IF GROWING up in Austria during World War Two and surviving a helicopter crash wasn’t enough, Ralf Heusserer has even lived through a serious fall that left him in a coma.

The Wonthaggi resident, who resides at Rose Lodge, was recently celebrated through the state government’s ‘Recognising senior Victorians’ initiative.

The program shines a light on the efforts of both residents and staff during the global pandemic and celebrates the contributions of older Victorians in aged care throughout their lives.

The Sentinel-Times visited Ralf last week who said he was surprised but excited to receive the recognition.

“I suppose we’ve all got a story to tell,” he said.

“My parents are Austrians and our name, Heusserer, my father traced it back to 1454 and it was Austrians all the way through,” he said.

“I was born in 1936 and when the War started, I was four years old. I still remember because we lived halfway up the mountains and my sister was a year and a half younger than me, we were looking out the windows because we could hear the sirens downtown.

“Then we saw the bombs dropping through the clouds, it was unbelievable, the sight.

“I remember me and my sister staring out the window and praying, ‘please dear Lord let our mum come home’ because she was shopping.”

Ralf said for years he remained terrified of people touching his face, as it reminded him of when his mother would do it to wake him up to find shelter from bombings.

“I remember dad had gone to war and mum was standing at the window waiting for the postman to come up the road,” he said.

“She would cry when the postman didn’t drop a letter in; we hadn’t heard from dad for months and months.

“He was on the western front first and then in Russia.”

Ralf started an apprenticeship at 14 creating surgical instruments, before following a friend who moved to Australia. Ralf went on to work at iconic projects including driving trucks for the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme, and at the Rum Jungle Mine in the Northern Territory.

“When it was the wet season, I came back to Melbourne and a couple of weeks later I was at the beach and there was a Volkswagen parked next to me,” he said.

“There was a lady in it and we got talking and ended up
getting married.”

During 1990, Ralf would experience a lifechanging event while working with the government, who were doing magnetic surveying in the remote areas of the Simpson Desert.

“Every 20 years the government undertook a magnetic survey, which is to ascertain how far true north pole is removed from magnetic north pole,” he said.

“I was in charge of the trucks and we had a couple of helicopters and our job was to simply look after the government’s chief physicists.

“One day I went up with one of the helicopters and we crashed in the Great Victoria Desert. We were lost there for a couple days until they found us.”

In another devastating blow that life threw at Ralf, his beloved wife was diagnosed with cancer and passed away.

“I had three children and it was pretty hard for us but fortunately I met a lady whose husband passed from away from cancer too, her name is Ruth.”

To add to his list of remarkable survival stories, Ralf also fell from a ladder about 15 years ago and suffered injuries including a broken jaw, ribs and pelvis and was in an induced coma for four weeks.

While life has had its challenges, he enjoys his time seeing Ruth every Sunday, reads often and even makes his own woodwork creations.