Current Issue #488

Beer and Other Sins: Young at heart at the Adelaide Airport

Royce Kurmelovs chats with Nick Koerbin, a 64 year-old who never took part in the 70s counter-culture and now shows his generation how to connect with millennials.

For those who don’t fly regularly enough to make it into the Virgin Australia Lounge or The Qantas Club, there is only one Adelaide Airport bar where a traveller can buy a round while they wait for a flight: the Coopers Alehouse.

You can tell Nick Koerbin isn’t from around here by the way he orders a pot of Coopers Pale at the bar. He’s on the 6.45pm Tiger flight to Melbourne. He flew in today for a meeting at the University of Adelaide and his plane will be boarding in about 20 minutes, so that’s all the time he’s got to make a new friend.

Koerbin’s in the consulting business, advising professional associations run mostly by baby boomers who are trying to stay relevant in the changing world of work. No matter the business or association, everyone is trying to fight off obsolescence these days and that’s where Association Executive Services steps in.

“I think I think younger than the average 64-year-old,” Koerbin says and the irony is not lost on him. Growing up, he was probably more conservative than the rest of the crop. In his day, it was all flower power, weed and long hair, but Koerbin joined the police as an 18-year-old and was never really part of the counter-culture. Over time, he watched the wildest of his generation cut their hair, put on suits and pass him by. Now they run everything but struggle to understand a world that has moved on without them.

Koerbin doesn’t like the term “millennials”. He doesn’t feel like you can put people into boxes that way but if he had to make an assessment he’d say kids today are more conservative than those of his time. They know exactly what they want and are ruthless about going for it. If you’re not helping them to do that in some way, then you’ve got no hope of keeping them interested.

That’s the message he brings when he goes into meetings. This time it was in Adelaide, but his usual destinations are Sydney or Brisbane, though he doesn’t mind the change. Adelaide is a beautiful city, he thinks, with its own culture that doesn’t promote itself enough.

Koerbin himself hails from Melbourne, though he grew up in Hobart. In the 15 years he spent with the Tasmanian police, he worked nearly every place worth being on the island state. He worked the northwest and mining towns like Queenstown. At 21 he saw his first body up in Burnie after a car accident took the man’s life. Koerbin put the guy on a stretcher himself because there were no real support services to help out at the time.

“I always think, you can be affected by something like that, or you can say that’s life and you can be gone tomorrow,” he says, taking a sip of his beer. “I look at what I’m doing now as an accumulation of all that knowledge and experience coming home.”

With time, he decided he wanted more out of life, so he put himself through an education and moved across the Bass Strait to Melbourne. Six years ago, he struck out on his own with his own business and hasn’t looked back since.

It’s a good life, good as any, though whenever he sees the inside of an airport, he doesn’t like to get stressed. He deals with airports in a three-step process: get there early, deal with security and travel light.

Checking his watch, Koerbin says time’s up. He drains his glass, stands and extends his hand to shake.

“You have to be careful with labels,” Koerbin says. “People are built by their values. How their family brings them up, what they do in life.

“Some of the best people I’ve ever worked with are millennials; some of the worst people were boomers. And the same is true in reverse.”


Royce Kurmelovs

Royce Kurmelovs

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Royce Kurmelovs is an Australian freelance journalist and author of The Death of Holden (2016), Rogue Nation (2017) and Boom and Bust (2018).

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