BLIND-SIDED – BARBARA CHURCH’S AMAZING JOURNEY CONTINUES

Barbara Church is 83, she’s a mum, a nana and a great nana, an extremely inspiring person and a much loved friend of family and all those who know her.

She recently travelled from her home town of Blenheim in New Zealand to Airlie Beach in North Queensland with a group of friends and family to celebrate her daughter Robyn’s 60th birthday.

I am privileged to have Barbara as one of my friends. She is such a positive, happy and loving person and I was at Airlie Beach with her celebrating Robyn’s birthday.

Barbara Church is 83, she’s a mum, a nana and a great nana, an extremely inspiring person and a much loved friend of family and all those who know her.
SUPER GRAN Me and Barbara hanging out at Airlie Beach

She recently travelled from her home town of Blenheim in New Zealand to Airlie Beach in North Queensland with a group of friends and family to celebrate her daughter Robyn’s 60th birthday. I am privileged to have Barbara as one of my friends.

She is such a positive, happy and loving person and I was at Airlie Beach with her celebrating Robyn’s birthday.

Now there’s nothing too unusual about an 83 year-old travelling overseas accompanied by others but Barbara’s situation is anything but typical.

She’s almost completely blind, having barely one percent of her eyesight and as she explained in typically good humour, “I don’t know whether I’m like a moth or an old crow. I follow the light and anything shiny, That’s about all I see.”

However she doesn’t let that major impediment stop her from enjoying life to the full and said, “All I need to travel is someone to take my arm. Even when I take a husband’s arm, I always give the husband back.”

I’ll DRINK TO THAT Barbara enjoying a cocktail during her daughter’s birthday celebrations

Barbara had amazing guide dogs during the early days of her condition but as she got older they got more difficult to look after.

It wasn’t until she turned 32 that she was diagnosed with the disease that eventually took away her eyesight, a disease called retinitis pigmentosis. Her loss of sight was gradual at first but in her early 60s it deteriorated quite quickly.

Much of how all our lives turn out is down to fate and so it was for her when she decided to head off and seek adventure as a youngster.

When she boarded a plane in her home city of Melbourne bound for Auckland way back in 1959 she had no idea how her life was about to completely change.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Barbara was just 20 when, in her own words she had an attack of ‘Wanderlust’, an urge to travel overseas and seek adventure.

She chose New Zealand because she knew how beautiful the country was and it wasn’t far from family and home if things didn’t work out.

Well not only did things very much work out, Barbara never went back to Melbourne to live because on her New Zealand working holiday, she met a young man called Ross and that was that.

Having travelled down from Auckland to Invercargill, sightseeing on the way, Barbara got a job as a cook at an Invercargill hotel, although as she said, “I couldn’t cook a darn thing but I soon learnt.”

Not long after starting work in New Zealand’s Deep South, she and a group of young girl-friends decided to go to a dance and that night her life really did change when she met her future husband. 

“My friends knew some rugby guys, I was introduced to Ross, he had beautiful brown eyes, he invited me up to dance and that was the beginning of a 40-year-plus relationship. It was love at first sight.”

Homesickness wasn’t an issue with the young traveller because as she said there was so much to do and see in her new environment and her parents regularly travelled over to see her.

Barbara and Ross married in Invercargill and they lived there for 15 years having three children, Alan, Robyn and Barry but finally and despite her love of Bluff oysters, the relentless cold of Invercargill got the better of her and the family made the decision to move to Blenheim in 1974.

Like most New Zealand households, sport played a big part in family life in Blenheim. Alan played rugby and softball, Robyn netball, Barry was a motorsport enthusiast and husband Ross was very much involved with the former Opawa Rugby Club serving as an administrator and coach and the rugby club was an integral part of the Church family’s social life. Ross passed away in 2000, the couple were married for 40 years.

FOUR GENERATIONS From left daughter Robyn great grandson Remy, Barbara and granddaughter Ashleigh during their recent visit to Airlie Beach

Still very much independent and with her positive can do attitude, Barbara lives in her own house in Blenheim and apart from some help with housework and gardening, copes well and as she said with a chuckle, “My body is 83 but my mind is still 38”.

Music, audio books and a daily exercise routine are very much part of this super grans day and a big reason she reckons why she remains so active and able to do most things she wants.

Listen to my interview with Barbara during which she recounts her journey to New Zealand and how her life has evolved since and how she has coped both mentally and physically from having a full healthy eyesight to now being virtually totally blind. 

Interview & Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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