Australia's oldest man knits jumpers for tiny penguins

SOFTIES: Soft toy penguins show off some of the best sweater designs the Phillip Island team have received. Which is ...
Facebook/Penguin Foundation

SOFTIES: Soft toy penguins show off some of the best sweater designs the Phillip Island team have received. Which is your fave? We're tossing up between Super Penguin and Literary Penguin.

When the call went out for jumpers to protect tiny penguins from oil, 109-year-old Alfred "Alfie" Date took up his needles.

The result could hardly be cuter, with the small birds looking snug in their multi-coloured attire (while not actually knitted by Date, the Penguin book-themed sweater in the picture above actually completes us).

The request for the jumpers was made last year by the Penguin Foundation, which works to protect a colony of the little penguins (that's their actual name) on Phillip Island, which is about 130km southeast of Melbourne.

Nurses at Date's aged-care village on the NSW Central Coast asked if he would like to be involved.

The then 108-year-old, who is Australia's oldest man, and who learned to knit about 80 years ago, was happy to oblige.

 Alfred Date: Australia's oldest man & penguin knitwear designer. Photo: Nine MSN.

"I think I'd been in here about 12 hours, might have been 13," Date told 9Stories.

"The two girls (nurses) come in to me and say 'We believe you can knit.'"

Date is the kind of guy who finds it hard to say no to requests for help.

IN ACTION: A real little penguin shows off his sweater.
Facebook/Penguin Foundation

IN ACTION: A real little penguin shows off his sweater.

"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," Date said.

The nurses left Date some heavy wool (because, he says, "if you're using a light wool you're wasting your time") and he was clicking away at the "easy single-rib and double-rib" stitch jerseys.

Date started knitting in the early 1930s, when his great-great-grandfather's sister-in-law handed him a pair of knitting needles and some wool.

PENGUIN KNITS: This little stuffed-toy penguin reminds us of a super-cute hot water bottle.
Facebook/Penguin Foundation

PENGUIN KNITS: This little stuffed-toy penguin reminds us of a super-cute hot water bottle.

"She said knit me a jumper," Date recalled. "And that was my first effort — a jumper for the boy."

The boy was his nephew, now "old enough to be your grandfather". 

WHY TINY PENGUINS NEED SWEATERS 

The response from around the world to the jumper request was so strong that the Penguin Foundation has had to implore knitters to stop sending them in.

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The jumpers had an important role in saving little penguins affected by oil pollution, the foundation said.

"A patch of oil the size of a thumbnail can kill a little penguin. Oiled penguins often die from exposure and starvation. Oil separates and mats feathers, allowing water to get in which makes a penguin very cold, heavy and less able to successfully hunt for food."

Jumpers prevented oiled penguins from preening and swallowing the toxic oil before they were washed so the the oil could be removed.

The effectiveness of the jumpers could be seen during the last major oil spill near Phillip Island in 2001, when 96 per cent of 438 affected little penguins were rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

Here's a super-cute video showing the penguin parade of Phillip Island: 

For more on the little penguins of Phillip Island, head to the Penguin Foundation's Facebook page.

 - Stuff

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