Kindness of strangers

'It breaks your heart': How cancer led alpaca farmers Joe and Betty to look to the future


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Betty - a former hairdresser - and Joe Banhidi knew little about alpacas when they began rearing their own animals for fibre on a small NSW farm near Berry more than 23 years ago.

Betty - a former hairdresser - and Joe Banhidi knew little about alpacas when they began rearing their own animals for fibre on a small NSW farm near Berry more than 23 years ago.

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There is life beyond cancer for Joe and Betty Banhidi, who have chosen to repay their good fortune with a very special gift

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Joe and Betty Banhidi thought they retired in 1992, but their plans to relax went on hold when Joe read a news story about the new Australian Alpaca Centre in the Southern Highlands.

“Seeing the alpaca on the front page I thought they were just beautiful animals. Sure enough, I forgot all the other activities I had in mind for retirement,” said the former aircraft maintenance engineer.

Alpacas were to occupy the pair for the next 25 years, first in breeding and showing, and then in machine-knitting garments from the exquisite fleece, which they sold at Canberra’s Old Bus Depot Markets.

Their momentum, however, came to a halt in September 2013 when alpaca farmer Joe was diagnosed with aggressive mantle cell lymphoma.

During his six-month course of heavy chemotherapy, the Banhidis’ said their eyes were opened to how illness impacts on people – and how medical research can help.

“When you see the young ones suffering from cancer, it breaks your heart,” says Betty. “You don’t know how or why that happens but hopefully through research they can receive the proper treatment.”

Alpaca farmers Joe Banhidi, daughter Gina McGeoch, and wife Betty. Photo: The Canberra Times/Jamila Toderas

Alpaca farmers Joe Banhidi, daughter Gina McGeoch, and wife Betty. Photo: The Canberra Times/Jamila Toderas

Joe, now in his third year of remission, conveys a sense of gratitude to medical research for saving his life.

“When I was told that the cancer was not curable it was a shock, but it’s manageable, and God willing it will become more manageable as science advances further,” he said.

“The more we read and learn the more fascinating it is. What is a cancer? What is the mechanism of it? What’s happening in our bodies? I just can’t leave it alone!”

The Banhidis’ new interest led them to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, through a Probus tour of Australian BioResources facility in Moss Vale.

Impressed with Garvan’s work, they decided to become Partners for the Future by leaving a portion of their estate in their Wills to Garvan.

“We are enjoying the benefit of those who contributed to medical research before us,” says Joe.

“So in a way we are transferring our thanks through that donation towards the future.”

To find out about leaving a gift in your will to Garvan phone Donna Mason, (02) 9295-8559 or email bequests@garvan.org.au

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