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So much for growing old

Old-age-ain-t-no-place-for-sissiesPHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - An old windup clock tick-tocking on the mantelpiece above the warm orange glow of a fire in the hearth.

A comfortable chair, a good book and an old malt whiskey. On the rug a dog snoozes as rain patters against the window.

Or how about this: warm white sand between the toes and a rustling palm overhead. A fishing rod in hand and a slowly-sipped cold beer going flat under a comfortable old deck chair.

Out on the reef, waves are crashing but the lagoon is calm. By the shore an old wooden boat is nudged by the tide as the sun beats down on her battered hull.

I’m not sure what old women dream about, but the above images often flicker in the minds of old men.

Safely out of the rat race, financially independent and all the time in the world to watch the sun come up and go down.

What a joy it is to get old. So the books, magazines, media and internet tells us.

Your sixties and seventies are the best years of your life they say. It is time to lay back, reflect on the past and drift gently into, what I’m not sure, they avoid that bit for some reason.

The other day I met an old bloke outside the supermarket and asked him how he was going, was he getting out in his boat and catching fish.

“Nah, I sold it, too busy these days.”

“Too busy to fish?” That was hard to believe, he lived for his fishing.

“Too busy chasing bloody doctors!” he retorted as he limped off carefully nursing the arthritis in his right leg.

Getting old is not as much fun as the merchants of happy would have us believe.

A royal commission into aged care in Australia is currently exposing all the lies we hear about the joys of aging. And it’s not a pretty sight.

Lying in urine-soaked beds, being fed inadequate amounts of sub-standard food and being abused by poorly trained and underpaid staff who are run off their feet.

Excruciating boredom for those who manage to retain their faculties and all the while the private companies that run the homes are reaping great profits while community supported homes in the rural areas slowly descend into bankruptcy and close down.

This is the 21st enquiry into old age in Australia. Everything this new one is revealing is old news. The government has known about the problems for decades but have done very little to ameliorate the situation.

A few years ago I was doing some social mapping in the East Sepik and visited a village at the mouth of the Yuat Gorge.

In the village I found an old man in a derelict house lying on the dirt floor all by himself. He couldn’t walk and was skin and bone.

A tin bowl of gnawed kaukau lay by his side. Someone had left it there several days previously.

I tackled the local pastor and he told me the old man was dying and there was nothing that could be done about it. His family had refused permission to move him. They were waiting for him to die.

It would have been good for those merchants of happy to see him, just as it would have been good for them to talk to the old fisherman whose legs were shot so he couldn’t go fishing any more.

Getting old has its compensations but it’s not as rosy a prospect as we are led to believe.

This holds true for those lucky enough to enjoy good health and family support as much as it does for old men abandoned in remote villagers in PNG.

And it happens so quickly. One minute you are young and healthy and then you suddenly wake up with aching bones, grey hair and a decidedly uncertain future.

So if you are young, make sure you enjoy it.

But also make sure you look after your oldies. They were once young too.


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