Get involved in the community says Champion

Former politician Margaret Austin, CNZM, is almost as busy now as she was throughout her long career.

Margaret Austin in blue

The former Labour and United New Zealand MP was first elected in 1984 and served in Ministerial roles before leaving politics in 1996, and becoming Chancellor of Lincoln University.

The long-time Christchurch resident, who has recently been appointed a SuperSeniors Champion, is very involved in her local community.

“Since the earthquake I’ve been really interested and participated in the Wainoni-Avonhead community group.

"[It's] an absolutely delightful group of older people who have welcomed me, included me, embraced me, and me them. And I really call them friends.

“I’ve also been involved on the Arts Centre board.

“I’m still engaged as vice-chair of the Science Alive board, the Aoraki-McKenzie Dark Sky project has been absorbing.

"Over the last three years, I’ve been working and chairing a group which has been looking at how to enhance Christchurch’s role with Antarctica.”

Margaret Austin, CNZM, maintains a busy schedule

Keeping fit

The busy schedule did not stop Ms Austin from keeping fit.

“I was swimming at least three mornings a week but I fractured my wrist and found I couldn’t swim in a straight line.

“It was a damn nuisance to me, it was too embarrassing for a start, and it got in the way of other people’s activities.

“So I attended a gym for quite a long time and then I thought this is daft.”

She decided to invest in a cross trainer and a treadmill.

Unlike the enthusiastic starters who eventually abandon the equipment and allow it to gather dust, continues using the mini gym six mornings out of seven.

“I think that’s important – looking after your health, maintaining your fitness and mobility for absolutely as long as you can.”

Ms Austin believes planning for retirement is essential.

“There’s no point in thinking you can leave work or have your husband leave work, and you’re going to adjust immediately.

“You’ve really got to prepare yourself for a different lifestyle but also I think one of the important things is to be engaged in a number of activities which really interest you. It doesn’t really matter what they are. It could be walking, it could be exercises, playing tennis or games of croquet, anything.”

Volunteer and participating

Margaret Austin at Wainoni bbq

The former politician also believes it’s “absolutely critical” to be involved in volunteering or community activities that interest you.

She says living through the devastating quakes of 2010 and 2011 brought people in Christchurch together as everyone looked out for each other.

Several years down the track, that sense of community remains and has strengthened.

“You can’t go out on the street without greeting people.

“It’s mainly the sense of belonging – you can communicate and have a conversation with absolute strangers, whether it’s in the supermarket or on the street.

"Every now and again, I catch a bus and you don’t have to sit there on your own – you talk to people.”

It even extends to how drivers treat each other.

“I live in a little street where it’s quite difficult to drive out because it’s become a main highway. But, if I’m trying to turn right and merge and there’s a gap coming towards me, I can raise my hand and know a car will stop and let me into the line.

“That is happening all over town where people are so courteous that there’s a sense of togetherness.”

Social isolation

Ms Austin says despite the community rallying, she’s aware of people remaining socially isolated.

“I’ve come to the conclusion we can’t allow people to feel this degree of isolation.  

“We’re talking a great deal about young people needing mentors and that’s absolutely critical if we’re to get through this period after a major event like an earthquake.

“The young are really suffering and it’s becoming more and more apparent but I think probably so are the older people living alone.        

“They need mentors too, they need young people to talk to, talk at them if necessary.

“It occurred to me that a volunteer army of young people forming a neighbourhood watch for older people would be just fantastic.”

Ms Austin is well aware of the support that’s allowed her to succeed.

“I’m very conscious that I’ve had family support all through my life. That I’ve achieved a degree of fulfilment and satisfaction I suppose has come from never turning down an opportunity.”

There’s also the willingness to contribute.

“You respond to challenges in order to achieve contentment.

“You’ll only achieve contentment if you contribute. You’ve got to engage with people which gives you company and conviviality, and you respond to people who are courteous, and that is something which is characteristic of New Zealanders.

“[It] was commented on by a recent international visitor – he couldn’t believe how courteous and friendly everybody was.”