Ballarat changemakers | ourballarat spring 2022

Anne Tudor paved the way for the creation of Australia’s first dementia-friendly forest and sensory trail in Ballarat. The dementia advocate was awarded the Mayor’s Award in the City of Ballarat’s Senior of the Year Awards in 2017 before being awarded the Premier’s Award for the Victorian Senior of the Year in 2021.

Anne Tudor at the Woowookarung Regional Park's dementia-friendly forest and sensory trail.

Sometimes inspiration can strike in the most unusual circumstances.

One morning, just before Christmas in 2019, Anne and her wife Edie Mayhew took a walk through the Woowookarung Regional Park.

At one point Edie, who had been diagnosed with younger onset dementia a decade prior, looked up and said, “the trees want to know how we are”.

Anne, who was often taken aback by her wife’s guilelessness and wisdom, began to think about the space differently.

“My perspective and experience of forests changed. Now I can’t go to forests without thinking about the trees and what they are thinking.”

Fast-forward three years and Woowookarung Regional Park is now home to Australia’s first dementia-friendly forest and sensory trail.

Built by Parks Victoria, the trail is an example of synchronicity – Anne and Edie lit the spark, a grant from Dementia Australia created momentum, and Parks Victoria and Friends of Canadian Corridor provided the support and encouragement.

Government, community groups and individuals also embraced the project.

Spanning 1.8kms, the trail is designed to evoke positive memories, feelings and sensations through plants, sculptures, sensory aspects and quiet places for reflection.

To pay homage to Edie, there is a life-sized rustic steel bush window inscribed with her words – the trees want to know how you are.

“Right from the beginning we wanted the dementia trail to be inclusive of all people. That’s why the path is extra wide so it can be used by wheelchairs, carers and family dogs on lead.”

The trail opened on 25 June 2021, one year after Edie died.

It has since become a beloved community asset with many groups, schools and local creatives enhancing the space through plantings, maintenance, artworks and technology.

“The testament to how much it’s loved is that it gets about 400 visitors a week,” Anne says.

“I have had so many people tell me how it has helped individuals and families get through the pandemic, children with special needs feel safe, and people from aged-care homes love visiting. It’s a magical space that embraces and welcomes everybody.”

After receiving Edie’s diagnosis, Anne says they were motivated to help others.

One of their most significant achievements was when they launched Bigger Hearts Dementia Alliance Ballarat in 2016 – a grassroots campaign which inspires Ballarat to become a dementia-friendly city.

City of Ballarat Ageing Well Executive Manager Ann Pitt says Ballarat is fortunate to have such a passionate and committed advocate as Anne.

“Along with the Bigger Hearts Dementia Alliance volunteers, Anne works tirelessly to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia,” Ann says.

“We appreciate her ongoing commitment.”

Anne says her proudest moments are when she hears how her and Edie’s story has affected others.

“There are many people in our community who feel lost when they are told their loved one has dementia.

“I want to tell them that life doesn’t end with a dementia diagnosis. People with dementia are still very much present and still have so much to give and enjoy.”

Anne is a big advocate for positive ageing and leads her life by example.

On the day we speak, she is on a road trip through South Australia where she is driving a recreational vehicle (something she admits she has never done before), with her dog Melvin.

“Even though this trip is something Edie and I would have done together, I am grateful to be alive and well and be able to enjoy this new experience.”

Senior of the Year

The City of Ballarat Senior of the Year Awards celebrate the people of Ballarat whose volunteer involvement supports and inspires others.

This year's winners will be announced in the first week of October as part of the Victorian Seniors Festival.