Peter Dickson at the site of the his LGBTI nursing home development, near Ballan. Photo: Simon O’DwyerFor roughly half his life, Peter Dickson has been planning where he would live in his twilight years. But in recent times, it’s become something of an obsession.
Dickson isn’t considering just his own needs as he gets older but also those of the entire LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community.
Now his dream of building Australia’s – and possibly the world’s – first residential village for the LGBTI community and like-minded people is becoming a reality, with 118 units going on the market.
“I’m speechless,” he said. “A few years ago I kept pushing and I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.”
The 55-year-old dreamer has poured his time and money into the ground-breaking project and put everything on the line to ensure his $46-million baby gets delivered.
The former chef and property investor, who nows works full-time with some of Melbourne’s most vulnerable homeless people as a tenancy worker with the Salvation Army, isn’t your typical developer.
“People think developers are multimillionaires, but a lot aren’t,” he says. “I’m known as the ‘Two-Minute Noodle Queen’ at work.”
The project has also cost Dickson some friends; others have tired of his constant talk of Linton Estate, placing bets on whether he can stay off the subject.
“Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose,” he says. “I basically have put my life on hold for this project, but that’s my choice.”
The idea to develop a gay-friendly community for older people was developed, as all good ideas are, around a dinner table with friends – almost three decades ago.
Though the rights of LGBTI people have come a long way since then, Dickson says discrimination as they age and become more dependent is still a fear for many.
“You are born in the closet, and then come out of the closet, and when you’re older you go back into the closet.”
Many LGBTI people are isolated from family and don’t have children, which has influenced the strong community aspect of the development, with regular activities planned for residents.
The co-convenor of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Sean Mulcahy, says there have been reports of LGBTI people living in retirement homes facing discrimination.
“There are issues with respecting people’s privacy and the ability of same-sex couples to make decisions for each other, ensuring that friends and people in the community are welcome to visit, and specific issues for transgender and intersex older people.”
Some progress has been made, Mulcahy says, through initiatives such as the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy. And he welcomes the development – ideally “all aged-care homes should be inclusive for all, free from discrimination and safe spaces for LGBTI residents”.
In 2007, Dickson bought a 19-acre (7.7-hectare) block of land in rural Ballan, an hour north-west of Melbourne.
Without the expertise to design the village himself, he has since surrounded himself with experts and consulted widely about the award-winning concept.
So far, he has received 350 expressions of interest, and there are eight units already at a pre-contract stage.
Dickson emphasises that anybody of any age can live there, as long as they are respectful of all others. But it is set up for older people with services such as an on-call nurse, to ensure residents are supported to live there as long as possible.
Given the more flexible rules on who can live there, it isn’t technically a retirement village – younger partners can live there and residents can continue to work if they desire.
The modern six-star environmentally friendly resort-style development has the self-proclaimed perfectionist’s fingerprints all over it.
“I’ve fine-tuned it to the stage of being 100 per cent perfect,” he said.
For example, after much thought and discussion, he designed unisex toilets for the public areas with private changing spaces to ensure everybody, no matter their gender identity, feels comfortable.
Financial downturns, personal hardships and many sleepless nights have taken their toll, but for Dickson it has all been worth it.
“It’s about not sitting back and waiting for the next stage of our lives and then passing, it’s about having a great life,” he said.
He hopes to see soil turned by the end of the year.
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