Meet the Member

Penny Howes, Illawarra Ramblers committee member, past President, keen cyclist, paddler and  occasional walker.  Interview conducted by Julie McDonald, Publicity Officer

Can you tell me a bit about your background and interests?

I was born and educated in South Africa.  I worked in Durban and Pretoria as a Librarian before migrating with my husband, Anthony to Australia in 1981. We spent our first three years in Mount Isa in Queensland and both worked at Mt Isa Mines. My job involved implementing a computer system to manage hundreds of mining research reports.  They needed someone with a library background, but I knew absolutely nothing about computers. So it was a huge learning curve and a great opportunity for me to get into the computing field. We moved to Melbourne in 1984 and I worked with BHP until 2000. I had a great time, with opportunities in different parts of the company.  Some of my most challenging roles were managing large computer projects. It was certainly an exciting time to be in the computer industry.  In 2000, I elected to take retrenchment and in 2005 we moved to Wollongong. We didn’t want to stay in Melbourne largely because of the weather, which didn’t really suit our outdoor lifestyle and interests.  In Melbourne I played a lot of tennis and cycled.

When and why did you join the Ramblers?

I came across a WEA flyer in the Illawarra Mercury.  The cycling activities were something that I could get into very easily but within a few weeks I realised I needed to get a better bike!  I then got involved in some of the walks. And it was really only in recent years that I started kayaking, since then I have never looked back.

What are some of the things you like most about being part of the Ramblers?

I found it a very easy group to join. When we first moved to Wollongong, we didn’t know anyone. But we found it easy to assimilate, join groups and get to know people and for me, the Ramblers was very much part of that.  I have made a lot of friends and have found out so much about the local area and other parts of NSW.


Do you get involved in the trips away?

I’ve been on a few cycling and paddling trips over the years including more recently cycling trips to Narrabeen and Canberra.

Can you remember when you joined the Ramblers’ committee and your experience since then – including the achievements and challenges?  

I joined the committee in 2010, initially taking on the Newsletter Editor role. At that time the Ramblers was under the auspices of the WEA who handled the membership and finances.  In 2015 we had to go it alone, this is when the Ramblers became incorporated as an association. We were still doing most things manually which, with over 250 members was onerous. So that’s when we put in a web-based system for managing memberships, the activities program, an e-newsletter, photo gallery etc.  The big changes were the online payment system and web-based electronic communication.

I managed the introduction of the system and have continued with the responsibility of managing the website.  The committee recognised the overall goal of moving forward and was very supportive of the changes.

I think everyone who joins the committee has their idea of how they see their role and it just brings another level of interest into what the club is doing. While the overall direction of the club doesn’t change, we are doing some things differently now.

In 2016 I took over from Chris English as President.  I held the position for 2 years, then held the position again in 2022/2023.

A big challenge has been the aftermath of Covid, especially the impact on our activities.  The membership numbers had dropped but have gradually picked up since then.  More recently, the issue of e-bike insurance has been challenging and all absorbing for myself and the rest of the committee.  In the end, with the increasing use of e-bikes, we realised we had to find a long-term solution and began negotiating with Bicycle NSW with whom we are now affiliated.

What have been the highlights for you?

To be honest, there’s nothing better than being part of a vibrant and active club which plays such a big role in our community, it’s very rewarding. The support of the committee and the members has made it a lot easier to deal with the challenges.  While working through the issues is tiring at times, it’s still a good feeling knowing that we’ve come through the difficult parts and made decisions which will stand us in good stead in the future.