The oldest man in Australia has never been good at saying no. Even at 109-years-old, Alfred Date agrees to help anyone and everyone in need. His desire to help is how he ended up knitting tiny jumpers for adorable little penguins.
In March of 2013, after an oil spill, the Phillip Island’s Penguin Foundation began asking skilled knitters for help creating sweaters to protect penguins from the oil. As a result, people from all over the world started knitting. One of these people was Alfred Date, a self-taught knitter and the oldest man alive in Australia.
The sweaters may look adorable when worn by the little penguins but they are not a fashion statement. Instead, the sweaters help prevent oil from getting on the penguins’ coats. The oil causes their feathers to stick together allowing water to penetrate into the inner down layers. As a result, the penguins get very cold and distressed, and their coat becomes so heavy it prevents them from hunting.
Alfie still recalls Titanic sinking in 1912 and the start of World War I. Even after all of these years he retains his sense of humor, revealing his secret to longevity in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, “waking up every morning.”
Another secret to a long and happy life is doing favors for people whenever you can. Alfie says, “It’s a good way of getting along in life. You make friends all the time but you don’t make a fool of yourself either.”
Today, Alfie lives at a retirement home situated along the New South Wales Central Coast. Two nurses that work at the home heard Alfie was an experienced knitter and so they asked him to help create sweaters for the penguins. As mentioned before, Alfie isn’t one to say no. Using heavy wool provided by the nurses and 80 years of knitting experience, he went to work creating penguin sweaters.
He uses heavy wool because he says, “If you’re using a light wool you’re wasting your time.”
The sweaters first proved beneficial back in 2001 after a different oil spill left the population in need. When the oil soaked penguins arrived at the foundation, they were put into jackets so that they did not lick at the toxic substance coating their feathers. The 2001 oil spill impacted 438 penguins on Philip Island. Thanks to the foundation and their use of sweaters, they were able to save and rehabilitate 96% of the population.
Phillip Island has a colony of 32,000 little penguins. Little penguins are a species of penguin you will only find in New Zealand and southern Australia.
Alfie originally learned how to knit around 80 years ago when his sister-in-law approached him with a pair of knitting needles and some wool. She wanted Alfie to create a jumper for her little boy. That little boy is now “old enough to be your grandfather,” born around 1931. The jumper was a success and Alfie went on to perfect his skills with knitting needles.
The Penguin Foundation currently has plenty of donated knitted sweaters for penguins, and at this time is not requesting any more. Meanwhile, Alfie keeps busy and gives back to others by knitting scarves for his friends and beanies for premature babies.
Alfie, who never dreamed of knitting sweaters for penguins, is certainly glad that he never says no. Thanks to him many little penguins have been blessed with a second chance at life. The foundation only recently found out Alfie was the oldest man in Australia. “It’s amazing and we feel quite privileged to have him dedicating his time and effort to the Penguin Foundation.”
The sweaters shown in the photo below are actually worn by stuffed toy penguins. The Penguin Foundation received so many sweaters that they decided to sell some to help pay for overhead costs.