19 November 2020

ACT women have the highest life expectancy in Australia (and Gwen's a reason why)

| Michael Weaver
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Gwen Vinall

Gwen Vinall beside her wedding photo in her home at the Goodwin retirement village in Ainslie. Photos: Michael Weaver.

“I’m almost an antique, but I don’t want to be an antique because that’s when you buff them up and put them in a cabinet and I don’t want to be buffed up and put in a cabinet, thank you very much,” says Gwen Vinall, who at 96, is one of the reasons the ACT has again recorded the highest female life expectancy of all Australian states and territories for the second year in succession.

“We are all concerned about growing old and the effect it has on our families, but we all just want to maintain our complete independence,” an exceptionally independent Gwen says while discussing the joys of driving in Canberra’s open spaces and a life well-lived.

Life expectancy for women in Canberra is now 85.6 years, according to the latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That’s closely followed by Victoria (85.5 years) and Western Australia (85.4 years), then New South Wales (85.0 years), Queensland (84.8 years), South Australia (84.7 years) and Tasmania (83.6 years).

Victoria has the highest male life expectancy (81.8 years), followed by the ACT (81.6 years), Western Australia (80.9 years), New South Wales (80.7 years), South Australia (80.4 years), Queensland (80.3 years) and Tasmania (79.5 years).

Life expectancy in Australia continues to increase. A boy born today is expected to live to 80.9 years and a girl to 85.0 years, though life expectancy for males has improved at a faster rate than that for females. Around 30 years ago (1988), life expectancy at birth in Australia was 73.1 years for males and 79.5 years for females, a gap of 6.4 years.

Speaking to Region Media from her home at the Goodwin Village in Ainslie, Gwen says her motto is to “adapt and adopt” to whatever life throws at you, and she’s very happy to say her mind is more interested than ever.

Gwen Vinall in her garden

“You learn a lot of lessons from other people,” says Gwen Vinall in her garden at her home in Ainslie.

“I’m very happy that my mind is still active and interested in learning things about other people’s lives and how they operate. You learn a lot of lessons from other people,” Gwen says.

“This helps us to grow old gracefully and graciously, and that to me is very important.”

Born in Quorn in the Flinders Ranges in 1924, Gwen is still a country girl of South Australia at heart who has also lived in Adelaide, Sydney and South Africa during the 1960s.

She and her late husband Colin, who died 27 years ago, have three children, plus 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Gwen recalls she had a sudden cardiac arrest 10 years ago but was saved by her daughter while they were walking together on the Gold Coast.

She says good friends and companionship keep her going, along with a weekly gathering for wine, cheese and biscuits with her friends at the retirement village where they discuss movies and classical music.

“I want to be buried to the refrains of Finlandia by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius,” Gwen says, “but I don’t have any grand plans for my departure just yet. I had my eyes tested yesterday for my licence as I love driving. I love the parks and open spaces here in Canberra. I miss the ocean but Lake Burley Griffin is the next best thing.

“I’m just glad to be close to my family and to still have my independence.

“For my 85th birthday, a man in leather with a helmet knocked on my door. I don’t usually associate with those kinds of people but he said he was here to take me for a ride on a Harley-Davidson. That was a big thrill and he was a lovely man.”

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As the world and its population ages, Australia now has the sixth-highest male and female combined life expectancy in the world behind Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Spain and Italy. It is also higher than comparable countries such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the US.

While the older population has taken a small hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gwen says the virus has not changed her view on life but she feels it has made her aware of the increasing population.

“I’m very passionate about how the climate is changing and hearing the views of young people who are a lot more aware of their world than I was. I love talking with the younger generation,” she says.

“I think of the history of our world, and it’s not until you look back, you see how nature has a way of ironing things out. We can’t control ourselves so nature takes over and does that for us.”

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