Still go­ing strong: women at work at 70 and be­yond


Robyn Nevin Ac­tress, direc­tor Aged 73

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.

Re­tire – why would I? Juliet Rieden meets three women work­ing into their 70s and 80s. In New Zealand, 58,600 women choose to work full­time past re­tire­ment age. The pas­sion and drive of these women is in­fec­tious.

Marie Far­ley Dairy farmer Aged 87

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.

“I still help milk the cows twice a day. We have 120 cows, that’s 240 milk­ings. When you’re used to it, though, it’s noth­ing un­usual.”

Pam Eas­son Real es­tate agent Aged 79

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 full­time 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.

Robyn Nevin is star­ring in Arthur Miller’s classic All My Sons at the Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany.

Marie Far­ley on her family’s dairy farm.

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