Maggie Barry 50 Forward article


The trials and tribulations of adding more candles to your birthday cake are daunting for many. This was certainly not the case with Maggie Barry who welcomed the big five-oh with a well deserved party, having just settled back into life in Auckland.

“I’d noticed a worrying trend towards afternoon teas and Sunday lunches which seemed a bit sedate and mature so I opted for the good old Saturday night party with loud music and a great turnout of friends who danced and stayed up late and didn’t misbehave too much,” says Maggie. “I needed a cup of green tea and tai chi at dawn to calm down. My present to myself was a week at the Australian health resort, Gwinganna, with a mate. During a thoroughly restorative week we resolved once again to exercise more, eat better and lead blameless lives... work in progress.”

Commenting further on her health mantra she says, “Having misspent my youth avoiding any organised sport I’ve gradually fi gured out that Mum was right all along and exercise really does make you feel better. Although I always knew running and swimming were not for me, I’ve been known to squander silly sums of money joining gyms in the vain hope that paying up would make me turn up.”

So when it comes to exercise, she’s stuck with windsurfing, skiing, cycling and of course walking.

“Living in a country as well endowed and with scenery as spectacular as New Zealand, I’m at my most patriotic doing the great walks like Milford, Greenstone, Routeburn and look forward to doing the rest in my lifetime. I’d also like to take advantage of the national cycleway which gives us new ways to see familiar places.”

Gardening is another health investment, and a thoroughly enjoyable one.

“Being in those cathedrals of green and spending time in my own garden is what always rejuvenates me and restores my good humour and zest for life. Twelve years of filming the Garden Show and meeting inspirational people like Bev McConnell of Ayrlies Garden in Auckland convinced me that being a hands-on gardener is the wisest investment I can make in my long-term health and wellbeing.”

So how different is life after 50, if at all?

“By the time I reached my half century I had a fair idea of how to achieve the modern holy grail of work-life balance, at least in theory. While previously I tended to think I could do it all and ran myself ragged, now I force myself to recognise signs of looming overload and make the necessary changes,” she says.

Working full time and juggling family responsibilities meant something had to give, so she reluctantly resigned from her cherished roles at the Book Council, Outward Bound, Hospice NZ and Wellington Alzheimer’s. “The experiences I had with those organisations enriched me far more than I gave to them and I’ll look forward to having more time in the future to help out where I can,” she adds.

Does retirement figure on list of things to do for Maggie?

“It doesn’t exist for me in the way it did for my parents’ generation and I can’t see myself just drawing a line in the sand at a certain age and declaring it’s time to stop,” she says. “But if I did stop looking forward to going to work every day and it all got too crazy, there are a few documentary projects I’d pursue if I had time and people I’d like to interview. The gardens of the world are there waiting to be written about and I’d like to travel some more and live overseas for short bursts although New Zealand will always be home. Then there’s that gorgeous big garden of my own I’ve been meaning to plant...”

With no retirement plans on the horizon, Maggie continues to thrive in her multiple avatars as a loved and respected broadcaster, freelance writer, gardening expert, MC and celebrity speaker as well as being a Mum. With so much on the go, how does this charismatic lady wind down at the end of the day?

“How you wind down rather depends on what time of day you need to wind up for,” she says. “Alarming 4am starts as a presenter on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report meant hitting the ground running and peaking with early nights. It came at an unsustainable cost to my social life until I discovered the conviviality of a long lunch with like-minded cronies. The fi ve-hour lunch that was my salvation as an early riser would inevitably spell my demise as host of RadioLIVE’s 4-6pm Drive show although there is the compensation of finishing early enough to be home in time for dinner.”

“Along with Mark Wilson and Adrian Drew we’re a tight little trio producing a show that reflects the day’s news and the issues people are talking about. Two hours pass in a fl ash and being all talked out, it’s good to wind down by hearing what my son and partner have been up to and ideally a quiet perambulation around the garden to touch base with the plants,” she continues.

Relaxation also comes with travelling. In fact travel has always figured high on Maggie’s list, and she established a ‘Designatour’ travel company with a few friends soon after her OE. The past two decades of her “not so arduous” job have taken her far and wide to Europe, Africa and most recently China, developing and leading lifestyle tours based mostly around gardens and food.

Her recent travels also include getaways to Australia, which she feels is a great destination for a quick trip away.

“I spent Easter enjoying the Byron Bay Blues Festival with relaxed mornings, swimming and walking before turning up to the festival where you’re spoilt for music choice from mid afternoon until as late as you want. I hadn’t been to a music festival since Nambassa and Sweetwater’s in the 1970’s and I’d forgotten the unexpected bonus of seeing acts I’d never buy a ticket to go to on their own but turn out to be sensational; like Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and the Buena Vista social club.”

Travelling with her son Joe is usually based around something more energetic like skiing and getting all shook up at the Gold Coast theme parks.

“In May Joe and I went for long weekend to Sydney coinciding with what became known as ‘the big wet’ with the entire month’s rain falling in just two days. We tried to see all the sights and persevere through the precipitation huddled under umbrellas. We knew it was time to go home when we started to envy the pygmy Hippo at the zoo curled up in his cave under cheery orange heat lamps.”

Just back from a ski holiday, Maggie talks about her aspirations which are centred on enhancing her ski skills. “I’d like to improve my skiing enough to be able to at least keep up with friends and not embarrass myself too much. Joe, at 12, is fearless but when I’m standing next to him at the top of a black run all I can see is the prospect of long waits in pain at A&E and walking with a permanent limp if I’m fortunate enough to survive.”

Meanwhile there is news to be collected, issues to be addressed, events to MC and a dream garden to be planted.

50 Forward, Sunday Star Times, July 2010

source: data archive