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Fruits of their labours

The ambience at Greytown Orchards Lifestyle Retirement Village is less like Samuel Beckett’s philosophical musings in Waiting for Godot and more like the TV series Last of the Summer Wine – in which life plays out with humour and solidarity.
The first villa owners at Greytown Orchards are an accumulation of lives well-lived.
Angela Yeoman approached some of the residents to hear their stories.

OPPORTUNITIES KNOCK

Tony and Margaret Long came together from opposite ends of the earth – Margaret from Waipukurau and Tony from Wales. They met in Gisborne in 1970, went on what was to be a brief OE to Australia in 1972 – and didn’t return to New Zealand until 2007. In the intervening 35 years, the couple based themselves in Sydney, taking advantage of every opportunity.

“We haven’t lived remarkable lives,” they agreed. Then Margaret [74] revealed decades of service to Sydney’s pre-schoolers and disabled children, having trained as a speech therapist and a teacher.

“I was so lucky to be able to teach disabled children alongside physiotherapists, speech therapists, and occupational therapists,” she said.

“The joined-up approach gave children a better start in life.”

Tony [76] worked in commercial radio followed by public relations roles in government and a university. In the 1980s, he bought a newsagent and became a successful businessman. When time allowed, he participated in local ‘Politics in the Pub’ discussions.

Their early years shaped them – Margaret, for example, was aware of disability right from the start.

“My mother was a Rotary wife. She was involved in service, including supporting a woman with cerebral palsy.”

Tony’s mother was also a force to be reckoned with – having brought her husband, five children, and her own mother from post-war Britain to New Zealand. His mother’s capacity to embrace change and global travel is a feature in his own life. In fact, future travel in the Arctic is on the cards.

The couple bought their villa about three months ago after 15 years in Wellington. With a passion for all things cultural [which Wairarapa has in abundance] and the welcome they’ve received from their neighbours at Greytown Orchards, they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

IN MINIATURE

Rio Cox, 82, is embracing her new life at Greytown Orchards. Her husband died in 2006, but Rio only moved to Greytown Orchards about six months ago after living in Avalon, Lower Hutt, for 32 years.

“Avalon has changed a lot over the last few years,” she said. “It was time for me to leave.”

Rio’s passion since the 1970s has been depicting, in miniature, everyday lives, homes and fashions as they change through time using a variety of materials old, new, collected, found, donated or scrounged. She has also sculpted in FIMO, clay and bronze. A founding member of Lower Hutt’s Miniature Makers in 1980 and involved in the New Zealand Association of Miniature Enthusiasts, Rio has spent decades participating in miniature-making exhibitions and conventions, as well as teaching workshops.

“I’ve already joined Greytown’s Miniature Makers,” she said.

As a child, Rio learned to dance, which she said helped her gain an understanding of bodies, muscles, and movement: “All of which has been so helpful in making realistic miniature people.”

Rio can remember playing with dolls’ houses and tiny dolls as a child. She also remembers fondly her grandparents’ house on Greytown’s Main St. Many of her miniatures depict her grandparents’ lives. A miniature old-fashioned washhouse includes an abundance of tiny detail such as a scrubbing brush, plug, St Mungo soap, a newspaper to light the fire under the copper, bellows, and pegs. One of her creations is on display at Cobblestones Museum.

Moving to Greytown Orchards feels like “coming home” for Rio – with both maternal grandparents coming from long established South Wairarapa families [Garrity and Hodge], with her children and grandchildren not far away, and new memories being made.

ENQUIRING MIND

Dr Ian Miller [“Please, call me Ian”] has no regrets.

Gaining first-class Honours in Zoology and a PhD in Psychology, Ian’s career with the corrections sector, the New Zealand Police, and the fire service focused on helping people deal with occupational trauma.

“In my role as a police psychologist, I learned something new every day but also gave something back every day to the officers who look after us.”

Ian’s fascination with human behaviour was “a natural consequence of an initial interest in animal behaviour” – harking back to when he was a child living on his parents’ Taranaki farm. His career may also have been influenced by an unconscious need to understand his parents after World War II. “It began to make sense to me why my father was pissed [drunk] so often and why he got angry so suddenly,” Ian said.

His stellar career included a stint teaching at Victoria University. There were also nearly 10 years working for Inland Revenue on organisational change and training in relating to customers.

Ian [73] said he has been “very lucky in love”. Jeanette became his “closest and best friend” as well as a “confidante, wife, and mother of [their] three sons”. Sadly, Jeanette died in 2015 and Ian moved to Greytown, “stepping into a whole new community”.

“Greytown embodies many of the characteristics of 1950s New Zealand. Even strangers greet each other.”

Ian moved into his villa in December and said it has been “pure magic from day one”. He’s content to be largely retired now, listening to music, reading the newspaper from cover to cover, finding new things to investigate to keep him sharp, and cooking Mediterranean food. Cooking has been one of his responsibilities and passions since he was a boy. That’s not about to change.

CREATING CULTURE

Originally from Christchurch, John Gilberthorpe [77] worked for a while in his hometown before establishing himself in Wellington and discovering local politics. He was first elected chair of Wellington South’s Licensing Trust and then, in 1986, elected on the Labour ticket to the Wellington City Council. Over a decade, he served under three mayors.

“I was lucky enough to chair the council’s Culture and Recreation Committee for several years – the ‘good news’ part of council,” he said.

In 1996, with his passion for culture and heritage evident, John was offered the role of chief executive to establish the Wellington Museums Trust [the Trust]. This oversaw the City Gallery Wellington, the development of Capital E for Children, the Museum of Wellington City and Sea, the Cable Car Museum, and Nairn Street Cottage.

John is especially proud of the Capital E National Theatre for Children. “It’s one of the few nationally funded theatres in New Zealand and the only nationally-funded theatre for children. It has given incredible pleasure to so many children over 20 plus years,” he said.

“None of these successes could have been achieved without the brilliant and creative teams at each institution.”

One thing has seamlessly led to another for John. After retiring from the Trust in 2008, John moved to Greytown on the encouragement of [among others] Greg Lang from the Wheelwright Shop in Gladstone – who restored a cable car for the Trust. On moving over the Remutaka Hill, John switched his focus to tourism – advising Destination Wairarapa on sustainable tourism and becoming the executive officer for Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre. John also put his museum talents to good use at Cobblestones and, with friend Julie Kidd, established the Wairarapa Garden Tour, a major fundraiser for Pūkaha.

Since 2008, John has been very involved with Greytown Little Theatre, as committee chair and director of some of its shows. He also oversaw its relocation to the old St John’s Hall at 73 Main St, “now rebranded as Studio 73”.

Having moved into his villa at the end of last year, John couldn’t be happier. “It was time to grasp the next phase of life.”

IN SERVICE

Pauline Donaldson spent 45 happy years in Whanganui, almost all of them in the house she and her husband built. Her husband Russell died about 18 months ago and, in September, Pauline decided to move to Greytown Orchards.

“With my son in Wellington, and daughter and grandchildren in Greytown, it makes sense to be here,” she said.

Originally from Dunedin, Pauline [70] trained as a teacher. She devoted 50 years to children’s education, especially science, while her husband was a textile chemist with a passion for tramping, running, and cycling.

“We supported each other to reach for our work and personal goals.”

Some highlights of Pauline’s career included teaching in North Otago and Whanganui, training teachers all around the world in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years programme, and visiting Antarctica for two weeks in 1997 as part of the LEARNZ programme – which “links scientists on the ice with teachers”. There was a year of preparation for the visit – but her interest in Antarctica began when she lived as a child on the coast of Dunedin, looking out to the expanse beyond.

“When you visit Antarctica, you get a very real sense of your place in the world,” she said.

Since moving to Greytown Orchards, she’s had more time for reading and gardening, and she hopes to start painting. Her graphic artist son and ceramicist daughter support that idea to the hilt. Backstage theatre is another interest to explore.

Originating from down south, the rural and provincial feel of Wairarapa feels like a type of homecoming. As Pauline and her three-year-old grandson Alfie walked along the tranquil fruit-tree-lined avenues of Greytown Orchards, Alfie asked: “Are we still on earth?”

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Meeting up for the group photo, the residents strengthen their burgeoning friendships over a bottle of red wine. After decades of service to society and family, the residents of Greytown Orchards have an opportunity now to kick back. They could be teenagers starting out in flats and hostels [although some might have had more hair back then], navigating changing identities and new worlds.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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