(Image: Unsplash)

In our Missing Voices series, Crikey asks our older readers to share their first-hand experiences of the pandemic.

Jon Laing writes: I am a 79-year-old female. I was a very fit young person who grew up in the bush. I rode horses all day, mustered sheep and generally helped on the property.

At age 12 I was sent to boarding school in Sydney — this proved to be a huge shock to a young girl used to so much freedom! It was a Catholic girls’ school of the 1950s, with all the attendant discipline that implies. I was sporty and excelled at tennis, basketball and cricket. I also loved literature.

Moving on from there I trained as a registered nurse, travelled overseas for four years and lived a full life.

The past eight months of my life have been a huge challenge. I was exercising regularly, going to a chiropractor and eating well. I became a little breathless and visited my doctor, which led to major surgery in Sydney.

I was so lucky to have all this happen just before the virus struck. I was able to fly to Sydney, have the surgery and come back to Melbourne for recovery.

Lockdown has been a period of recovery for me. I am still working and my work has been very much held up and challenged.

I am in the fashion industry and sell some of the best Australian designer collections on a seasonal basis to boutique outlets around Australia. A new way of working has been discovered in my industry — the power of the visual image — and the power of personal relationships has come to the fore.

We are all learning that trust and goodwill and an understanding of the situation of each other is a valuable and rewarding experience. This is a period of frustration, but it is also a period of development and a wonderful opportunity for workers and government to make profound change, where change is indicated, and there are many indications that change is necessary in so many areas of our lives.

Valerie Levy writes: I am 81 and American by birth. I have lived in Australia for almost 50 years.

I want to live long enough to see the end of Trump and, as a dual citizen, I vote.

I am obeying the rules and admire Dan Andrews, and resent the people crowding the pubs: shut them down!

Robyn Jewell writes: I’m a week short of 75 and, for the average punter, in reasonably good health. Having been born two days before the end of the war in the Pacific and hence the complete end of World War II, I’ve always considered myself to be a bit ahead of the baby boomer generation.

My sole source of income is the aged pension and I am fortunate to live in an independent living village where my rent is such that I can afford to fund all of my needs and most of my wants. 

It strikes me that for most people younger than I, the pandemic is the first universal major challenge they have faced. This isn’t to say that many individuals haven’t had tough, sometimes dreadfully tough, times in their lives, but for us all as a population, this is the first really big challenge.

So it’s not surprising that some people are having difficulty putting the greater good ahead of their own individual wants. It’s disappointing, and I get very angry, in fact, when I see and read about those whose selfish behaviour puts us all at risk. 

The situation in aged care has exposed a number of unedifying aspects of our society: the failings of the neoliberal ethos, particularly when the product is the delivery of services and care to fellow human beings; the total devaluing, from the highest level of government down, of those of us who are aged and no longer beautiful in the classical sense; the failure to legislate for adequate financial remuneration for professional carers, so they don’t need to work across multiple sites to survive.

It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that in the view of some sections of the community we, as senior citizens, are generally regarded as “past it” and pretty useless, certainly not worth spending lots of money on. As more than one commentator has said — if these individuals were children (I would add, white children) this wouldn’t be happening.

When I put that together with the treatment of “others” — our Indigenous brothers and sisters, refugees and people seeking asylum, those with mental health and substance abuse issues — I have a pretty bleak view of modern Australia, although it is tempered at times by hearing about, seeing and experiencing numerous acts of individual love and kindness.

Climate change and loss of species is another issue, although they are undoubtedly linked and part of the bigger picture. My aim is to live at least another 20 years to see how it all ends, to see whether this time of hardship and pain results in any substantial change in values for the population of this, the lucky country.

Crikey is calling for readers in their 70s and beyond to share their first-hand experiences of the pandemic. To contribute, write to us at [email protected] with “Missing Voices” in the subject line.

Peter Fray

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