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Life is for living

By Brian Holden - posted Thursday, 13 March 2008

It is a rare person who is instinctively aware that the time one has must be lived to the maximum.

What does “being alive” really mean?

It means adding a spiritual dimension to one’s existence directly from what this world has to offer - and without any appeal to the supernatural. There is no better example of this than for me to give you an insight into the life of Dot Butler. She was in her 97th year when she passed away last month.


In the 1930s much of the bush in the mountains was still being explored. I would be surprised if Dot’s 120km walk through trackless bush (including nearly 3,000m of climbing) in three days has been equaled by any woman since. It was typical of Dot that she cycled from Sydney to Melbourne for her wedding.

She was instinctively aware that what time she had was to be lived to the maximum. This did not mean partying from dusk to dawn. It was more like having a tenuous toe-hold on sloping rock with several hundred meters of air between her and the ground below.

We moved over rock that even a lizard would think twice about.

“We moved over rock that even a lizard would think twice about.”

She sought adventure all over the world. When one adventure was behind her she was soon planning for the next. One of particular note occurred in 1969 when an Australian team of eight young men and the 58-year-old Dot Butler climbed 27 peaks in the Andes.

I once shared a tent with her for a week - each night listening to her stirring reminiscences. I can still see in my mind’s eye her brown wrinkled bare feet with nailbeds that refused to grow nails after decades of barefoot bush-bashing and rock scrambling (formally known as “walks”).

She had a love of adventure co-existing with a love of nature. If it was not for the loss of three of her four children in three separate accidents, she would have lived an exceptionally enviable life.


While still physically strong, Alzheimer’s Disease began a rapidly tightening grip on Dot. This is a tragic disease but for the most self-assured person her friends had ever known, it was doubly tragic.

It would be uncharacteristic of her not to have planned to die in a situation totally under her control. If that was the case, then she left it too late. Dementia creeps up on you and you loose your capacity to make a decision.

With the wilderness which once covered the entire globe destined to be almost gone by the end of this century, the opportunities to go where no man has gone before are disappearing quickly. In time even what scraps of nature are left in the national parks will have people crawling all over them.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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