In New Zealand, 58,600 women choose to work full-time past retirement age. Here, Juliet Rieden meets three women working into their 70s and 80s.
I’m probably not the oldest [stage actress still working], but there aren’t so many of my age. The other day, I was thinking of Ruth Cracknell. She died at 76, way too young. She didn’t ever seem old. She got pneumonia and that stayed with me. But it doesn’t occur to me [that I’m in danger] because I’m quite strong.
I’m currently working with John Howard in All My Sons [at the Sydney Theatre Company], and he’s a very big man. He gave me a pat on the shoulder and I went ‘whoa’. I felt the power of this huge man.
I had one major injury in the 1980s. I did a David Williamson play and I was stiff and sore. I tolerated the pain and compensated by doing less. I’d ask Nicholas, my husband, to cut something for me or open the door. The phone rang one day and I couldn’t pick it up. It got so bad I went to a physiotherapist, who gave me a big crack.
The next morning, I couldn’t move. Both arms were numb. I started to cry because I was helpless. I went to a GP, who sent me to a physio, who sent me to Feldenkrais [a form of exercise] and now I swear by it. I have therapists up and down the eastern seaboard.I used to smoke devotedly, but I stopped when I was 45. It was the best decision I ever made and it saddens me to see my 21-year-old grandson now smoking. But you can’t deliver the lecture.
I’m very good with nana naps. During King Lear [in which Robyn played a female Lear], I used to take a 20-minute nap at the interval. Fantastic. I definitely take much better care of myself – of course! I was very neglectful when I was young. I used to sit up till five o’clock in the morning drinking red wine and smoking cigarettes, and talking about the performance. Dreadful behaviour.
Now, I love getting up early, so during rehearsals is my best time. Challenge compels me. Retirement hasn’t been anything I’ve considered. It’s something I’ll think about when I become incapacitated, if I do. I can’t imagine that either.
I grew up in the country, so farming is in my blood – first cattle, then dairy. There used to be dances at the local hall. They would have a band and all the girls would sit around, and the boys would ask them for a dance. Jack asked me to dance, probably the Canadian Three Step or the Pride of Erin. We used to go to all the balls. Everybody would go dressed up in their gowns. It was lovely.
I was 21 when I came to live on this farm. Jack’s father lived here and then, when we got married in 1950, we took over. We had nine children – five boys and four girls – and we used to take the littlies with us as we worked. We would have a playpen and we’d put that at the side of the dairy with a rug and they’d have little things to play with, their bottles to suck.
Today, I still help milk the cows twice a day. We have 120 cows, that’s 240 milkings. I was born in 1929, so that makes me quite an old lady, doesn’t it! I think when you’re used to it, though, it’s nothing unusual. I don’t know whether I’m strong or not, but I still mow the lawns. I love my ride-on mower.
On my father’s farm, we hand-milked. Now, it’s all mechanical with the milking machines. On an average day, I go over there if I’m needed. I hose out the dairy or put the water through the machines. I might let the cows in the green feed. I think it keeps you physically fit, but probably mentally, too, because you’ve got accounts to do.
My knee’s not so crash-hot, so I’ll have to retire soon, won’t I? I think it’s being on the cement for all these years, but I’ll have to get off and do something else – like sit out on the veranda and read your magazine.
Real estate agent
I got voluntary redundancy from the public service when I was 54 and I went into real estate. I now have my own business – I prefer being my own boss.
I left school aged 15. My father thought I would get married and that would be that, so I wouldn’t need to do my Leaving Certificate. I had other ideas and completed it as a mature student at night, while working full- time with three small children. I had three years off between the first and last birth. If you love the work, it’s not that hard to juggle [motherhood and work] – it’s great.
My mother was 45 when she developed pre-senile dementia, about three years after Dad was killed by a drunken tow truck driver. It was hard. I was terrified of getting it.
I go in to work six days a week. I don’t want to retire. You can only play golf so many days and go to lunch – what do you do the rest of the time?
I’ve never been to a gym, but I walk a lot and I ran the City to Surf 11 years in a row, so I’m fit. I work with my daughters and that’s the beauty of it – I get to see them every day and I’m part of their life, and the babies [Pam and her husband, Phillip, have 16 grandchildren] come straight out of hospital and to work. It’s lovely.
I just can’t imagine not doing what I’m doing now.
WATCH: Getting old is a state of mind