They range in age from their early 50s to their 80s but they all wear a look of serenity as they bend and twist — oh, so gently — their way to fitness every weekday morning at the Cherrybrook playing fields.
To the distinctive monotonal but soothing music that signifies the ancient Chinese martial arts inspired exercise of tai chi, this group of happy seniors gathers from 8am to 9am each weekday for the ritual that has become essential to their lives.
Some come every day, some a few times a week, but that is enough to promote well-being and, perhaps more importantly, lasting friendship. The group has been going for more than 25 years and has grown to about 60 members, representing the varied ethnic groups of Cherrybrook.
In suburbs such as Eastwood, Chatswood and Parramatta, with high Chinese populations, tai chi groups mostly consist of Asian practitioners. In Cherrybrook, Anglo Aussies and people of Indian background enjoy the rigour of the exercise as much as those from the Chinese community. And it is not restricted to seniors, with some younger people who do not have to rush to work, or who work from home, joining the group.
One of the founding members, Pauline Chua, 70, said she started doing the form of tai chi practised by the Cherrybrook group — the 18-step version popular in her native Singapore — shortly before moving to Australia in 1988. Never a sporty person, Pauline found that tai chi not only relaxed her and kept her fit, but it helped her co-ordination and energy levels when she started playing badminton with her friends.
“They could see the difference in how I played and I could feel a difference in how I felt. My mother, who died a few years ago, also did it regularly,” Pauline said.
Pauline became so accomplished in the 18-step form that she often leads the group, especially for newcomers starting from scratch.
One avid participant, who looks like he was born into tai chi, is 81-year-old Wijayaratnam Karalapillei (known as Wijay), who took up the regimen only 30 years ago when diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, continuing with vigour after a heart operation in 2008.
While familiar with tai chi, which is practised in his native Singapore, Wijay had not taken it up until seeing it performed in Australia and feeling it was the right type of exercise for him during his journey back to good health. Now, watching Wijay in action, his agility and timing is an inspiration to all the others in the “class”.
Perhaps the oldest in the group is 85-year-old Daphne Cox, who lives in a retirement village, and says her morning tai chi was a good start to her day.
“I joined 16 years ago after watching the group and I find it helps with my physical and mental health,” she said. “It is also good for friendships.”
Jan Yong, 79, said tai chi has helped her “bad knees” but it also has calmed her and was a good way to meet people.
At present, there are only four men in the group. A relative newcomer, 70-year-old Graham Bull, said tai chi had given him a “sense of wellbeing”, keeping him fit and in touch with people. Roy Emery, 75, and David Harvey, 67, also report better physical and mental health, and have called out for other men to join to, in David’s words, “balance the numbers”.
There is a nominal cost for joining the Cherrybrook tai chi group, for insurance and a dinner at the end of the year. The group gathers around the sports pavilion at the playing fields, off Shepherds Drive, Cherrybrook from 8am until 9am Mondays to Fridays. ☐

For more details contact Pauline Chua on 0414 484 390.