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Love of a flutter undimmed – 107 years down the track

Flagstaff Team

Going strong… Connie Trewern celebrating her 107th birthday

Connie Trewern is the oldest holder of a TAB betting account in New Zealand. At 107 she still takes an active interest in the races.

The Takapuna great-grandmother – who loved dressing up to attend the big cup meetings in Auckland and Christchurch over the decades – is a careful punter.

Trewern, who has had two races named after her, told the Observer on her recent birthday that she watches “all the races” on Trackside.

“I like to back a winner,” she says. A bet on an outsider netted $260 in her account once, but she notes: “I’ve lost enough.”

With family gathered to cut a cake and for a glass of bubbles, whip-smart and pinneat Trewern joked that hearing from the Queen was old-hat. “She doesn’t know me and I don’t know her.”

The royal birthday greeting first arrived for her century and then again when she turned 105 and each year thereafter. This year, the Pope joined the wellwishers. As to presents: “I really don’t ask for much.”

World War I had not started when Trewern was born in Guernsey in the Channel Islands on 2 October 1913. The war claimed the life of her father, whom she does not remember. Her mother remarried, to a New Zealand soldier who set sail with his new bride and her two daughters, when Connie was aged 6 or 7.

The family settled in the Christchurch suburb of Riccarton and for half of her life she remained in Canterbury.

“I’ve had a very bitsy life, but a full one,” she says. “I’ve been married twice and lost both husbands.”

To her first, Walter, she had two daughters, Sandy, whom she lives with, and Robin, who came up from Ashburton with her husband for the birthday afternoon tea, joined by their son who lives in Auckland.

Trewern made the move north with her second husband, Tom, first to Wellington for a few years. His job then brought them to Auckland. That was nearly 50 years ago, with home first being in Northcote, then Milford, before a shift to central Takapuna. She has shared a house with Sandy for 32 years.

“I think I’m going to live forever – I don’t think I’m going to pop off,” is Trewern’s take on her longevity.

She is among the oldest people in New Zealand, with a 108-year-old man and several women having reached 107 before her.

Her competitive sharpness and enjoyment of life is undimmed. Trewern says she has never had headaches and pains. “But my hearing is fading and so are my eyes.” She gets around this with hearing aids and a 65-inch large-screen television. As well as Trackside, she enjoys The Chase. Sometimes in the middle of the night she watches billiards and snooker.

The family recall that once her life estimate was put at the mid-80s, but she has packed plenty into the decades since. Her

90th birthday was spent at the Ellerslie races, her 95th at Cambridge. The Cambridge club named a race after her and another memorable moment was the running of the Connie Trewern 102nd Birthday Mobile at Alexandra Park.

For her 100th birthday there was a party and housie at the Devonport Senior Citizens Hall. Trewern has her favourite numbers – 2, 5, 8 and 10 – memorised and still tracks horse form and knows trainers.

Sandy says her mother has always taken a meticulous approach to what she does and how she appears. She has never smoked or sunbathed – and her lovely skin shows the benefit.

For her 101st birthday a dressy hat party was held. This reflected her love of dressing up for the races and being well groomed. It harked back also to time spent running a successful fashion business making women’s wear. “I’ve worked all my life, I was a self- taught fashion cutter, I had my own business and a shop in Christchurch.”

This came about when her first husband was in the rag trade and she observed that his pattern cutter seemed to be wasting a lot of fabric, so asked to have a go.

By the 1950s and 60s she had taken on several machinists and had her own label, Konnie Kase, a version of her maiden name, making smart women’s wear.

“I still tell them what I want to wear – I’ve changed once already this morning,” Trewern tells the Observer on her big day. Her petite frame is dressed neatly in pants and a smart blouse, ready for the cutting of her cake and glass of bubbles.

A visit by Monsignor David Tonks of St Joseph’s Catholic Church to give a blessing is also expected.

These days Trewern, who has five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, is largely house-bound. This was the result of a slip while using her walker last Christmas, when she broke a wrist. Now visitors rather than outings are a highlight.

Looking back, she says she is particularly proud of having had her two daughters.

She has made two trips to the United Kingdom, but plane travel has never much appealed and after WWII she found England much changed.

As to the other differences she has noticed in the world over the years, she just says: “It will change again. For better and worse.”

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