Southern Rural Life takes at look at issues
facing the older generation living in the rural community -
social isolation, safety, costs of living, transport, and
health issues. We organised a forum of five retired women to
hear their views, and in future issues will be talking to Age
Concern, social and welfare operatives, doctors and university
Southern Rural Life invited five retired women who live in
Tapanui, to be part of a forum that looked at the
challenges and benefits of living in a rural area compared
to a town. Relaxing after the forum are (from left)
Margaret O'Hara, May Young, Jacqui Wild, Marjan Wolfsdorff
and Jen McDonald. Photo by Yvonne O'Hara.
Southern Rural Life assembled a small forum of five
retired women, who all live in Tapanui, for their thoughts
about the challenges and benefits of living in a rural area
compared with a more urban area.
Marjan Wolfsdorff (67) moved to Tapanui nearly two years ago
after the Christchurch earthquakes.
Jacqui Wild (69) has been living in Tapanui for seven years.
May Young (75) has been in Tapanui for 30 years.
Margaret O'Hara (75) has been in Tapanui for 12 years.
Jenny (Jen) McDonald (72) has been in Tapanui for 14 years.
All the forum members objected to being called ''elderly'',
preferring either ''older person'', in their second
childhood, or not being referred to by any age-ist terms at
They decided the term ''elderly'' could apply once their
children got superannuation and even then it was debatable
whether it would apply to them.
The age ''90'' was mentioned but only on a case-by-case basis
as many people in their 90s were still young enough. They
agreed being elderly was largely a state of mind and a state
Jen said these days older people had younger outlooks and
were more active than their parents and grandparents.
Jacqui said she felt safe living in Tapanui.
''One good thing that stands out is that because I know lots
of people and know the neighbours, so if there is anybody
untoward around we get to hear about it very quickly.''
She said there were a lot of watchdogs around, which meant if
her curtains were not opened, or newspapers removed from the
mailbox, someone would check to see if she was all right.
''If I lived in town, I could be dead for five days.''
They all said they knew of people who left their doors open
when they left the house, although they were careful about
security themselves. Margaret said she thought insurance
companies would not pay out in the event of a burglary if
doors or windows had been left open while the owner was away.
The forum agreed that being lonely or socially isolated was
dependent on attitude.
Marjan said she met more people in Tapanui in the short time
she had been living there than she had on her own street in
Christchurch before the earthquakes, although that changed
Jacqui said there was more camaraderie living in a small
town, compared with living in a bigger place.
Jen said no matter where they lived, people could be lonely,
and there were always opportunities to be involved in social
activities in Tapanui if they wished.
Margaret said sometimes people preferred their own space and
LACK OF SERVICES
May listed the services that were in Tapanui when she arrived
30 years ago and had since been taken away. These included
the full-time pharmacy (now only open for regular short
periods for prescriptions), three banks, a post office,
railway, bus service, butcher, an optician who visited once a
month, and a hospital (a new hospital and rest-home is
''All these things have gone since I came here, so it hard
for the more aged. I feel more isolated now than I ever did
Marjan said she paid her bills on-line but the others did not
own a computer or did not use it for bill paying.
Margaret said she paid her bills by post or waited until she
went to Gore and was concerned about the effect on older
people if Tapanui lost the postal service it did have.
Jen said if they did not support the local businesses, they
would lose them.
Jacqui said she liked living in Tapanui but did not drive,
which was a big disadvantage, as she enjoyed going to Gore,
so she had to rely on others to drive her.
''However, the worse thing I found about being in a small
community was not having a bus service.''
Margaret said although she regularly used the local shops,
she went to Gore to pay bills, to go to the dentist, see
family and shop for the things she could not get in Tapanui.
Jen said St John ran a shuttle service into town for those
with medical appointments, there were rides offered in the
local newsletter and there were allowances available to pay
for trips to hospital.
Marjan wondered if it would be possible to organise a regular
car pool into town.
Jen said Mataura organised a bus service to Gore recently,
but it fell over through lack of patronage.
Tapanui has a medical centre and a hospital/rest-home/medical
centre is to be built, with fundraising a major focus of the
community for the past several years.
However, forum members were dubious about whether it would be
Margaret said the location, near the town outskirts, was not
practical for older people who did not drive or who found it
difficult to walk.
Jen said there was enough medical care in Tapanui, as long as
it was stable but the frequent change of doctors and locums
was a concern.
May said doctors used to stay in Tapanui for years but now
stayed for shorter periods, so there was a lack of
May said the lack of a permanent chemist sometimes meant
waiting until the next day for a prescription to be filled
and sometimes it could be difficult to get an appointment
Marjan said having a country practice could be incredibly
hard work and it would be difficult for any rural doctor to
sustain that for any length of time without burning out.
Although forum members owned their own homes in Tapanui, they
said if they chose to sell, the higher real estate prices
meant most would be unable to buy a reasonable house in a
safe area of Gore.
Marjan said the rates of her Tapanui property were
''horrendous'' and similar to what she paid in Christchurch.
She said she queried the high rates with the Clutha District
Council and was told as there were more rate-payers in
Christchurch the load could be spread over a bigger
population while there were far fewer homeowners in Clutha,
so the rates were higher.
Margaret said while renting was an option, nobody wanted to
spend $150 to $200 from their pension on rent.
She said general living expenses were also higher for those
who lived on their own, despite allowances from Work and
There are no banks in Tapanui, although there are two ATMs in
shops in the town. Several forum members said they preferred
to take money out over the counter as they did not have the
confidence to use the ATMs.
May said she did not think the groceries in the local shops
were much dearer than those in Gore supermarkets.
Jen said while prices in the shops were higher than in big
supermarkets in Gore, there was wear and tear and petrol
costs to get there, so groceries were not that expensive in
May said wood for heating was cheaper - $50 to $60 per metre
- compared with other areas and compared with other forms of
heating and it was more accessible.
Margaret said she spent about $500 annually for wood for
heating, including hot water, while Jacqui said she spent
about $800 on 16cu m annually.
Marjan's last power bill was $47.
They were all careful with electricity use, turning off
appliances at the wall and being careful when using heaters.
Independence was a key factor for all the forum members and
they were all committed to maintaining that for as long as
possible, and if that meant paying someone to mow lawns,
garden or do housework, they were prepared to do so.
However, although Work and Income offers an allowance to
cover those expenses, not one forum member said they wanted
to take advantage of it as that implied they were getting old
or a lack of independence.
They all said they hesitated to ask people for help and
Marjan said there was nothing worse than feeling like a
burden to children and neighbours.
Jacqui said while many people tried to get as much as they
could out of the state, most people of their age and era want
to remain as independent as possible.
''We were brought up that way.''
From the Department of Statistic's 2006 census:
• Tapanui's population was 744, although Tapanui's website
estimates it to be about 900 in 2012, excluding outlying
• 21.4% of people in Tapanui are aged 65 years and over,
compared with 13.8% of the total Otago region population.
• For people aged 15 years and over, the median income in
Tapanui is $20,600 compared with a median of $21,600 for all
of Otago Region.
• Nearly 30% of Tapanui's population live in one-person
- If you wish to have your views included, contact Yvonne
O'Hara on firstname.lastname@example.org,
03 4400040 or PO Box 91, Alexandra.