Author travels the country to interview as many 100-year-olds to share their stories

Author Renee Hollis is travelling around New Zealand interviewing dozens of centenarians about their lives in the hope ...
RUBY MACANDREW/FAIRFAX NZ

Author Renee Hollis is travelling around New Zealand interviewing dozens of centenarians about their lives in the hope of publishing a book of their stories later this year.

One hundred years brings with it a lot of wisdom, as author Renee Hollis has found out over the past few months.

The Nelson-based woman has been travelling the length of breadth of the country interviewing centenarians for a book she hopes to publish at the end of the year.

Since the beginning of the year, Hollis has notched up more than 50 interviews, an intensive project she felt compelled to undertake. 

New Zealand's oldest living first-class cricketer, Tom Pritchard, who is 100,  has shared his story with Hollis.
MURRAY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand's oldest living first-class cricketer, Tom Pritchard, who is 100, has shared his story with Hollis.

"I was about thinking about people in rest homes sitting there becoming sort of invisible to their communities and they had so much wisdom and stories to share so I thought why not talk to them, she said.

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"I just want people to feel valued and have their stories heard. With a lot of people, there can be dementia and memories can so easily get lost."

Upper Hutt's Madeline Anderson, who will celebrate her 110th birthday in May, is one the country's oldest people.
COLIN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Upper Hutt's Madeline Anderson, who will celebrate her 110th birthday in May, is one the country's oldest people.

So far, she has ticked off most of the South Island as well as Wellington, Wairarapa and parts of Auckland.

Among those interviewed has been New Zealand's oldest living first-class cricketer Tom Pritchard, 100, as well as Madeline Anderson of Upper Hutt, who will be 110 in early May.

Hollis admitted it had been "a bit of a mission" tracking down interview subjects when she began the project in December last year, but she now had it down to a fine art.

Auckland couple Jeram and Ganga Ravji, both 101, have been married for 82 years. They have six children, 15 ...
ALASTAIR LYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Auckland couple Jeram and Ganga Ravji, both 101, have been married for 82 years. They have six children, 15 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.

"I contacted all the RSAs in New Zealand and also rest homes, asking for people over 100 who were lucid enough to be interviewed."

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There had been some concern that people might not want to open up to a stranger, but Hollis had found the opposite to be true.

"I think as they get older they see it as their last chance to say their piece."

NZ artist Michael Nicholson is not out of "firsts" yet, having this year launched his first book at the age of 101.
RUBY MACANDREW/FAIRFAX NZ

NZ artist Michael Nicholson is not out of "firsts" yet, having this year launched his first book at the age of 101.

They are still very much engaged in the world, she says. "They want to talk about Trump, about politics in New Zealand, and the things they worry about."

Among those she met were Indian-born couple Jeram and Ganga Ravji, who have been married for 82 years and will both turn 102 this year.

"He was a freedom fighter with Gandhi in India. It's just amazing meeting these people."

While a list of set questions helped to guide the conversations, Hollis said most of the time the chat flowed naturally, although the question of longevity was always a fixture.

"There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to getting to 100. Some of them just have really good genes, while others it seems like luck."

Hollis, who has self-published nine books so far, planned to talk to publishers once the interviews were complete.

"I'll hopefully finish travelling in July, then sit down to transcribe hours and hours of talking, and then order it all with the photos I have taken along the way."

 - Stuff

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