AS I enter what are sometimes called the autumn years, I increasingly begin to see what Dylan Thomas was on about when he wrote:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
For example, I find myself increasingly annoyed by advertisements for retirement villages or, as they are now more commonly called, “lifestyle villages”.
These adverts, usually shot in soft focus, invariably show a fit looking grey headed couple playing with their grandchildren or walking hand in hand along the beach or engaged in some other highly idealised activity.
There is no mention of the often highly unfavourable financial terms upon which access to these “villages” is based, nor upon the grimmer realities of ageing including but not limited to dodgy backs, fading eyesight, the annoying incapacity to remember where you left the keys or your glasses and various uncomfortable failings of an alimentary nature.
There are some upsides though, not least of which is the capacity to see the world much more clearly for what it actually is as distinct from what you might once have wished it to be. This includes the realisation that a great deal of what you once believed to be true is, in fact, either not true at all or subject to many qualifications and caveats.
My confidence in the inherent virtues of liberal capitalism, and democracy more broadly, has been seriously diminished as it has dawned upon me how little practical influence an ordinary citizen has in a world dominated by disingenuous politicians and the cabal of bankers, financiers, industrialists and press barons whose opinions and interests actually matter in the halls of power.
So, I increasingly fit the image of the grumpy old man, futilely raging against the machinations of the new ruling class, where the power and influence inherent in the ability to deploy vast sums of money has replaced or subsumed the historic power of those once “born to rule”.
I also have grown reflective about how my life has worked out. Somewhat to my surprise, the experiences that matter most to me, other than those related to my immediate family and close friends, are those that I had in Papua New Guinea.
It is my very strong impression that this is also true for many, perhaps most, of those people who lived and worked for any length of time in PNG.
There is a fondness for the country and its people, albeit seen through a haze of nostalgia and adjusted memories, which transcends most other life experiences. Those whom I might reasonably call veterans of PNG often share an incapacity to stop thinking about or paying attention to it.
These veterans collectively constitute a reservoir of good will that helps inform thinking within Australia about PNG and, more specifically, helps generate and maintain a sense that we have a continuing obligation to support and assist our former territory.
It has lately occurred to me that this reservoir is now beginning to diminish rapidly because many of us are, whether gently or raging, going into that good night.
This concerns me because, all too soon, this country’s living memory of PNG as it was from World War II until independence, will soon be gone. History books are fine things for recording facts but they rarely adequately capture the sentiment and feelings of those who lived that history.
When the last of the veterans shrugs off this mortal coil, who will take up the task of advocating for PNG within an increasingly inward looking and, dare I say it, selfish Australian public and polity?
Already, PNG is effectively invisible in Australian political discourse and this situation will not improve as its increasingly geriatric advocates plummet off their twigs.
Hopefully, there are a few new veterans who will take up the challenge but I fear that marvellous initiatives like PNG Attitude and organisations like the PNG Association of Australia will quietly fade from sight.
That will be very sad indeed for both Australia and Papua New Guinea.