Meet Maggie Counihan – a globe-trotting granny with an infectious zest for life. Maggie’s mantra is ageing with adventure. And she’s sure living up to it.
It’s been 18 years since this pint-sized woman with a huge personality, shrugged on a backpack and ventured into the world to travel solo. She started her travelling sojourn at the age of 60, in India – a country she says she loves and hates at the same time. Then she hit the old hippy trail.
“I always said I was older than most,” she laughs.
She was on the road for the best part of a decade. She lived in Thailand and Cambodia, spent time in China and did the Trans-Siberian Rail from China to Russia.
“I ran away from home at 60,” she says.
But she wasn’t always so carefree. Maggie lost her mother when she was nine and lacked a female role-model.
She was pregnant at 18 and married in a shotgun wedding with a baby in arms at 19. She had three daughters by the age of 23 and a marriage that was doomed. But Maggie’s not the type to wallow and she got out of the failing marriage and later re-married and had a son. She nursed her second husband through cancer and was widowed at the age of 50.
And she claims she finally had her teen years in her 50s.
“I had a marvellous time. I had dates and I was dancing.”
Originally from New Zealand, she calls Australia’s Sunshine Coast home. But last month this dynamic woman celebrated her 78th birthday with Rollo, her partner of 10 years and a bunch of close friends in Siem Reap, Cambodia. That’s where she is living this year.
Maggie has a love-affair with Cambodia that dates back more than 10 years. She’s been visiting nearly every year since then and sponsors two young boys in a children’s home, who she has watched grow and flourish over the years.
This year she and Rollo are back in Siem Reap for a year or so and the couple, who play the ukulele (they are members of the Sunshine Coast Ukulele Masters – SCUM) spend their days visiting some of the region’s poorest schools and introducing music to them.
Despite her tiny stature, Maggie is hard to miss. Her hair is a vibrant shade of red and she’s usually dressed in dynamic shades of pink, purple or orange. Her clothes are as colourful and vibrant as her personality. She’s chirpy and loves a chat – it’s hard to get a word in sometimes, but it’s never a boring conversation. And the nickname she and Rollo have given themselves – the Magpies – is apt.
Maggie has written and self-published two books about her travels and adventurous life. The first, Backpacking to Freedom, Solo at 60 and the second a few years later, Bring on the Birthdays, Ageing with Adventure.
Travelling has taught Maggie many lessons over the years.
“I learnt about me,” she says.
“I learnt how I tick and I’d never really thought about myself before. I learnt that I had confidence and to swear like a trooper when I need.
“I learnt self-reliance. I learnt to become my own best friend.”
She stayed at budget places because that’s where you meet people. And of course, it is much more affordable.
When living in Phnom Penh years ago, she realised she would need a job to support herself and when she couldn’t find one, she created one – doing massage and reiki.
It was on a return trip to Australia that she met Rollo. Friends had been asking her when she was going to settle down and she was excited about this trip home.
She met up with Rollo a few months after arriving home – they had met briefly before but this time they clicked.
“I fell in love,” she says.
“I was 68 going on 69 and I was feeling like a teenager.”
It was not long after that the couple moved to Vietnam to teach English. A new relationship developing in a new country.
Maggie can often be seen flitting around the streets of Siem Reap on her bike. And together, she and Rollo head out to the various schools on the motorbike, laden with ukuleles and music and in all weather.
Anyone who thinks age is a barrier to life, fun or adventure, should have a chat to Maggie. You’ll soon see there are no excuses. Life is for living and Maggie is embracing it whole-heartedly.
“Just do it. Break out of your safety zone and life will never be the same again.”
Maggie is certainly an inspiration and a motivator. Have you met anyone who inspires you lately? Tell us about them. We love to be inspired.