Getting old in Oz: The meaningless years
14 April 2022
TUMBY BAY - When you crack the Bible’s ‘threescore years and ten’ something strange happens – you begin to fade from view.
If my elderly next door neighbour is anything to go by, when you progress to your eighties you are all but invisible.
I can see him but no one else seems to.
While I still have control over my life, his life appears to have been taken over by his children and a bevy of medical and welfare types.
This problem of fading from view means you become both irrelevant and powerless in the eyes of society.
Like an old horse, you’re put out to pasture to while away your final days.
It seems to be a purely Western phenomenon, exacerbated by capitalism and its ‘cult of youth’.
Instead of becoming a revered elder you become, to quote former prime minister Bob Hawke’s words to a pensioner who was irritating him, a silly old bugger.
No one comes looking to you for advice. Just as people ignore history, they ignore years of built up experience.
Watching young people make the same mistakes as you did in your youth can be heartbreaking.
As someone who was fortunate to drift between cultures during my working life. I find it ironic to contrast my status in those different places.
In Papua New Guinea in my latter years, I enjoyed the position of respected lapun and, among the Aboriginal people with whom I worked in the bush and desert, I had the title of tjilpi or respected elder.
Not so in mind-numbing hubbub of urban Australia where I am just another silly old bugger.
The contrast is telling and speaks to the appalling way we, in what we regard as the sophisticated West, treat our elderly people.
My neighbour, and those like him, are seen as something of an encumbrance, best locked away out of sight and mind in a nursing home.
He is resisting this fate as hard as he can, and for good reason.
Most aged care in Australia today is far from pleasant and respectful.
As a direct result of misguided government policy which put most of the industry into private hands, my neighbours spirited resistance is born out of pure fear.
The privatisation of aged care sees him as a mere input into a system that is geared first and foremost for profit. It’s that not care which is the main motivator.
And it shows.
The prioritisation of profit ensures the care he will receive will most likely be poor.
His care will be overseen by poorly paid, unqualified carers in an understaffed facility.
He will receive sub-standard food, be given psychotropic drugs to keep him sedated (two-thirds of people in aged care are) and will likely die before his time - departing from a life that has ceased to be meaningful.
Covid-19 has exposed many of the shortcomings of our governments, state and especially federal, to care for the aged, and it has shown the failings of people as individuals.
Society’s general attitude to older people is to park them away somewhere beyond our vision.
The daily pandemic reports in Australia show that deaths from Covid are on the rise again; a string of 30 or so deaths a day escalating to 45 yesterday.
It’s a number most people seem to have accepted as the price to be paid for living a relatively normal life with a serious virus operating in our midst.
What you may not have noticed is that most of these deaths occur among people of advanced years.
The average age of everyone who has caught Covid in Australia is 31. The average age of people who have died of Covid is 83.
And it is now the case that these deaths are seen as acceptable, even necessary, in Australia.
You’ve had your life, now tootle off.
Have we decided as a society that old people are expendable?
We certainly seem willing to stand by silently while our governments put in place policies and rules that hit older people with lethal force.
Has our society now formally accepted the idea that, because people have lived long lives, they’ve had their go and it doesn’t matter whether they die?
If that is the reality, and I suspect it is, then surely it has to be one of the starkest, darkest, most sinister indictments of a Capitalist system and a Selfish society that have both gone horribly awry.
You can't slide into obscurity and nothingness, Phil, when you reach your 80s.
I'll be 82 in three months time and still keep fairly active. Of course you have to maintain pretty robust health, so the genes you inherit are crucial.
These come down from your mother's side, family members have told me, so on that score I've been lucky - they all lived to ripe old ages, Grandma and her five daughters, one of whom was my Mum.
So keeping active is a key to staving off invisibility. I volunteer for the local daily paper (where I worked full-time for 25 years) and write up a match report on a Bendigo footy league game each weekend.
The local league is one of regional Victoria's most powerful and influential - five of the clubs rank in the Top Ten in Victoria for having provided the most ready-made footballers for the VFL/AFL.
I'm also the official historian for the Bendigo Football and Netball League so contribute regular Look Backs in History for the league website and weekly Footy Record.
Research at the Goldfields Regional Library's archives was impossible last year and in 2020 as it was shut for long periods during the Covid pandemic, but the internet is a valuable resource.
And I keep involved in local community radio. Match-calling on a Saturday or a Sunday for me is over, but there's still the review and preview shows midweek to host.
It's good you keep an eye out for the old bloke next door - family members can be extremely predatory as we all know.
Posted by: Richard E. Jones | 15 April 2022 at 02:30 PM
For many of us, the insidious but unrelenting march of so called progress has left us far behind. Try managing your arthritic thumbs and work the minute keyboard on your so called 'smart' phone.
The problem is that we do have the experience of life's university but are regarded by the young as irrelevant due to our inability to cope with what are apparently now the essentials of modern life. Just download the "app' we are told and arrange all your business 'on line'. But what about those who can't do this apparently simple process?
We brought up to engage with people who understood about providing a service in order to earn an income. We don't need to download an 'App' to know what we want. What we don't want is to wait on the telephone for hours and then be told we should go on line instead by a computerized voice.
Our physical abilities may be slower but most of us still have a working brain and we are able to know when we are being relegated to the dustbin of society.
There are two issues at work that have caused our demise. First is the break up of the traditional family and home life. The second is the view of younger parents that we can't possibly know how to bring up children. Where do they think they came from and were taught a lot of what they know?
Of course, that's all old hat these days, or is it?
If there's one thing that hasn't changed it's human nature. If the cafe latte set don't start listening to those who have seen it all before, they will allow our society to be taken over by greed and opportunism.
It will then be no good complaining to us. We and our knowledge and experience will be long gone.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 15 April 2022 at 09:42 AM
Not only that, Phil, but who will remember them? Even old kiaps, languishing in the twilight of their years after a life of service to PNG.
They're all old now their hair turned white, as the years went rolling by,
And with every year that passe now, we see more kiaps die.
Their children scattered far and wide, grandchildren further still,
And who will care when the last kiap dies, whose memory will he fill?
We'll remember all those lilting song the mission children sang,
But who'll remember Maurie Brown, Jack Worcester or Mal Lang?
Ron Galloway or Preston White, Des Ashton or Bob Bell?
Jim Kent Bob Fayle or Brian Dodds, or Jack Emanuel?
We'll forget about Dan Duggan, Harry Redmond or Rick Hill.
But we'll remember Ela Beach, and the view from Paga Hill.
We'll forget about Tom Ellis, Des Martin and John Land.
And we won't remember Bill McGrath, Denys Faithful or Bill Brand.
We'll remember snow capped Giluwe, and the islands of Milne Bay,
But not Keith Dyer nor Freddie Kaad, nor Christopher Gordon Day,
Vin Smith and Graham Pople, and old Jack Battersby,
Peter Salmon and Des Fanning, and Bill Brown M.B.E.
And hundreds more we can recall, but too many here to name.
They all deserve our praise and thanks. They've earned eternal fame.
Heroes all of the jungle tracks, road builders of renown,
Across the country north to south, they helped build every town.
We'll remember all the events now past, which developed PNG,
But the names of those who built this land will fade from memory.
From the Stone Age depths of PNG they helped this nation rise,
But who will mourn his passing, when the last old kiap dies?
Posted by: Chips Mackellar | 14 April 2022 at 07:02 PM
"Society cares for the individual only so far as he is profitable" - Simone de Beauvoir
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 14 April 2022 at 05:20 PM