life. I had a very interesting RAF career afterwards,” says Oliver. Oliver’s RAF career was illustrious and celebrated, but it was his hobby of golfing that fueled his career change after his retirement.

“The Duke of Bedford’s estate heard I knew something about golf and they wanted someone to build a huge golf complex so I retired early and started building golf courses,” he tells.

Oliver eventually retired for good to Australia. He has a family who love him, and a lifetime of stories, but his body began to fade like all bodies do with time. 

After an operation in his 90s Oliver was left unable to walk, and it was then that his family and him decided he might need a little bit of extra care. After a period in respite he moved into the Bupa Aged Care home in Traralgon, Victoria. He refused to believe that he might never walk again.

“I was determined I was going to walk again but I had no idea how I was going to achieve it because I could barely move my legs in the bed. I had to be lifted out of bed with a crane,” he says. “I just thought if I put one foot in front of the other and the other one in front of the first one it would work.”

The Bupa team were impressed by Oliver’s motivation and determination and together, with a bespoke program, they got him back on his feet in a matter of months. Now that Oliver was mobile again, the team wanted to know what his wishes for his old age were.
Oliver with his golf club
In fact, the Bupa Aged Care team aspire to know the wishes of everyone who comes to live with them. This is a large part of their ‘Person-First’ philosophy according to Bupa Traralgon’s General Manager, Kirsten Fox.
 
“We run on a person first, disease second philosophy,” she says. “We have the specialist knowledge to deal with the disease but we want to know who is this person and how do we care for them as an individual?”
 
“When a resident comes into a care home we complete what we call a ‘map of life,’ which is everything about them. Their children, their grandchildren, their likes and dislikes, but most importantly there is a box for their wishes.”
 
When Oliver arrived at the home his only wish was to be able to walk again. When they met that wish, he needed a new dream, which was when he admitted he hoped to play golf again.
 
“We knew he had designed golf courses so I told him we have got lots of green space so design something here,” tells Kirsten. “From knowing him and his needs we have been able to walk beside him to get to where we are today; fairly independent with life and designing a golf course at 96 years old.”
 
The golf course represents not only fresh air and exercise for the residents but a freedom that they had in days gone by. The care home also has potting stations and vegetable patches set up for gardeners, and knitting rooms for the “Knit and Natter” ladies.
 
“I think the benefit of person first care is that this truly becomes their home. The environment is set up to meet their individual needs,” says Kirsten. “There is no one size fits all and the residents have a voice. They are the custodians of the home, and this is their community.”
 
Behind every person in an aged care home is an entire lifetime of stories and Bupa Aged Care is committed to learning those stories and helping to tell the final chapters. 
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