Current Issue #488

Third Age: Unpacking a package of fear

Third Age: Unpacking a package of fear

On a coolish evening in May, I dragged my unbearable heaviness of being to the TV to watch the Treasurer, Mr Morrison, deliver himself of The Budget to show that we live in the best of times.

I thought he might have followed for profit the ruse of the late great pianist Sviatoslav Richter who, in his later years, liked to play in darkened concert halls, the better for the audience to concentrate on the music instead of the grimaces of the performer.

Still, Mr Morrison was less shouty than usual, so I gave him a hearing. I learnt that there was for Third Agers a considerable aged care package.

When did “package” become such a frightening word for me?

When I applied for MyAgedCare package, I suppose; having heard, but not understood this usage before. But packages are now around quite a lot.

Often on ABC TV programs like The Drum, people challenge each other to “unpack” something. This frightens me, too. What if someone asked me to “unpack” this column? Or did it themselves without asking me? Would they think, among the packaging paper and discarded sticky tape, that I am saying that life is unbearable these days unless we are right-wing shits? What power would I have to ask them to pack it up again? To insist that I did not mean that at all. But that it helps to be well-heeled, have well-heeled parents and a job that’s not going to fold before she/he is ready. It does not help to be old, a woman without super and a house; young, without parents with a house, not sure whether TAFE will be open, and a few other things that make life ugly. Can you pack that up again please?

How do you get one of life’s good packages? I’d say, having watched a doco on Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall (same night, ABC TV again) that she had a pretty good package. But when I “unpacked”, I saw not much time to herself, endless trips to the Battersea Dogs Home, and expectation in everyone’s eyes. That she would stuff-up; that they would be healed? That her fairy dust would brush off on them? (Her Mum died of osteoporosis complications, by the way. That can’t have been fun). A secure, but not unadulterated package, I would say. The Prince loves her and his stamp will soon be on every package.

Back to the Budget. Mr Morrison gave out a lot of packages. Ms Leigh Sales, ABC interviewer par excellence, began to unpack them. Well…! Paranoia all over the place. Mr Morrison had only stopped being Mr Shouty for the duration of delivering packages in the parliament. Leigh Sales was now unpacking them and his strategy was not only to shout her down, but to become Mr Motor Mouth as well.

So I watched a bit more of the Duchess of Cornwall. A fortunate life. Climbing trees, riding horses, dogs not from Battersea were her childhood. Good package. Even after a failed marriage, there was a fun package until Diana came along. And then … let’s say the really good package had a delayed opening.

What happened then to destroy my idle idyll about packages?

My dears, life came along.

Savage, terrible, hateful, terrifying life.

The ABC again. The Four Corners programme on Harvey Weinstein, which I had not seen before, came on the screen. How his power and success covered up rape and other sexual assaults for years and years. Men colluded. Women feared to expose him, their lovely young lives corroded by the secret, and the fear of his power. Laws prevented his exposure. I had a hard job to keep my dinner down. I didn’t attempt to stop crying. He was still free as far as I knew. The women whose lives he ruined will never be free. I will never be free because some men behave like this and women suffer so much in silence and I am part of them.

And that was how the evening ended. Not even with a dim memory of a package.

The next day a call from an 80-year-old woman, telling me that her marriage nearly 60 years ago started with rape until it was no longer needed as the means of subduing her to her husband’s will. Then she was discarded as an unloved, unsupported menial within the marriage until she left 15 years later. Fear had kept her there, the children, even fear for the dog’s welfare … she could not depend on anyone’s support. Her mother once asked if she’d had a row, “Did the neighbours hear?”

How did she get the courage to leave before there were any supports at all for survivors of violence? It wasn’t a package, I can say that much.

And I will be supporting any protests to safeguard the future of the ABC.


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