Ten years is a longish life for a column. I am proud that my readers and my editor put up with me for so long, airing my views and first-hand experience of growing old in my column, Third Age: the first of its kind in Australia.
I was in my early 70s when I began Third Age, which seems to me now, in my early 80s, incredibly young and new to the tough end of ageing. Time went fast after that and so did the physical limitations of ageing. But so much needed to be said about ageing and the lack of provision for the swelling numbers of old people in the community that I felt propelled forward. This was before the government woke up to itself about the growing needs of the old, and the expenditure required to make life worth living for the aged. Caring for the old was no longer a charity.
Endless conferences were held, policies proposed, but the aged themselves were often horrified by the stupid mistakes made, mainly for lack of aged representation on the committees that are supposed to make things happen. Why should an aged-care package be so complicated and slow in forthcoming?
It was my job to chronicle these changes and try to give them a boot along when appropriate, to avoid some of the grotesque errors made when the young thought they knew what it was like to be old. Frankly, they don’t have a clue, whatever their degrees are.
Then there was the rude and harmful depiction of old age in the media. I like to think I had something to do with change to ads that showed perfectly capable aged people being pawed like pet dogs in armchair ads on TV, and with causing people to pause before they call old people dear or love through laziness. And to recognise that to speak of a “tsunami” of old people is demeaning. Small changes, but important to the dignity of aged people.
Most important, I believe the mantra: only the old know what it’s like to be old. Listen to the old and very old before you make policy.
Then I used my column to talk about the huge changes needed to attitudes towards women, calling on my more than 60 years involvement through my writing with this vital search for equality justice. Some changes, some great movements, such as #MeToo, but never the true equality we need and want. If women serving in the federal parliament can be subjected to abuse on the grounds of their sex, we have scarcely scratched the surface of the glass ceiling.
The world, the human race, will be better when women have equality. How can men be blind to that?
From time to time I will write pieces for this wonderful paper, with its openness to new ideas and dedication to good writing. The editor has invited me to do this, so I hope I can.
Best wishes to all my readers, especially those who forwarded my columns through social media and other means.
Header image: Illustration of Shirley Stott Despoja by Julie Ballis