Volunteer Milan Gluhak works at Sunshine Hospital’s garden with patients who have dementia. The 63-year-old talks with Esther Lauaki about how his work yields great rewards. 


What’s your connection to Brimbank?

I’ve been living in St Albans for 35 years. I came to Australia (from Croatia) with my parents as migrants in 1969 when I was 16 years old, with only two bags. We moved to Sydney for five years and then moved back here to Melbourne and eventually made our home in St Albans. I live here with my wife and two grown children and my parents, before they passed away.


Why did you choose to become a volunteer?

I started volunteering because both my parents were patients at Western Health in Sunshine and Footscray. My mother was a diabetic and was on dialysis at Sunshine Hospital for 10 years. I knew they needed a gardener and I’m a member of the Sunshine Golden Age Garden Club, so I asked if I could volunteer. I felt like doing something for the community to help sick people. We’re all getting older and we’ll all need help at some point. I believe in volunteering.


What does your volunteer work include?

I feel very welcome at Sunshine Hospital and they treat us very well. It’s a big role, it’s like full-time work, because we have to plan, then go to Bunnings and get all the plants and materials or tools. You have to think about what plants are in season. The garden is like life, if you don’t work hard at it, it will die. The patients really enjoy helping in the garden and it gives them something beautiful and colourful to look at, instead of just a dark and boring place.


You won a Victorian Health Volunteers award last year for improving the patients’ experience at Sunshine Hospital, right?

I’m grateful for the recognition from the government, but I volunteer because I want to, and I love gardening and doing outdoors things. I was very surprised when I won because there’s a team of five of us who restored the gardens. We removed some trees to open up the garden and planted beautiful colourful flowers for patients to look at. We are all equal. I believe every volunteer deserves an award in my opinion. There’s nothing special about me alone … we all worked together.


What did you do before you became a volunteer?

I came to Australia as a teenager and my parents gave me the choice whether to go to school or to work, and I chose to work. I worked in textiles for many years, then at a rubber factory making shoe soles, and then I worked for 32 years manufacturing aircraft. I didn’t know any English when I arrived, so I learned as I worked. As long as my body still moves, I will continue to work till the day I die.


What do you love about St Albans?

My children are true blue Australians, born and raised here, and we have lived in St Albans for a long time. Never in my life did I ever imagine I would live in such a beautiful place, own a home and a car … not even a bike. We are close to everything and we have many friends and family here. I feel very lucky.