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Two female neighbours sitting and chatting

Asking the question either in your head as you pull up in your driveway after being out, or asking your husband, wife or partner when you’re sitting having a chat, “Have you seen Doris lately?” may be the lifeline for a neighbour, especially if they are elderly or have a disability.

So, what defines being a good neighbour and where do you draw the line concerning the safety and wellbeing of each other without the feelings of intrusion or neglect?

Depending upon the nature of the relationship between neighbours, there may be a long-standing visual cue arranged such as a curtain drawn back by 8 am to signal that Doris is awake and up moving about. It could be saying hi as you each go and check the mailbox with a friendly exchange: “hopefully it’s a letter from the grandkids and not another bill”. Something unobtrusive yet still sending a message that all’s well for the day.

Examples in the media bring to the fore such thoughts especially when there are resultant circumstances that distress and dismay, and have people wondering how such situations develop.

Being a good neighbour doesn’t mean constantly visiting or prying into the business of others, taking note of this quote by Arthur Barr:

“A good neighbour is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it”

or feeling like you have to invite them to dinner EVERY Friday night.

It means:

  • being respectful of others privacy and ways of living,
  • being friendly and helpful (a wave or nod of the head),
  • being prepared to assist if need be (short-notice childminding when running late from work),
  • maintaining property (neat lawn, absence of rubbish such as old car bodies)
  • letting others know of out of the ordinary situations such as a power outage.
  • They may also offer to keep an eye on your place when you’re away on holidays, as well as feed the pets or water the garden. The favour then repaid with some jars of jam or a box of chocolates.


When “something is not right”…

The main aim of neighbours is to look out for each other, taking note of their movements (or lack thereof) so if there is a suspicious absence and a heightened sense of alarm of “something is not right” then authorities can be contacted and assistance rendered. This may mean calling the police or if known, the service provider of the person if they are elderly or have a disability. A quick phone call may be made. Having the phone number of a relative, a son or daughter may circumvent the worry by contacting them, to be told Doris is with them for a week or so.

In most cases, it may just be that Doris has forgotten to open her curtain having been so engrossed in the new season of her favourite show “Heartfelt”, screening on television. If she answers the door, just explain why you knocked, and she’ll probably be quite happy that you cared enough to check on her. Most often, such cases are innocuous and trouble-free and both parties may have a giggle over the situation. However, for the one case where a person is in a helpless or awkward circumstance, this concern may be lifesaving.  

Usually the thought of “imagine if it was my Mum or Dad”, is enough impetus to do something when there are suspicions about the health or wellbeing of a neighbour. Action taken sooner rather than later will surely increase the chances of a satisfactory outcome.

Personal Alarms also known as Medical or Safety Alarms

Medical alarms whether worn as a necklace or bracelet can make calling for help much quicker and easier. There is a variety of models available so the best way to choose one maybe by asking around to friends or relatives to see what works for them. Reviews in topical magazines or newspapers such as The Senior also provide pros and cons of different ones.

IDEAS has a number of links relating to personal safety alarms:

ADT Security – NSW
VitalCall Personal Emergency Response
Live Life Alarms
Smart Caller
Australia MedicAlert Foundation
RDNS Silver Chain Alarms


Telecross – Australian Red Cross

Red Cross has a welfare telephone call where each morning a volunteer makes a quick phone call to ensure the person is okay. A service provided by Telecross - Australian Red Cross a daily telephone call is made to check on the wellbeing of a person. This provides peace of mind if someone is at risk of an accident or illness which may go unnoticed. A classic example is if someone falls and is unable to call for assistance. Moreover, what is better than having a friendly voice to wake up to and be interested in how you are?

Consider registering for the Telecross service if you or someone you know is:

  • Frail and elderly
  • Has a disability
  • Is housebound
  • Is recovering from an illness, accident or surgery

The IDEAS website has a number of locations listed for Telecross services:

Wollongong region NSW
Blacktown/Western Sydney NSW
Murray Riverina region NSW
Tweed Heads region NSW 


COVID Connect

On the Australian Red Cross website there is the COVID Connect function “a phone call to keep you socially connected”

In this function is:

What is COVID Connect?

COVID Connect is a free service from Australian Red Cross to provide a friendly chat, a listening ear to help maintain or improve social connection to anyone who needs it during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Who is this service for?

COVID Connect is for adults of all ages. It is available to anyone and allows for regular access to a friendly human voice, listening ear and tips to improve social connection.

We have hundreds of trained volunteers, ready to have a yarn or chat in over 160 languages. 

Note: COVID Connect is not a service for people wanting assistance with their mental health or those who require assistance in a crisis.

Register for a call 

Sign up below. It’s easy and free 

Register for a call

If you need help to register for COVID Connect call the Customer Care Team on 1800 733 276


Why keeping a check on your neighbours is important

Some poignant examples of how important it is to keep a check on your neighbours became clear within the IDEAS Content Team as we discussed this topic.

One of our editors offered the example involving their family dog who would go over to their neighbour Henry’s place when her family were away at work or school for the day. The dog would sit with Henry keeping him company while he was in his garden and be fed morsels of food. One day the dog would not come home and in the end, our editor’s Dad went over to see what was going on. He found Henry had fallen over in the shower. Such was the discovery by the family of the special relationship between the dog and Henry that they took her to see him while he was recovering from his fall.

Another team member recounted living in Sydney and having an elderly neighbour. At times she would sit in her neighbour’s house while her neighbour showered just to be sure she was safe if she fell. Her neighbour used Meals on Wheels several times a week, which while being good for providing meals also served to be a safety check. Her children were living busy lives; a daughter would visit weekly while her three sons, one of whom lived in the next suburb hadn’t visited for many months. The other two lived in Queensland so their visits were less.

The consensus is “Better safe than sorry” when it comes to the welfare and wellbeing of vulnerable neighbours, be they elderly or have a disability. 

IDEAS does information so you can do life.