29 July 2022

Daphne Harding just turned 90 and she's not putting down the tennis racquet yet

| James Coleman
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Daphne Harding

Daphne Harding is one of about 160 members of the Southlands Tennis Club in Mawson. Photo: James Coleman.

Daphne Harding made it to the milestone of 90 years old last week and her friends are hosting a party for her. Not in her home or at the retirement village, but at the Southlands Tennis Club.

That’s right – Daphne plays tennis. At 90, she can be found bounding – well, walking fast – after a ball on the green courts near the Mawson shops. It’s clear from the other members here on this chilly Monday morning that even if she hasn’t made it onto any world charts, she’s a star. They love her.

Technically, Daphne isn’t playing today. But given she has just walked 20 minutes from her Farrer home, she clearly still has it in her. The real reason she’s just watching today is that she suffered a shoulder injury on Christmas Day last year.

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“My son brought over a game for all of us to play in the backyard,” she says.

“We were having a great time, throwing a little stick to knock down numbers. I was tossing away when a tendon in my shoulder snapped. And I’ve been developing a close friendship with a physiotherapist ever since.”

Initially, Daphne thought her tennis days were over, but she says that come this Christmas, she’ll be back on the court. She isn’t aware of any secret to playing tennis at such a ripe old age, except to “keep on keeping on”.

“And I think I’ve been blessed.”

Southlands Tennis Club

Mid-game at the Southlands Tennis Club. Photo: James Coleman.

Even though she hasn’t been able to play, Daphne still comes to the courts to watch the others.

“And when we have odd teams, one person will sit out and we can chat together. I don’t want to cut myself off.”

The Southlands Tennis Club is a not-for-profit group operated by Tennis ACT and founded in 1976 with 10 members. Members now number almost 160, including many aged well over 80 and still hitting hard. There’s a meeting every day of the week, except for Sunday.

Daphne first picked up a racquet when she was 10, in Rockhampton, Central Queensland. It was also there that she met Keith Harding in high school.

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Keith started playing tennis at the age of seven. With a common interest, the two struck up a friendship before they took it to the next step and married in 1955. They then moved to South Australia, where Keith worked in weapons research, before coming to Canberra in 1968.

He started in the patents office before moving into the public service and finished up in the Department of Works, overseeing maintenance of the government buildings.

“The majority of us did start in the public service and then got out into private enterprise, which is the way Canberra has gone these days,” Keith says.

“It’s not just a government city anymore.”

Southlands Tennis Club

Keith Harding in action at the Southlands Tennis Club. Photo: James Coleman.

Keith and Daphne were walking past the Mawson shops courts nearly 30 years ago, looking for something to do, when they spotted the lively bunch.

”They looked like they were having fun, so we came in and introduced ourselves and the next week, we were playing,” Daphne says.

She says that over the years, the numbers have changed, but it doesn’t matter whether they came to the club 10 years ago or 10 minutes ago, “they just all fit in so beautifully”.

The Hardings have three kids, two in Canberra and one in Brisbane, with grandkids too. But the love of tennis seems to have stopped with them.

“As you can see from the generations here, the younger ones don’t tend to take up tennis. There are too many other things for them to do nowadays,” Keith said.

Keith is turning 90 this year and says there will be many similar birthdays coming up in the coming years.

“But we continue to play and have a lot of fun. You just have to keep on going. Tennis is one of those things – if you stop, you stop.”

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I don’t know Daphne but if I look as good should I reach 90 I’ll be a very happy girl!!!

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