In the same year that Melbourne staged the 1956 Olympic Games and Elvis Presley released his first Pop Single, Heartbreak Hotel, Elianor Riess’s father took the courageous decision to purchase a one-way ticket and relocated his wife and 10 children to Melbourne to escape the political unrest of Tunisia, North Africa. As a 14-year-old, Elianor Riess knew too well the reasons for leaving the family farm in Tunisia and beginning a new life in Australia. To this day, Elianor is eternally grateful to her dad for a life journey that began in Tunisia and continues today living on Bribie Island with the joy of her life, husband, John.
I arranged to meet Elianor and John Riess at their family home on Bribie Island to talk everything relationships, family, food and Bribie. As I drove into Elianor’s Street, I was searching hard for street numbers, as you do, and then I sited this well-dressed lady in a front yard wearing a colourful dark green patterned dress. Immediately my intuition kicked in and said, “Damian, that has to be Elianor.” With that thought, we shared eye contact and I was swiftly given my parking directions.” I share this arrival story because it goes to the heart of the effort some people invest to care and look out for people.
Elianor welcomed me with a big smile and escorted me around the back of the house and into the lounge entertainment area where I was introduced to husband John who was offered a warm greeting and hand shake. The rear of Elianor and John’s home faces onto the picturesque canal and is surrounded by manicured gardens, a rear entertainment area and pool. To put things into perspective, John is in his early 70’s and Elianor in her late 70’s. John has Vascular Dementia and requires significant full-time care while Elianor has stayed off her own serious illnesses over the past few years and has found the strength to get on and celebrate life with John. In days gone by John was the leader and provider and these days Elianor plays the lead role of spokesperson, entertainer, communicator, executive chef and carer. Elianor said, “What makes me happy is to look after my husband, John. He looked after me for nearly 40 years and I now look after him in our beautiful Bribie Island home that John designed,” she said Elianor showcasing Japanese Antiques. They say opposites connect and it certainly helps if you have a few common interests and enjoy a good laugh together. Both Elianor and John are creative, visual, humorous and loving people and have shared a bond for each other for almost 41 years.
“Two amazing things happened to me in my life, my family relocated from Tunisia to God’s Own Country, Australia and I married the Joy of my life, husband John Riess.” When we first met in Melbourne, we hung around each other for about a year before we were married in Melbourne,” she said. “We both share a common interest in collecting antiques and building relationships with special people. We love to showcase our antique collection which includes English, Spanish, Japanese and French items positioned throughout our Family Painter and Friend, Richard Curtis home.” Elianor is a born entertainer, passionate gardener and expert communicator who’s love-language is based around food. It’s not hard to take the lead role from your husband when you share these attributes. It also helps when your wife speaks the five languages of French, Maltese, Spanish, Arabic and Italian. I was intrigued how Elianor was able to maintain her repertoire of languages. Elianor said, “Well you have to remember that I had 6 brothers and 4 sisters so these days I will call my sister for a chat,” she said. “We start our conversation in English, we move to French then Italian and so on. That’s how we do it. I also speak the different dialectics.”
Professionally, Elianor was a lead propagator of chrysanthemums, Roses and Carnations in Brisbane for many years and has a passion for creating and designing gardens.
The three of us sat together in the lounge area sharing stories. John seems to love a chat and joke. John spent 38 years operating his Backhoe Business in Brisbane which followed a short career as a Marine Craft Fitter with the RAAF in Melbourne. Professionally John studied a trade as a Motor Mechanic with the RAAF School of Technical Training in Wagga and went on to work as a RAAF Marine Craft Fitter stationed at Point Cook in Victoria. John said, “The RAAF had three Marine Rescue Bases where they employed Marine Craft Fitters in Australia. They included Townsville, Newcastle and Point Cook and unfortunately I was posted to bloody Point Cook, Victoria.” When I raised the topic of living in Melbourne and the AFL, John was quick to close the door on life in Victoria. Albeit in a fun and jovial spirit, John pointed out that he was raised on Queensland’s Central Coast and enjoys the Queensland climate and lifestyle. My initial excitement for connecting with John and sharing my passion for my beloved St Kilda AFL Team was killed off in less than 3 seconds. John made two statements, “I don’t do aerial ping pong” and then he said, “Do you know that they have reclassified Victoria from a State to a Condition.” John has a knack for delivering these types of statements which made me laugh out loud.
Thankfully Elianor intervened and offered me a cup of coffee which was spoken in Italian. Of course, I needed to respond in Italian for Elianor to begin the coffee production. I replied, “Yes please.” Elianor said, “You say, si Grazie.” Of course I nailed it because I needed a coffee and I also noticed the packet of melting moment biscuits sitting on the bench top. It was interesting because after John and I were served our coffee and biscuits, I heard Elianor’s voice down the long hallway near the front door calling out, “Richy, are you their? Richy?” I turned to John and said, “John, out of interest do you have a cat? Do you have a Cat or Dog because Elianor is calling
a name at the front door.” John did not reply, however I turned around and in walked this young looking professional guy called Richard who was introduced by Elianor as the family Painter. Its turns out that Richard has been adopted as one of the family and has been helping paint the family home for the past 4-5 years. We all enjoyed a coffee and had a good chat before Richard returned to his tools of trade. I choose to refrain from asking if there were any other human beings, tradespeople or potential animals in the house.
Elianor loves to cook food and share dinner parties with friends whenever possible. These days Elianor invites friends over to their home about once a month and cooks 3-4 signature dishes. Elianor said, “We eat, we laugh, and
we share stories which is what life is all about. I love to entertain and have people with me in our house.” I was fortunate enough to see first-hand Elianor’s famous Mince and Pork Sausage Mix.
Elianor, John and I enjoyed a few hours together before I said my farewells but not before I was able to capture the answers to 10 of my top questions that I had prepared for Elianor.
Q: What is the most important life value?
A: To be a good human being and to do the right thing
Q: What is your Love Language?
A: Food is my love language – preparing food all day and inviting friends around to celebrate food, friendships, share stories and laugh.
Q: What does Valentine’s Day mean to you?
A: When we were young it meant a lot when we were courting. It does not mean a lot to me these days because I am always in love.
Q: Your love language is food. Tell me about your recipe for making home- made sausages?
A: The sausage ingredients are – Lean Beef & Pork Mince, lots of fresh garlic, paprika, pepper, salt, olive oil, fennel seeds. You mix this and rest it overnight and then make your sausages fried in olive oil. I serve them with Tabouli, Cous Cous or maybe as a hamburger.
Q: Tell me about the type of foods that you prepare for John and yourself these days?
A: I cooked two different meals every night. One for myself which is either French, Italian or Arabic and one for John which is a typical Aussie meal which could be a roast or fish and salad.
Q: How will you and John celebrate your 40th Wedding Anniversary in June this year.
A: We will have a big dish of Cous Cous, a bottle of champagne, box of chocolates and a big big hug.
Q: If you need help with completing paperwork for hospitals or help with responding in to letters in English, where do you turn?
A: I have a beautiful community neighbour, Simone Wilson. Whilst I can speak 5 languages and vary the dialects, I struggle to write fluent English and my husband struggles through his dementia.
Without the support for Simone, we would struggle. She has been our saviour.
Q: How did you end up choosing to live on Bribie Island?
A: We were heading to Noosa many years ago and John asked if I would like to check out Bribie Island on the way
to Noosa. As soon as we crossed the Bribie Island Bridge, I said to John, we will buy a block of land today and we did just that. We went into the first Agent LJ Hooker and purchased a new block in Bongaree on the spot. We have rebuilt our home in Banksia and 17 years later we are still here. The tranquility and friendliness of the people is special to us.
Q: Given John’s variable health condition, how do you cope each day?
A: Well I rate how John feels every day out of 10. Some days John will say that he is a 4/10. I plan my day based on how John is coping. Either way, I need to help with eating, washing and dressing.
Q: You said that some of your friends have suggested that you place John
into a nursing home and maybe go back and revisit Tunisia.
A: Two amazing things happen to me in my life, my family relocated from Tunisia to God’s Own Country, Australia and I married the Joy of my life, husband John Riess. What makes me happy is to look after my husband, John. He looked after me for nearly 40 years and I will look after him in beautiful Bribie Island home that John designed.
My meeting with Elianor and John was extremely insightful and one of happiness and laughter. I arrived with wonder and departed with a new friendship. As I said good-bye, John reminded me of his most important guiding life principle, John said, “Damian, misbehave and enjoy yourself.”
Thank you to Elianor and John Riess and to the good neighbours in our community like Simone Wilson for without special people like Simone, life for the elderly and incapacitated would be much more challenging. I can’t wait for the dinner invitation……..
Elianor and I, selfie time!
Damian Brown is a Freelance Writer based in Southeast Queensland Contact Damian at profileyourlife@gmail. com
M: 0497424193 `