Pete Smith may be a 60-year veteran of the entertainment industry, but he’s a mere youngster compared to his father, Les, who at age 99 still plays golf twice a week and lives independently.
“I hope I can do half as much as his age,” says Smith, “He’s got a real zest for living.”
At 75, Pete Smith is no slouch when it comes to ageing positively. He is woven in to the fabric of Australian’s radio and television history, after six decades as an announcer, compere, host and producer. A long way from his beginnings as a messenger boy for the ABC.
This month Smith celebrated his fiftieth anniversary with Channel Nine alongside his wife Jackie and his father.
Smith says although he’s one “old men of the station now,” he hasn’t considered retiring.
“I don’t call what I do work, and I think that’s the key,” he said. “I have been very fortunate to earn a living doing something I have enjoyed so much and while it’s still fun I’ll keep doing it.”
I hope I can do half as much as his age
He believes older people have much to contribute through experience and wisdom. “Some of my dearest friends are show business veterans in their 80s who are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring, and that is a dreadful waste of insight and experience. Show business can be cruel,” he said.
And does he have advice for maintaining such longevity? “Sometimes I think it’s just the luck of the draw, but certainly a positive attitude and love of life helps,” he said.
Beyond the century
Melbourne academic, historian and former surgeon Professor Henry Atkinson will be 102 in August, but still works a day a week at the Melbourne University Dental Museum as an honorary curator.
When he’s not passing on his many decades of experience to students, Prof Atkinson spends mornings in his home office and afternoons in his large vegetable garden.
“It would be very easy to sit down in the afternoon, put my feet up and read the paper,” Prof Atkinson says, “But that would be no good at all.”
Prof Atkinson attributes his impressive longevity in part to his determined work ethic and the fact that he initially led a reasonably hard life.
“My father died before my eighth birthday, leaving nine children and many debts. It was very hard on my mother and my eldest brother,” he said.
Prof Atkinson says he has watched society shift completely in the past hundred years. “People seem to be more demanding at a personal level, politics has become very personal and religion has disappeared.”
Keeping healthy and enjoying life are the priorities in his second century of life. He enjoys daily visits from his family, but is disappointed about having to give up driving recently. “That makes me feel old,” he says. “And I’m not supposed to climb the ladder anymore, so I don’t – except when I’m on my own.
“I don’t like being patronised just because I’m older,” he says, “You have to push yourself to keep going, you can’t just give up.”
In 2013 Philip Island man Jim Brierley had the distinction of being the world’s oldest skydiver at age eighty-eight. This year he’s taking a break from leaping out of planes, but he’s looking forward to celebrating his ninetieth birthday with a sky dive in September.
Jim is one of several case studies in the book In Praise of Ageing by Patricia Edgar (Text Publishing $32.99) and says it is sheer determination that has helped him stay active and engaged as he gets set to enter his ninth decade.
“My advice to people is to keep your brain active – I enjoy fiddling about on the computer,” he says, “Though I’m nothing like the kids of today on them.”
He also suggests older people “stay away from nursing homes”.
“I reckon once you get in one it’s a turning point, where it feels like you’ve gone full circle,” says the octogenarian who so far lives in his own home.
Playing his song
It wasn’t until after he retired at sixty, that Queensland musician Richard Turner decided to learn the double bass and join an orchestra. Four decades later, and having just achieved triple figures, he is still going strong as a member of the Indooroopilly Chamber Orchestra.
The one hundred year old attends weekly rehearsals and plays in regular concerts.
To celebrate his century the orchestra hosted a party, but Turner was also keen to mow the lawn on his birthday, “just to make a point,” he says. “Anyway, the mower had an engine in it,” he joked.
His secret for a long life is the active and engaged in the community and to take care of yourself.
And the best thing about being a hundred years old? “I get so well looked after,” Turner said, “My family spoil me rotten and won’t let me do a thing. It’s very nice.”