When most of us near a monumental birthday, we contemplate heading to a nice restaurant, hosting a party, sharing a nice cake with our nearest and dearest or purchasing something extravagant in the knowledge this may be our last opportunity to do so.
But tradition holds little appeal for Roscoe Behrmann.
For when this second generation South African celebrated eight decades of life, he requested that his family and friends not waste their money on gifts that he was unlikely to use. Instead, he asked that they lend their support to his decision to board a plane and create a new life in a city more than 10,000 kilometres away.
That was nine years ago now and far from easing into a quiet existence in Australia, Roscoe has continued living life at full throttle.
Destined for the limelight
Born in 1929 in a small country town in South Africa called Graaff Reinett, Roscoe was the only child of a car salesman and housewife.
Having always been in possession of a vivid imagination, Roscoe was a natural born storyteller and decided at an early age that producing films was where his future lay.
His first introduction to the film industry was when he was around 12 years old, the experience leading him to decide he'd like to earn a living as a newsreel cameraman.
On his third attempt, he managed to pass his matric (year 12 equivalent) and at 18 joined the only film studio in South Africa as an apprentice film technician.
Shortly after leaving school Roscoe married a fellow South African, a “Capetown girl” named Phyllis, and the couple went on to have a son and three daughters.
Determined to provide for his burgeoning family, Roscoe spent the first five years of his career learning all aspects of the film production industry, earning credits for his efforts on the award-winning film Royal Command Where No Vultures Fly – a film inspired by the work of conservationist Mervyn Cowie.
Sometime after he left the company to form his own film production group and subsequently spent the bulk of his career making all types of film and video productions for the South African and International markets.
In 2000 – after a lengthy career spanning more than 40 years – Roscoe sold his film production company and retired from the business. Determined to keep his creative juices flowing, however, he set about writing a technical book on movie making for the South African National Film School and later lectured on the same subject.
But while he spent the majority of his time behind the camera, Roscoe was equally at home in front of it, supplementing his day job with other creative pursuits namely acting and song-writing and also producing live amateur musical theatre for charity.
In 2010 he lost his beloved wife Phyllis after more than half a century of marriage. It was around this time that Roscoe, by then aged 80 and with 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren dotted at different points around the world, began thinking seriously about his future and where that may lie.
“The only reason I left SA in the first place was because my loving wife died and I believed it would be easier for me and my son and his family (who still live in SA) for my daughters in Australia to care for me in my twilight years. It was a traumatic experience as you can imagine but I managed to get a permanent resident visa for Australia,” he says.
Hectic pace continues
But if his family imagined that such a major move would also signal a slow down in Roscoe’s post-retirement activities, they were soon left disappointed.
No sooner had he stepped foot on Australian soil than he was already making a host of new friends having joined the local brand of international seniors organisation U3A.
“As a child I learned to play the ukulele. I joined a ukulele section in Wahroonga, to keep busy. The leader, a professional musician was impressed with my playing skills and asked me to assist him running the class. Then he died and the group asked me to continue as their teacher, which I did,” notes Roscoe.
“A few months later I decided to move the venue to St Ives and most of the members followed. We started with six members and over the past seven years the membership has grown and today we have 56 members, most of whom I taught.”
With music having been a significant companion in his life, Roscoe took his love of all things instrumental with him when he moved into Fernbank retirement community in 2012. It was during his early days there that he began learning more about the studies being undertaken overseas investigating the correlation between music and those diagnosed with dementia.
He learned that in America some therapists were meeting with some success when creating personalised playlists on iPods and playing this music to people who have chronic cognitive and physical impairment, including those with dementia.
This struck a chord with Roscoe and he attempted to find out if similar programs were running in Australia. Learning there were none, he made it his mission to change that.
“Nothing was happening here [so] I introduced the idea to my ukulele group and asked them if they would help me fund the programme. I then went around to a number of aged homes and asked them if they would like iPod programmes for their patients, free of charge.”
A different life
Roscoe’s enthusiasm was catching and today the program continues, successfully running across seven different aged care homes. News of Roscoe’s involvement soon spread and in 2017, just eight years after making his home in Sydney, he was awarded the Ku-ring-gai Mayor’s Award for services to the community.
It was only late last year that Roscoe finally agreed to take less of an active role in the project, handing over the reins to others while at the same time stepping down from running the ukulele group.
But as has become customary, Roscoe continues to use his talents to brighten the world. He spends his days painting watercolour landscapes and seascapes, with many now featured around the Fernbank foyer.
“My life in Aus is totally different to my life in South Africa because I was happily married for 51 years there and here in Aus, I’ve had to adjust to being on my own. I prefer rugby union to rugby league and support the Wallabies only when they are not playing against the Springboks.”
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