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Everybody's doing it: ageing. It occurs in absolute concurrency with life. Second by second, day by day, hour by hour. We all get older, we age. At the same pace. Until the end. It is a process with which nearly all of us are familiar, but differentially aware. 'The aged' is a population cohort whose edges are blurred. It is both experiential and observable, and with a range of definitions and connotations, depending in part on the status of the observer and her experience.
We are all familiar with it and the modern age's processes of qualifying, resisting, thwarting it, and not acknowledging its effects. It is safe to say that they, the aged, like the poor, are always with us. And so it has been, from the earliest recorded musings of humanity. Through all our lives we note the passing of time and the passages with which we punctuate its progress. Birthdays, graduations, transitions, achievements: all are marked by the passage of time. When we are younger, the pace seems gradual. As we age, it quickens when the prospect of death passes from mere possibility to absolute certainty.
But we cannot ignore it and consign the aged and ageing to a distant corner of our consciousness. Soon, and for the first time, the number of persons over 65 years planet-wide will be larger than the number under five years. This is not just a baby-boomer blip: it is the way of the future for all humanity. With increasing life expectancy at birth – in the Iron Age it was 26 years, now it is around 67 years worldwide. In Aboriginal Australia it is, if you are male, 75. If you are white it is a decade more. The difference is attributable to opportunities, public health measures and diet, but there is a very wide range of circumstances which can shorten life, or terminate it.
Overall, Australia's population is ageing. In 2016, approximately 3.7 million people (15% of Australia’s total projected population of 24.3 million) are older Australians, people aged over 65.
The proportion is expected to grow – to 22% (8.7 million) by 2056 and to 24% (12.8 million) by 2096. Most older Australians are not using aged care services; they have healthy lifestyles, own their home, and an increasing number of them remain in or rejoin the workforce. They die from heart disease, lung cancer, lung disease, and dementia, the latter affecting 7% of 75-84 year olds, and 13% of those over 85.
The treatment of the aged has varied markedly in my lifetime: in my childhood, the oldest single daughter was assigned the task of living with and supporting the dependent elderly family member at home. That would be fairly unlikely today. Culture is also a factor. I travel around Melbourne by tram, and it is almost invariably an Asian child who stands up to give me a seat. Nancy A. Pachana's Ageing: A Very Short Introduction (OUP 2017) gives a good overview of cultural attitudes to the old.
Shakespeare's Hamlet in his famous soliloquy called death, "that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns". The entire passage is given over to the contemplation of death, and the pains of life. The aged live in the hinterland of that undiscovered country, vaguely aware of its boundaries and crossing points. Some of us – perhaps all of us – contemplate the nature of our own crossing over. Certainly, in the entire history of the written word, conversations about death recur. Shakespeare's soliloquy is just one more utterance in a litany. More familiar is Dylan Thomas'
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
Thomas uses the poem to address his dying father, lamenting his loss of health and strength, and encouraging him to cling to life. The urgency of the speaker's tone has kept the poem among the world's most-read works in English for more than half a century.
Tennyson gave the returning and exhausted Ulysses words which have had many applications, including in of all places, bikies' clubs.
...death closes all, but something ere the end,
some work of noble note, may yet be done,
not unbecoming men who strove with gods
...though much is taken, much abides and though
we are not now that strength which in old days
moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are...
made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
There is a healthy and growing body of contemporary literature about and by the old, in addition to the ocean of scientific writing. Books like Jonasson's The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared, The secret diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 and1/4 years old and Penelope Lively's Ammonites and leaping fish: a life in time all enrich the perspective of what it is like to be growing old. If we are to deal humanely and effectively with the problems facing the old, we need to understand more about them. Reading stories about them is one way.
John Fleming II
500 words... Jasmine Smith-Browne holds forth on matters close to her heart
I have written about the homeless before but the news headlines concerning the tent city having to be removed in Martin Place, Sydney, makes me take pen to paper once again.
When I recently travelled to Los Angeles I witnessed an entire city street full of tents for the homeless. It is not against the law there to have the tents erected because it is a public road and belongs to all people. In Australia it is a little different because our councils have the say as to what goes on in
Homelessness is something we all do not ever want to face but it is becoming such a harsh reality in our current world. To make matters worse, misplaced immigrants across the world now live in tent cities. It is not a choice for them but a necessity to survive. It must be frustrating for those who came from affluent
homes and find themselves suddenly displaced.
It got me thinking about Tasmania.We gladly opened our arms to the Kosovo people years ago but of course they had it good being placed in self sufficient cottages. Now those cottages have been sold off which leaves little else for anyone seeking a roof over their heads.
I thought of all the things that can be transformed into housing instead of a drafty cold tent. Most homeless are just happy to have a warm bed to sleep in. Used trains and trams rot on properties across the state but these could easily be used for living. Many years ago, they were used for unique holiday accommodation and everyone thought they were fun and useful. Why couldn’t they be refurbished for the homeless now. Surely there is council owned land that could accommodate temporary dwellings. Isn’t it better than having the same people lying in doorways around
Old shipping containers could also be done out in the same way. There are many designs now that have two levels. I can imagine an entire town of shipping containers along the dock that are colourful and done up to house needy people. Surely the cost is lower than trying to afford housing. There are families who have been on the housing list for so many years they never see the light at the end of the tunnel. Cantinas could be set up as cheap eateries nearby and lure visitors to the state for its uniqueness.
Tasmania has always been a forerunner in new schemes or ideas. Maybe we could tackle the biggest problem of housing here to show the rest of the world how it is done. Community spirit is a large part of our culture so no doubt there would be many hands to come together to make this happen.
So many tourism ideas are not passed by council but surely homelessness is far more important. Visitors to our state could watch how we cope with such an ongoing worldwide problem as homelessness. We could offer advice to other councils on how best to deal with housing. We need to think of recycling ideas. New ideas cost too much but being able to utilise what we already have could be the way forward. Being such a throw away society I am sure most of the needy could also utilise what we throw away, without having to buy it from tip shops.
Just to be able to build a sense of pride for our homeless and forgotten would be such a rewarding experience for us all.The government certainly needs to do something soon.
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