February 22nd, 2011, just before 1pm, the devastating quake hit Christchurch. SeniorNet Mac Incorporated, Christchurch was having a meeting when it happened and there was an immediate move to get outside. Joe Adams told me that within minutes the liquefaction was appearing through the grass.

Almost three years later the devastation is still clear throughout the centre of the city, but things are moving - at least in some places. At the very least, a large-scale rebuilding of hundreds of kilometres of damaged sewer-lines is taking place - there are many not-so-visible problems that have to be solved alongside the very visible issues.

Also moving very positively is the most active Mac group in the country, the Apple-centric group of 'aged 50 or better' SeniorNet Mac members. Founded in December 2000 by Allan Rutherford and several others, with the assistance of Murray Wood, then owner of Magnum Mac and Natcoll, and co-owner of Christchurch Television. Wood was on the board of Renaissance Corporation after he sold Magnum Mac (which became Yoobee) and Natcoll to the then-Apple distributor, but tragically lost his life in the CTV building collapse during the aforementioned February quake. Murray was a foundation member of the society, supplying its first Learning Centre Macs, and was patron from 2001.

SeniorNet Mac Christchurch started with two priorities: monthly social engagement for all members, and a fixed space as a Learning Centre.


Founder and now vice president Allan Rutherford received a Civic Award from Mayor Bob Parker in 2010 for services to Adult Education and Computer Literacy. He had realised straight away that it was the social element that would knit the group together. Therefore, ever since, very social meetings have been held on the 4th Tuesday of every month, excluding December and January, from 1.15pm to 3pm. This time bracket was picked so the many grandparents involved can pick grandchildren up from schools if need be. Guest speakers entertain each meeting - they are usually professionals and subjects can cover a wide variety of topics not necessarily Apple-related. Recently, Police dog handlers presented a session, and in mid year cinematographer Gerard Smyth had the honour, as did Rachel McNutt from Canterbury/West Coast Air Rescue Trust.

Afternoon tea is supplied, but you can reserve lunch five days ahead and get there earlier for that, too, at very reasonable prices.

The Learning Centre location has moved a couple of times but sessions have always been available for up to six students at a time. The centre is set up so learners can work while watching a screen fed by a projector networked to an Apple TV. There are six Macs to use, with seating - and the room has the all-important powerful heaters. Usually the sessions are run by a tutor plus an assistant; members book in to the sessions, which cover common Mac subjects of interest plus iPad.

SNM has workshops of two hours in length ($10 each), although some are longer depending on the subject. These cover can minor computer problems to the latest in technology: digital cameras, smartphones, internet banking, video conferencing and the rest.

The Learning Centre rooms are open to all members and the public every Friday morning between 9.30am and 12 noon. At these, members can present any problems they have or catch up on classes missed. Professional advice and help is available to members with computer problems (sometimes a small fee is requested for this). Even some computer repairs are available. If anything, the group could do with a larger Learning Centre venue.

Another reason for the group's long-running success is that SNM Christchurch reaches outside the city limits with Distance Learning sessions, including iPad sessions in rest homes. The non-profit organisation is run solely by volunteers who coordinate activities, arrange monthly speakers, develop the ranges of courses and who work out the rosters for who attends what session and who runs them.

For full membership you must be 50 years or older, but associate memberships are available to adults aged from 18-50 years ($30). Full membership is $30 single, $50 couple and renewals are discounted to $20 Single and $30 per couple, per year.

SNM also indulges in SIGs - Special Interest Groups. There's one for iPad and another for genealogy. Attendance of a SIG requires an additional $10 fee and members are welcome to propose new groups.

Allan Rutherford told me that Apple's iPad was a real shot in the arm, with membership growing substantially once the new platform became established. Committee member and tutors' convenor Grace Adams confirmed a constant effort to satisfy demand for iPad subjects.

How do I know all this? I flew down, thanks to an invitation to present at the end-of-year Christmas Luncheon and Social. Hilary Muir, a Christchurch Radio Breeze Breakfast co host, also spoke to the meeting.

After my session, I had the opportunity to chat with members. As with Auckland's SeniorNet groups, they're a fascinating bunch - Bill Bistic was busy, outside of meetings, assembling a 3D printer he'd ordered from a bloke in Henderson, Auckland. For some reason it was in his car, so under encouragement from several, he hauled it out to show. A lot of these former professionals certainly keep their fingers in the pie, so to speak. They were without fault sharp, up with the play and well informed. Barbara Blowes, current president, accomplished MC and coordinator of iPad tutorials makes art, and was keen to know if she could use such a printer in the creation of her immaculate little doll houses.

In fact, SNM Chch has an Annual Expo every January of things members have made. Members wishing to display their wares need to reserve a table well in advance: last year the Expo filled the hall, so for 2014 they plan to use a larger space at the Cashmere Club in Colombo Street, where the monthly socials are held.

I had a great time, so thanks to Allan, Grace, Joe, Barbara, Austin, Derek, Jenny, Margaret, Bill, Sanjay and the many others I met that day for a great experience.

(There is, by the way, a Mac division of SeniorNet in Auckland. There's a regular group in Bayswater on the North Shore, at St Lukes Church in Remuera and at Bucklands Beach Intermediate. These sessions are all Apple focused, with guests speakers alternating with committee or other members going step-by-step through processes at well attended sessions.)