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.