Australia’s Oldest Man, Who Knitted Jumpers For Penguins, Has Died At 110

Video highlights from ODDBALL: The Nature of A Movie

Alfie Date received worldwide praise for making sweaters for penguins after an oil spill.

Australia's oldest man Alfie Date has died peacefully at his nursing home on the NSW central coast.

110-year-old Alfie rose to fame for his efforts to help little penguins after an oil spill on Victoria’s Phillip Island.

Oil makes penguin feathers stick together, allowing water into their inner layers. This makes the penguins severely cold and unable to hunt – hence the need for sweaters.

Alfie and one of his penguin jumpers [Image: Phillip Island Nature Parks]

A self-taught knitter, Alfie spent his last years knitting jumpers for the adorable residents of Phillip Island and took great pride in making his penguin clothing perfect.

“I like to make it without mistakes and I don't excuse myself for doing it. (But) I think there is an excuse for a person who's gone beyond the normal span of life,” he said.

Though perhaps not as beloved as well-known as koalas and kangaroos, little penguins are some of Australia’s most charismatic creatures.

Many live in island colonies along the eastern and southern coasts, where tourists delight in nightly penguin parades as the birds waddle up on shore. 

Life for little penguins is made possible by the East Australian Current, a great rush of water from the tropics that stirs up the seafloor in the spring. 

Plankton feed on a swirl of nutrients from the bottom, becoming in turn a meal for bigger critters in the local food chain. This banquet of life nourishes the sardines on which little penguins dine.

As more and more people moved to Phillip Island during the last century – bringing with them pets, cars, trash, and invasive species such as red fox – the little penguin population plummeted.

By the 1980s, with penguin numbers on the island down 90 percent, the Victorian Government started a program to buy up homes in a nearby residential development to create a sanctuary for the birds.

Discuss this article

Newsletter

Never miss a Nat Geo moment

Your email address
Submit