Alfie Date speaks to Nine News about his love of knitting.
IMAGE: NINE NEWS SCREENGRAB.

Alfred “Alfie” Date is Australia’s oldest living person, at 109; he’s also a self-taught expert knitter who is doing his best to help penguins in Australia and New Zealand survive oil spills – by knitting them sweaters.

He told 9stories he answered the call of Phillip Island’s Penguin Foundation which asked for knitters from around the world to make tiny woolen sweaters for Little Penguins to wear following an oil spill. Little penguins are the smallest species of penguin. Theygrow to an average of 33 cm (13 in) in height and 43 cm (17 in) in length and are only found in Southern Australia and New Zealand (with some reports in Chile).

An oily penguin gets around in his sweater.
IMAGE: AP IMAGES/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The 109-year-old was asked by two nurses to start knitting miniature tops at his long-term care home near Umina Beach in New South Wales. He says that his inability to say ‘no’ did the rest.

“The girls who used to work for me, they’ll tell you I’m a sucker. I can’t say no,” Date told the station. “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.”

The sweaters are not a fashion statement or a trend, they help the penguins stay protected from spilled oil. If oil reaches the feathers, it can make the feathers stick together and allow cold water to reach the skin, making them cold and unable to heat themselves.

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“When oiled penguins arrive at the foundation, they are given a jacket to wear so that they don’t consume the toxins or preen their feathers. In 2001, 438 penguins were affected in an oil spill at Phillip Island and by using the knitted outfits, 96% of the penguins were rehabilitated at the clinic, according to the foundation’s website”, Mashable writes.

As for Alfie, he seems to be enjoying the activity. After remembering the sinking of the Titanic and the declaration of two World Wars, he is now saving penguins. After all, it’s a good thing he never learned how to say ‘no’.

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