Lockdowns have left many older people feeling left alone and isolated, with activities they once did no longer available.
Local groups couldn’t meet up in person, and for some people, the technology world was a step too far.
Many haven’t seen their families in weeks, with cuddles and kisses put on hold.
While the state gets ready to open up, this year’s Victorian Seniors Festival is putting a smile on the faces of many people.
This year’s festival theme of Keep’n On recognises the resilience of seniors after a difficult 18 months.
The festival aims to connect with some of Victoria’s most loved and celebrated performers and includes performances for seniors who are looking to develop a greater understanding of diversity.
The festival wants to remind people to continue to try and live their lives despite the pandemic.
This year’s festival is a mixture of in -erson and online activities, due to the pandemic.
Seniors living in regional Victoria have been able to connect through a range of local, in-person events. While come and try tai chi classes are set down for Keilor, Werribee and Bundoora, if restrictions allow.
Those in lockdowns haven’t been forgotten about, with a range of online musical performances, radio series, talks and shows from a wide range of Victorian entertainers.
The festival includes a number of performers who are returning to be part of it the show once again, while some are stepping up for the first time.
At 90-years of age, you could forgive Elizabeth Chong for taking a step back and relaxing. But she continues to provide inspiration for other seniors.
“I feel I have a role to play there for seniors,” she said.
“If they feel like that I can inspire and get people there, I’m happy to do it.
“I think perhaps they see me as a role model. A lot of people pre-empt their lifestyle when they get to this age.
“I’m lucky I’m still active enough and I want to inspire them a bit.”
Ms Chong, who has been involved in the festival on a number of occasions, has made a name for herself as a prominent Chinese-born, Melbourne-based Australian celebrity chef, former cooking teacher, author and television presenter.
She is a pioneer of the industry and was the first celebrity chef and promoter of Chinese cuisine to Australian households.
She said the lockdowns had taken away one of the most important elements of cooking, sharing with friends and families.
For this year’s seniors festival she has joined forces with her granddaughter Teresa Duddy who shares her love of performing and family.
The two made a video talking about their relationship and lives.
“We’ve worked alongside each other before,” she said.
“She is a trained opera singer and done quite a lot of performing.
“We were able to sit down and have a conversation around a piano and I’m looking forward to being able to do it again.”
Ms Chong’s biggest message is for seniors to stay positive.
David Arden has been performing for seniors and elders for as long as he can remember.
The Kokatha, Gunditjmara singer and songman has graced the stage for more than three decades, alongside acts including Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Bart Willoughby, Mixed Relations, Dan Sultan, Paul Kelly and Hunters and Collectors.
Through song, Mr Arden reminisces on his childhood of being raised by four mothers and imagines what it would have been like to grow up with his grandfather.
This is his first time being part of the seniors festival.
“I had heard of the festival and they were interested in me to be part of it this year,” he said.
“It’s a great opportunity to feel a little bit normal and be part of an event.
“Because of the lockdown it will be streamed into people’s houses and they will log on when they are ready to.”
He said this year’s theme was really relevant due to the ongoing pandemic.
“I remember when I was 15-years old and played music to my elders,” he said.
“I’m a storyman and storyteller who sings to tell their stories.”
Others who will be performing as part of the festival are Ross Skiffington and Sam Angelico, who will perform magic acts from their days at the Last Laugh Comedy Club in Melbourne.
Djoliba Rattler Quartet will play upbeat West African-inspired music and Jacob Papadopoulos and Sarita McHarg present an enticing India meets Greece collaboration.
This year also marks the launch of the new Victorian Seniors Festival Reimagined podcast – Women, Arts and Activism– which dives into historical events and the lives of inspiring women from different cultures.
Radio content this year includes Lux Radio Theatre presenting Fergus Hume’s Victorian classic, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, and Sandy Greenwood’s powerful and award-winning play The Matriarch.
The annual seniors free public transport week – a fixture of the festival – will return once restrictions allow.
Seniors can listen in via their local community radio station or tune into video broadcasts and radio programs from the comfort of their own home until the end of the year.