Peter
Peter Thomas, live on air at Golden Days Radio.

With a working career almost entirely in radio and television it was only natural that Peter Thomas would use his knowledge and skills as a volunteer broadcaster with Golden Days Radio. Peter spoke to us about how volunteering enriches his retirement, where he says he gets back more than he gives.

When signing off in his emails Peter often writes: “Regards Peter - what did I do before retirement?”. It’s a playful trope that relays a shortened version of his busy and fulfilling life as radio broadcaster, writer, accredited teacher of meditation and mindfulness and social justice committee member – all as a retiree.

Since retiring 10 years ago, the 75-year-old hasn’t stopped, and he says, volunteering has provided the essential pathway to a meaningful and productive retirement.

For the past five years, Peter has employed skills gained from a long career in radio and television as a volunteer presenter on Golden Days Radio (3GDR), a Melbourne-based volunteer-run community radio station broadcasting on 95.7MzFM. More than 90 volunteers work as presenters, technicians, engineers, receptionists/program assistants and administrative assistants at the station, aimed at an over 60s listenership.

Every Monday Peter can be heard hosting the 11am to 2pm program, and when not on air he is often at the station or in his home recording studio doing other things for GDR.

Peter says that it’s not only what you can give when volunteering, it’s what is given to you in return. What I get in return from Golden Days Radio is the satisfaction of knowing that I am entertaining people in a way they want to be entertained and providing information about activities our listeners want to know about and be engaged in, he says. In addition, I get a lot from the camaraderie among the volunteers and the social aspect.

Peter sees retirement as a wonderful opportunity to give community service to others – a territory he doesn’t believe should be reserved for the over 60s, but something we should all do at any age. However, without the time commitments that being in the paid workforce demands, many retirees have the luxury of more time to volunteer.

While volunteering is great for the community, Peter says it has many more benefits for volunteers who are seniors keeping them socially, emotionally and intellectually connected and thereby increasing mental and physical sharpness.

No matter what volunteer position you take on it demands a certain amount of intellectual dexterity – whether you’re a volunteer in an op shop or a hospital, whether you are teaching reading to children in schools, or whether you are involved in GDR, he says.

Retirement is also a great opportunity to do a whole range of other activities apart from volunteering, he says. Courses at the U3A, joining clubs such as your local Probus Club and sport – I mean look around at all the Lycra outside coffee shops at the weekend and I’ll guarantee a large number of them are over 60, he laughs.

Peter says he can’t now imagine a life without volunteering. If I wasn’t volunteering my life would be deprived of meeting people who have enriched my life so much, he says. I would have missed out on benefiting from their life experiences and sharing mine, and also sharing the experience of getting older.

Starting in 1959 as a cadet radio announcer at 2AY Albury and ending his career as a documentary producer and film maker in 2013, Peter says volunteering is a great opportunity to keep using the skills and experience gained in a lifetime. He points out that three of the engineers at Golden Days Radio are “ex ABC guys”.

When he was 56, Peter met the 14th Dalai Lama while making a documentary, The Teacher – a meeting he says greatly impacted his ageing journey, and led him on a pathway to becoming an accredited teacher of Meditation and Mindfulness Practice with the Meditation Association of Australia. Teaching mediation and mindfulness on Thursdays is another of Peter’s volunteering activities.

I give seminars on contemplative ageing because I believe that when you get older meditative or mindfulness practices help you to be more in the present, Peter reflects. And by being in the present moment it actually takes away your loneliness. That doesn’t mean you don’t socialise – I know one of the key platforms to healthy ageing is socialisation. But it’s also important to learn how to be content and how to be really comfortable in your own skin.

I am very conscious of the notion that as you get older your body deteriorates, he continues. You can’t stop that. There are preventative measures such as exercise and mental dexterity and so forth – but the reality is things break down.

You have to be aware of that – but it’s important not to dwell on it. And that’s where I believe it’s important to practice mindfulness and to live in the present moment as much as you can. That doesn’t mean you go into denial about things – you can still think about being in your 80s but it’s not dwelling on it.

Living in the present moment provides a contentment because you only have that moment; that moment won’t be repeated. Unless you embrace that moment it is lost – and every moment is worth living.