Cate Turner is a woman of indomitable spirit. She plays many roles within OWN and through her life has challenged herself with new experiences from hot air ballooning to hang gliding for her 75th birthday.
We are the only group concerned entirely with older women – to me that is exceedingly important. We are at the bottom of the rung. Nobody is concentrating on older women except us.
Her nephew took her to Paris for her 90th birthday.
In 2019, Cate led the march through her suburb of Lane Cove on the International Day of the Older Person.
She went to Teachers College because that was one of the few professional careers open to women. But after a few short years, Cate decided teaching wasn’t for her and moved to a role with New Zealand National Airways as a training officer pursuing a career in what was then called ‘Personnel’, later Human Resources.
After leaving New Zealand, Cate worked in Darwin and Melbourne for Bradmill Cotton Mills, then later the Hunter Valley for ten years in Maitland, and in Sydney as Human Resource Manager for a French electronics company for thirteen years.
Cate experienced downsizing in the ’70s with the decline of manufacturing, but unemployment was much lower than it is now, so she managed to find most employees jobs.
After a long career in senior HR roles, Cate joined OWN when she was 65 in 1994 when she retired from paid employment. She went on the International Women’s Day March and was introduced to Gwen George, an early founder of OWN.
As a pensioner, Cate faced a struggle in finding affordable housing in the Sydney private rental market. The late Joy Ross, an OWN stalwart, suggested a small place in Lane Cove, where Cate has lived happily for 25 years.
“When I first joined OWN, I was very interested in housing, so it was my main activity when I joined. It’s 25 years since I joined and we’re still talking about older women and homelessness and the government does bugger all about it. These issues are even more pressing.”
Cate just missed the benefit of compulsory super, and a career break to care for her ailing parents in New Zealand broke her employment, so she had little to retire on despite a long professional career. Cate, therefore, is highly attuned to the issues OWN has long campaigned on. She has experienced the gender pay gap first hand.
“When I finally retired I found out that my equivalent in Victoria, a man, was paid one thousand dollars more than me and had a car. It made me feel very bitter”
These direct experiences of inequality inform Cate’s commitment to the issues OWN champions, “homelessness, lack of any kind of refuges for older women, elder abuse and, of course, defeating isolation.”
Cate has also been a long standing member of the Aboriginal Support Circle and the Lane Cove Residents for Reconciliation.
“We treat our Indigenous people in such a bad way. It’s like climate change. It’s pushed under the carpet. I have a great interest in Aboriginal women and I respect the way Aboriginal people respect their elders. They have a way of respecting their elders that we white fellas don’t have.”
Cate transcends all levels of OWN from the fun to the serious end of business.
She’s an office bearer on all three levels of OWN, local, state and national, and she attends exercise classes at Northside OWN.
“I belong to Northside OWN, based in Chatswood. They are such a wonderful group of women. I go to the exercise classes each week. I joined them last year because my darling nephew said he’d take me to Paris for my 90th birthday and I wanted to be fit. And do I did, and I went to Paris last year.”
Cate is firmly committed to the OWN groups and their role in enriching the lives of individual members. She’s seen first hand the difference membership of OWN can make to women who might be isolated:
“One of our members had spent four years at home with Parkinson’s doing nothing and she suddenly heard about the OWN group, so she joined and it built up her confidence so much that at one of our conferences she gave the report for her group. Joining OWN changed her whole quality of life.”
Cate is also a keen reader and belongs to two book groups, as well as the Lane Cove Council Age Friendly Committee. She was the first female president of the Sydney branch of the Lions Club. For the Lions Club, she organises the annual centenarians event at Government House. In recognition for her community work, she was awarded an Order of Australia in 2017.
These days the indefatigable Cate keeps a buzzer in her kitchen that says “NO’ in a variety of ways when you press it. This is to remind her that you can’t do everything and sometimes NO is the only answer.
“People ask me to explain my longevity. I really don’t know but I’ve always been busy. I’ve always been interested in the world about me. And I always have a glass of wine with my evening meal.”
“Too often we are invisible. You get phrases like silly old woman, and people think that once you’re over 60 that you’re frail, that you have no mental capacity; I don’t know what they think you’ve done with everything you’ve learned over sixty years, but they seem to think you’ve learned nothing. When you go into a shop, it will be difficult to get served. And, of course, a lot of women stay at home because they don’t find society very accommodating. OWN gives members self-esteem, and that’s what’s important. We must focus on older women, that is our purpose.”