Couple makes move for family
Life changes: Dementia diagnosis throws couple a curve ball
SIX years ago, Dennis Sly and Jenny Babbs packed up their Narooma home on the south coast of New South Wales, just down the road from Batesman Bay, and hit the road, bound for Biggenden to be closer to family.
The semi-retired couple chose the town as it was halfway between their daughters at Mackay and sons in Brisbane and Ipswich, while other family members were scattered through the state.
Dennis said he often wondered, why Biggenden?
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great spot to live when you are healthy, but is isolated when you need specialist treatment,” he said.
Just after the couple arrived in Biggenden, Jenny was diagnosed with dementia.
Today, after 23 years together, Dennis is her carer.
“It’s full time – 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
“We do everything together. It’s awkward at times but we manage.
“The big plus is we have some good friends who I can call on when I need help.”
Dennis said Jenny used to care for dementia patients in her work in aged care, but now it was her with the disease.
He said one of Jenny’s main problems was she could not handle Biggenden’s hot temperatures.
“It was 41 degrees in the house on Sunday plus it is so humid here.”
The couple spends most summer days downstairs, where it is cooler.
“We have a lounge and TV set up so we can sit back in the cool and relax,” Dennis said.
A panel beater and spray painter by trade, Dennis left the industry in 1980, when running costs got out of hand.
These days, Dennis enjoys restoring old cars.
“Of course it’s nearly always been Fords,” he said. “It gives me something to do. I get under the house and play. One year I was awarded the people’s choice at the car show with my old blue (1964 Ford Fairlane), which I’ve have for 14 years.
“I fully restored it myself.”
The car takes pride of place under the house, alongside his 1978 Falcon and 1972 Cortina.
Dennis calls himself a “jack of all trades”, having enjoyed many careers.
“I spent 14 years – the last two with Jenny – travelling the countryside doing seasonal work,” he said.
“It’s a great way to see the county and you meet lots of nice people.”
Before the couple moved to Biggenden, they had a lawn mowing business.
“We mowed 72 lawns every fortnight,” he said.
Dennis said the couple did go back to Narooma for two years, but came back when their tenants moved out unexpectedly.
“With Jenny’s ill health we intend to move back down to NSW,” he said.
“We would really love to pick the house up and take it with us, but now it’s on the market.”
Dennis said every room of the home was painted blue but he had redecorated with softer tones.
Pride of place on the dining room wall is a poster of the movie African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn.
“Jenny loved the movie and when she found the poster I framed it for her,” he said.
Until they sell their Mary St home, you will find Dennis tinkering with his cars while Jenny enjoys her favourite program, the Bold and the Beautiful.
BACK TO NSW: Dennis Sly and Jenny Babbs have now been together for 23 years.