Talking golf and fridges with Colleen

Colleen Carter at home in Bethlehem Views. Photo: John Borren.

The year was 1924 and ‘Babe’ Ruth batted them out of the park. J. Edgar Hoover became boss of the FBI. And Clarence Birdseye introduced frozen food to the masses. 

And Colleen Carter was born.

She was special in her own right before she landed on this planet. Because her heavily pregnant mother had to endure a 22km bump-and-bash ride on a horse-drawn sled from the family farm to Morrinsville Nursing Home to have her baby – Colleen – on May 13, 1924.   

Then today, like the previous 36,532 or so days of her long life, the centenarian Colleen was up and about, her bed made and her pillows twirled, because that’s her habit. 

“I make my bed as soon as I get up — then I’m not tempted to get back in.” Because she likes her bed. Then she gets on with her day, because that’s her habit too. 

No nonsense 

She’s all coiffed, poised, immaculate and elegant. And no nonsense. 

“Please don’t get up,” I insist when I walk in on the 100-year-old Tauranga resident. “I certainly will get up!” Colleen’s retort is as short, sharp and strong as her handshake. 

“A firm handshake says something about someone,” I suggest – small talk to warm up for an interview. 

“Yes and no.” Colleen politely, but firmly, corrects me. Again. 

“The Queen didn’t have a strong handshake,” says Colleen. How would she know? “I met her in 1970 when Britannia visited Whitianga.” 

Anyhow, my hand has now shaken hands with the hand that shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II. That’s a takeaway. 

From the days when the four iron was swung sweetly. Photo: supplied.

Colleen’s son, Noel, jokingly lets slip that his mother has all her marbles “except a few that are a bit chipped”. 

“How dare he,” says Colleen, who moments later is reeling off all five British monarchies she’s lived through — from George V to Charles III. 

“Come closer,” she demands when we meet at Bethlehem Views in Cambridge Rd. She grabs my arm, draws me nearer. “I like to see who I am talking to.” Because where someone might wear a name badge, Colleen wears an advisory. “I am partially blind.” 

“Do you like what you see Colleen?” “Not bad I suppose.” 


It was those dicky eyes that forced her to pack away her favourite four iron — the one used to “sweetly strike” a Top Flite 1 on to the green of the par three sixth at Pakuranga. 

A hole-in-one. “Perfect.” She replays the moment in the mind’s eye, and jiggles and giggles with delight. A flashbulb moment. “August 1997 – same month and year Princess Di was killed.” 

P.G. Wodehouse wrote “golf eats into the soul like a malignant growth”. So it was with Colleen Carter in 1948. “I didn’t really want to chase a silly little ball around a paddock.” 

But she did, with some old borrowed clubs. “My first ever shot – I whacked it beautifully. I was sold.” Sold for 70 or so years. “I will be modest, I was a natural.” 

Colleen remained “sold” on golf into her 90s, until those damned eyes meddled with her great love. She couldn’t follow the ball, so the four iron went back in the bag. A beautiful relationship was lost. 

Like the first marriage. “I didn’t lose him, I quit him.” 

It was fail and try again. She remarried, raising four stepchildren along with her own son. “It wasn’t easy.” 

“She supported us in a stalwart way,” says Noel. “Strength through necessity. She taught us to be resolute.” 

Colleen can’t understand all this fuss. But it’s a fascinating, revealing chat about 100 years of experiences, observations and accumulated wisdom. “Plenty of people reach 100.” But she is special, and erudite, and funny, and sharp and bossy. 

Through the mirror of time – Colleen Carter has reached 100 by ‘living life carefully’. Photo John Borren. 

She also endures 30 minutes of “look this way”, “turn your head”, “smile”, from cameraman John Borren. She’s enjoying the attention, but will hate me for saying so. 

Colleen’s not preachy about her longevity. “I just lived carefully.” No alcohol. “Only stuff that tastes nice.” And no fags. 

The refrigerator

Then that Clarence Birdseye re-inserts himself indirectly. Because Colleen suggests the refrigerator was the most significant invention of her 100 years.

No, not the internet. “Until the fridge, we put butter and meat in a wooden safe hanging from a tree on the shady side of the house.”

With the arrival of the fridge came home-made icecream, and Clarence’s frozen fish fillets peas. 

People who have lived 100 years are a treasure trove. It’s worth taking the time to stop and listen to their stories. 

Colleen Carter on her wedding day in the 1950s. Photo: supplied.

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