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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Perth Over Fifty-Fives Walking Association

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

When your social circle decreases, especially as you get older, this can lead to a loss of the sense of connection. It can change a person’s view of the world. Loneliness affects the physical and mental health of people of all ages, and this is a growing concern globally for the more elderly population. As their health deteriorates people tend to be less active and this can lead to increased medical issues, depression and even carries a risk of dementia and other serious medical conditions.

One of the best ways to combat loneliness is to make new friends and interact with other people, to encourage hobbies and interests. This promotes a strong sense of purpose and people with a sense of purpose are less likely to experience the negative effects of social isolation. Anything that involves a group is a very socially healthy experience.

Filling this physical and social requirement perfectly is the Perth based OFFWA group. OFFWA is the acronym for Over Fifty-Five Walking Association. As I approached this group in Burswood Park it was lovely to see they had immediately formed a circle and were socialising together straight away. The large circle was all inclusive rather than forming little cliques.

This circle expanded to over 40 people socializing together after the walk, while still retaining the benefits of being in the group. It was really lovely to see people wander around chatting to each other. (With black hair and dark shirt, I am in the middle of the picture showing a gentleman how to fly a drone and take awesome aerial photos like these.)

Speaking to various walkers, I soon found that almost everyone there was giving me similar statements. They come along for the company and the activities then discover they have become part of a community.

During March to November each year they walk every Tuesday morning at various locations. Each person can choose to walk whatever distance and whatever pace they wish along the 8km route. Some people use walkers or walking poles. It is about the exercise, not the distance. Afterwards they have a picnic lunch together.

During the summer months they meet every second Tuesday in the cooler evenings to continue the socialisation. This is especially valuable for older solos who may not want to walk in unknown areas by themselves.

Walk coordinators plan the walks a year in advance, determined on surfaces, interest, availability of parking and provision of toilets. Designated first aid officers also attend each walk in case of need. For the routes, the group committee must first obtain local council permission as this is a larger group event.

On this sultry summer evening I joined the group in their walk along the Swan River. This was great as it was a walk I had not done yet. The orange line in picture on the right indicates the path of our 40 minute return walk. I walked some of the way with Bronwen and Rhonda. They are both in their 70s and attend events with their husbands. Both lovely ladies said it was a fabulous way to walk in areas that they would not normally venture to, and also to make and maintain new friendships.

We passed by the Crown Casino and the Matagarup Bridge which provides pedestrian access from East Perth with the Burswood Peninsula, including the Stadium. In the near future people will be able to do a bridge climb here.

I was fortunate enough to see a bank of black swans in ponds along the side of the walk. Black swans are only found in Australia. “The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist – a saying that became reinterpreted to teach a different lesson after the first European encounter with them.” – Wikipedia.

In 1982 the Department of Sport and Recreation formed a group for over 55’s with the aim for older Perth residents to become more active. This group became three: walkers, cyclists and kayakers. All three groups are now run by independent committees.

Reaching a membership of over 600 members at its peak, there are now around 260 members of OFFWA. The group is run by a committee of 18 members who attend every event; rain, hail or shine. If it rains too heavily to walk, they will find a nearby coffee shop to chat and socialize instead. Cost to be a member is $10 a year. When joining you receive a name badge and a walk card for the year. Such a small price to pay for such a huge reward.

During the year they also have organised BBQs, end of year lunch, a mid year event and an annual get away. The 4 night get away is very popular. Past areas they have gone to on the getaways have been Busselton, Denmark, Cervantes and Walpole. In 2021 they are going to York. Chatting to the getaway coordinator he said they ask members where they want to go and then organise what the members want to do there. A lot of the attendees are single women who would not normally go away by themselves to these areas, and enjoy going with others. There is a sense of safety in numbers, as well as enjoying time away with friends.

Pat (in the blue shirt and sunglasses on the left of the photo below) and her husband Phil are both in their 80s. Bernie and Val (on the right of the photo) are also in their 80s. They have this picnicking down to a fine art. Chairs, little tables, picnic meal and their hot drink flask are perfect sitting under the shady trees in the park whilst enjoying the exercise and the company.

I met Omer and Amy who joined the group in 2019 when they retired, after hearing about it from Shelley who was a work colleague. They aim to keep fit in their retirement. In addition to OFFWA, they lawn bowl and aim for 5000-12,000 steps per day. They said that they also enjoyed meeting people at the events that they would not normally cross paths with.

For anyone who thinks this may be a group of old boring folk getting together, think again. There is still a lot of joy left in these life-experienced people, and a lot of amusing naughtiness it seems.

If you are over 55 and either live in or are visiting Perth go along and join in a walk and chat with other active adventurers at Over Fifty-Fives Walking Association.

Happy Travels!

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