YOUNG AT HEART

Barbies, kites and train sets aren’t just on kids’ wish-lists this Christmas. Meet the older folk who still enjoy fun and games. Claire Halliday reports.

SUSIE Ginat doesn’t let her grandchildren play with her Barbie dolls. One look at the 200-strong collection on display in her fourth-floor St Kilda Road apartment, all doe-eyed and retro-glamorous in the outfits Ginat, 78, has painstakingly made, and it is clear that these dolls are not the rough-and-tumble toys of anyone’s childhood.

Instead, for Ginat, a former flamenco dancer who was born in Morocco after her family fled Paris during World War II, the dolls are reminders — links to a past she remembers with husky-voiced fondness. Memories of the way things used to be.

“When I was about eight years old, I used to watch all the Hollywood films. I was taken by it completely — the glamour. When I make the clothes for the Barbies, I use my imagination, my fantasies,” she says. “Every time I create one of their outfits, or their hats or their matching handbags, it takes me back to the 1940s — automatically.

RELATED CONTENT
Kitschmas gifts that beggar belief
I get very romantic. I love jazz and I play it while I make the dresses and I am transported to that kind of world — the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s. They were very happy times for me.”

She still remembers her first doll — a little porcelain one given to her, as one of a family of seven children, by a charity during the war years.

“I loved her so very much,” she says. “My brother broke it one day and I picked her up and put bandages on her legs. I buried her later when she was too old and broken to play with any more.”

She came to Australia with her husband in 1965, had children and, having left dancing behind her for marriage, used her creative skills to make layettes for her children’s cots.

Then, one day, she bought one of her daughters a doll.

“She said, ‘I don’t like the dress,’ so I made another one for it. Then I discovered that I enjoyed it,” says Ginat, who can spend hundreds of dollars and several hours on the dolls’ creations.

The six grandchildren are allowed to look but not touch the collection, which Ginat says she hopes to eventually sell. For now, though, she is happy enough just admiring them herself and remembering.

“When I get involved with the doll, I am with it completely,” she says. “And nothing else exists.”

WHEN Maggie Phillips was a girl, flying kites was something her older brother did. “It was just a boys’ thing. Girls didn’t do it,” says the Bentleigh grandmother, 78. “I’d have to sit and watch him.”

Eventually, she pursued sailing as a hobby and only discovered the joy of kite-flying in her own life 15 years ago, after her daughter’s interest (and business — teaching kite workshops in schools across Victoria) sparked her old passion.

“I think this has just moved on from sailing,” Phillips says of the hobby that has taken over a spare room and much of her imagination.

“I’m still playing with the wind.”

Phillips’ introduction to kite-flying started with two-string manoeuvrable sports kites — a style she still favours for its speed and excitement.

While many people her age are content to watch the world go by, Phillips does her own share of watching too — but usually to check for weather conditions and wind direction.

For Phillips, a perfect day involves a breezy beachside location, one of the many kites she has designed and made herself, plus a portable CD player to provide the tunes.

“I love doing a (kite) ballet to it,” she says. “If you think the music has gentle curves or sharp turns — the music guides you. I usually go for musical comedies.”

Guys And Dolls, says Phillips, is “OK” but it’s Annie Get Your Gun that really makes her kite soar.

“A lot go for Star Wars music or Raiders of the Lost Ark — very dramatic,” says Phillips, who is treasurer of the Australian Kite Association and has a win at the 2005 World Kite championships in Weifang, China, under her belt. “I prefer a bit of medley. It’s more interesting if the tempo changes.”

Although she concedes that the technological advances of kite construction might have had an impact on exactly how kid-friendly the pursuit is these days, Phillips is adamant that the essence — that carefree, simple childhood delight in getting a kite up in the air and keeping it there — remains the same.

“It used to be newspapers and bits of paling off the fence,” she says of her brother’s efforts with kites all those years ago. “Now it’s ripstop nylon and carbon-fibre rod frames. With all the designs you can bring to it, a lot of people call it art in the sky, but the basic act is still very relaxing. You get this wonderful feeling of being part of the sky and the world and bringing them together.”

FOR Carl Segnit, it all started with the mumps when he was 12. He’d received his first train set when he was nine, but it was when he had the mumps that his mother brought him home the balsa wood — in an attempt to make his sick days pass faster — and his passion for model-making began in earnest.

Now 57, Segnit has turned his passion into a career — working part-time in the Railfan Shop in the CBD and exhibiting his model-making skills in shopfront displays.

With a backyard shed that doubles as a model-making studio and workshop, Segnit estimates that he devotes at least a couple of days a week to his hobby.

“There’s a real satisfaction in working with your hands to create something from nothing,” he says.

It’s a satisfaction, he says, that many children in the instant-gratification computer generation miss. “You see kids at train shows and they still love it — whether they get into building it themselves or not.”

In a former life, Segnit played around the traps of the local band scene back in the early 1970s — a musical link that, he says, is shared by other, more famous, rail enthusiasts.

“Neil Young and Rod Stewart love model trains,” says Segnit. “For me, it’s something I want to do for the rest of my life. I guess there is a connection to childhood innocence. It’s just a lot of fun.”

For more details, visit the Australian Model Railway Association at www. amra.asn.au/vic.htm and the Australian Kite Association at www.aka.org.au

Role: By Claire Halliday
Client: The Age
#