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A first
It’s not often we find ourselves at a first birthday celebration these days, but just such an occasion happened recently when our little great granddaughter reached this milestone. (Yes, of course we are too young! But when three generations follow a pattern of ‘starting young’, this is what happens.) It was a quiet family gathering, well, fairly quiet, given the excitement of new toys, yummy food, and the star of the show finding herself constantly at the centre of attention. Her older brother shared in the fun and her brand new little cousin was peacefully oblivious. We are so very lucky that all three are healthy, and we do know that in many cases it is simply chance that plays a part. Nevertheless, health and life expectancy have changed remarkably, and it’s happened in the last 100 or so years. A girl born today can confidently expect to reach around 85 years of age; a boy, around 80. It’s a dramatic improvement on what our grandparents could have expected. For a boy born around 1900, life expectancy was a mere 47 years, and for a girl perhaps 51 years of age.
Life in the Victorian Age
Anyone who is following Victoria on ABC television, or the reruns of Call the Midwife, will have taken on board the dread of stillbirth, maternal death in childbirth, and the very real threat of serious childhood illness that could bring a short life to a close. In Leeds in England, according to a UK government site, the most common cause of death listed in the burial registers around those times was stillbirth. And nearly half the people interred at that cemetery were aged nine years and under. In Korean culture, and perhaps many others, a child’s first birthday is a hugely joyous occasion, a carry-over from earlier times when that first year was a precarious one and no one could be sure the child would survive it. In South Australia, a favourite bird sanctuary that we like to visit is near the historic township ruin of Farina and in the nearby cemetery is a board listing burials. In part it contains, consecutively, ten children’s names and ages. The oldest child was aged five; the next oldest fourteen months; and so they descend, to as young as 36 hours. What tragic stories and what heartbreak must lie behind those figures. Health and longevity considered, our one-year-old’s generation is the most fortunate yet. We have indeed come a long way in a little over a century, and who knows what further improvements the future will bring?
Why is it so?
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, taking its figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, says Australia enjoys one of the highest life expectancies in the world. We rank fifth among 35 OECD countries, with high life expectancy being associated with low infant and child death rates, access to high quality health care, and an ageing population – a seeming paradox being that the older we get the longer our life expectancy. A hundred years ago infectious diseases accounted for 15% of all deaths in Australia, with the average age of people dying from them being 27. Today they account for less than 2% of deaths, and the average age of death from them is 76. Life expectancy improved for all ages during the last century, but it was lower death rates in infants that contributed most to the improvement – from 105 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1901 to 3 deaths per 1,000 live births in the last couple of years. It’s almost as though someone had waved a magic wand – after all, 115 years is not such a long time. But we know differently – improvements in maternal nutrition and pre-natal care, the development of vaccines, effective use of antibiotics, health education, hygiene practices and public sanitation have all played their part.
What of the future?
In that cemetery in Leeds many deaths were cited as due to ‘natural decay’, something we might translate as ‘old age’. This is no longer acceptable on a death certificate; we all die from something specific, it seems. Since the 1950s heart disease and lung cancer have been the leading causes of death for adults. Around the same time motor vehicle accidents began taking a toll on young lives. Since the 1980s drug use and suicide are in the lead for young people, heart disease remains the nemesis of men, and it’s breast cancer for women. All these are subjects of research towards cure as well as prevention campaigns. Were these morbid thoughts to follow the joy of a first birthday party? Not at all; in fact, quite the opposite as we are so grateful for those who have researched, discovered and developed the strategies that ensure our health and well-being for a good, long life. We expect our little ones to enjoy every advantage from living in such a healthy and aware country, living long and happy lives as a consequence. It may not be unusual for their generation to be routinely celebrating their 100th birthdays, along with many similarly aged friends. Indeed, we hope it is so, and that their long lives will be fulfilling and enriching.
Judy Redeker

Schoolchildren protesters: exercising their right to be heard

Congratulations to John Fleming II for his article last week, in support of young people taking time off school to protest government inaction on climate change. He made many points, including, that students have a right to ask questions of those politicians who make decisions for their future. Students will inherit the results of the decisions, or indecision, of our adult politicians, therefore they have an interest in government policy and outcomes. We should applaud our students for demanding to have a voice in their future. I also agree that the students, rather than being educationally disadvantaged by “taking a day off school to protest”, are increasing their education by getting out of the classroom and having a say. It was a delight to see these young people, looking healthy and vibrant, speaking about what was important to them. They are too young to vote, and this was their way to get a message to the politicians, community leaders and business people of the country. What amazing educational and learning possibilities have been opened up to the students, by their direct action and engagement with the issue of climate change! For a teacher, a mine of learning topics, many of which are directly related to the curriculum, were opened up for discussion. The themes of history, law, governance, politics and sociology are involved in the subjects of English, history, science and social studies, and directly relate to the actions of the students. Any teacher will say that it is easier to teach a subject if students are interested and engaged, if they feel that the subject has relevance to them. Forget the worn out dictum of decades, centuries past: “children should be seen and not heard”. When students can participate and be heard, then the task of teaching, for the teacher, and learning, for the student, is likely to be a much more interesting and effective use of school time. Young people of twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen shouldn’t be written off and labelled children, simply because they don’t yet vote. It’s patronising and demeaning to treat young people as passive sponges or statistics. Young people prior to the age of eighteen are not objects to be spoon-fed, then churned out through the system, the sausage factory, of use only when they pay taxes, but ignored before that. Rather than laying down the law of education, insisting that there is only one way to learn, treats students as pliable fodder with no stake in their own future. The grumpy old adults, our politicians in Canberra, missed an opportunity to engage with the voters of the future. This missed opportunity may very well come back to haunt the politicians. It certainly does nothing to enhance the educational experience.
Communication skills
One of the positive aspects of the protests, evident from the news footage of the events held all around the country, is that the students got out from behind a desk or computer. They became involved in something, in the company of others. As such, they were engaged in active communication. Human contact is a necessary part of engagement and communication. It is also an essential part of health and wellbeing. Everywhere, young people (and adults) are becoming increasingly isolated, disengaged and fearful. Despite the extent of and insistence on education, there is no guarantee that qualifications will mean that there will be jobs, or a future, at the end of schooling. Lifelong learning is a cliché, often bandied around by adults, but it has meaning. Participating in the activity of a protest is a form of learning about communication.  Young people are often criticised for being lazy or disengaged. Being young is not always an easy thing to be, especially if they are not doing well at their schooling. Too much importance is placed on results and scores, not enough emphasis on the person. Fitting in, and being one of the sheep of an education system is not a good way to breed leaders of the future. Treating young people in educational institutions as future fodder for the tax system, or even worse, the armies of the future, is a cynical exercise. Do better, politicians: I hope you all took notes.
Merlene Abbott

Missives from the seas

In a series of missives from a cruise from London to Australia,
Marian Hearn muses on cruise life
“Isn’t it boring?”
This was a common comment from friends when hearing about our proposed cruise from London across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, continuing on through the Pacific and eventually back home. This was especially so when they learnt that of the 49 days 32 were ‘sea days’.
I have always likened being on this sort of cruise to participating in groups such as U3A or School for Seniors, with lots of social interaction, as well as learning and exploring new places, all without having to continually pack
and unpack.
So today, on the fourth of seven straight days at sea and the twelfth of the trip, I looked around to see what everyone was doing. Don’t let anyone tell you that reading is dead! Almost everyone was carrying or reading a book, either in hard copy or digital format. Those not reading at the time I looked around were doing embroidery, knitting with the ‘Knit and Natter’ group, or even learning to crochet with Jill who is teaching absolute beginners. A lot of patience
needed there.
The daily program is provided every night for the next day. Today’s offered the following: for the more energetic, ‘Stretch, Tone and Relax’ – a gentle stretch session. Of course one could also walk the deck, swim in one of two pools or spend time in the onboard gym.
We are fortunate to have two excellent lecturers, Paul Twose and Steve Ragnall, travelling with us. Today Paul talked about 1st April pranks, including the famous one by the BBC about ‘Spaghetti Trees’. Tomorrow Paul will talk about just what it took to build the Panama Canal which we will be sailing through on the 5th November. Steve told us about the ‘Diamond Rock’ in the Caribbean and the exploits of British and French Navy vessels in their land grab for the islands and their valuable crops. Steve’s talk tomorrow will be about William Dampier ‘The Inquisitive Buccanneer’.
Daily challenges I always enjoy are the Trivia Quizzes – one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Today for the first time the team I am part of won both! The morning one with a perfect score. The cudos is better than the prizes!
There was another session today telling us about the next port we will visit, what to do there and what to look out for if going ashore independently, ie: not on a tour organised by the cruise line.
There were bridge and chess games for those interested, rehearsals with a choir called ‘Pitch Perfect’ and a cupboard full of really challenging jigsaw puzzles. These create a lot of interest, and advice, from all who pass by. Some spend hours trying to find just the right piece to fit in. Along with jigsaws there are Sudoku, card games, Scrabble, Mahjong, and other games I could not identify.
There are plenty of spaces around the ship to ‘get away from it all’ if one wants to. There is an inside promenade deck and another one outside. On the top deck there is a sports court which includes a basketball and table tennis area. And there is seating everywhere, in shade or sunshine.
Then during the evening there is a performance in the main theatre, and other performances in smaller venues and bars around the ship.
So, plenty to do.
And then there are the meals, for which you do not have to shop, cook or wash up afterwards. The evening meal is usually with the same people at a particular table but other meals are ‘free seating’ so over the voyage one gets to meet most of the passengers. There is always a buffet area if you don’t want table service and that can be inside or outside on the deck. Breakfast outside is a delight before it gets too hot. The conversations over the meals range far and wide. Most people on this trip are Australian, who have been in the UK visiting family and friends, or who, like me, have flown in especially to join the ship. There are a few people from the UK travelling out to Australia to have Christmas with their family there.
Remember though, every cruise line and even ship is different.
Marian Hearn

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