Kindness—an old-fashioned virtue?

In 1987 my little boy began his education at the local school. It was small, caring and perfect for his needs. The school itself had opened in 1968, in a society distinguished by social conflict, and influenced by flower power, the peace movement and the summer of love. The school had a wonderful motto with the words Kindness, Effort, Humanity.

This inspiring statement was the work, not of baby boomers, but of our parents’ generation, the people who survived recession and war and came out the other side to build a new, better society. These were goals they treasured. Inclusive, achievable goals that would promote the common good. I liked them.


Move on a few years, past the end of the raucous, glitzy eighties, past the crash of 1989 and into the nasty selfish nineties.

The school was in new hands. Brash younger baby boomers had taken over and wanted nothing to do with these old-fashioned ideas.

Without consultation, they changed the motto. The new one exemplified their greedy, elitist way of looking at things. Dare to excel neatly divided the children into two groups—courageous high-achievers and pathetic gutless losers. No sympathy for weakness there, and no concept of kindness either.

These were the type of people who went on to support Australia’s shameful refugee policy, a dramatic shift in our culture towards selfish, heartless individualism and a total disregard for others.

That battle is still being fought, but the advocates of humanity are losing. Our country and our planet need a lot more kindness, effort and humanity. On the other hand, there’s far too much daring to excel.

There is some hope. The school has since changed its motto once again, this time to Reach out, aim high.

Perhaps we can look forward to a resurgence of kindness and social cohesion after all.

See another advocate of kindness here

About the bear

Settle down, you lot (you know who you are). I’m talking about my toy bear, the one my grandma made for me in 1956.

I’ve always loved him and still have him, along with a tiny number of much-loved books. That’s it from childhood, really.

I don’t have any photos. My mother went a bit strange at the end of her life and destroyed most of them, and then my brother threw away the rest. The bear is pretty much the whole story.

The bear’s name is Me-me. Let no-one ever say us baby boomers are self-centred! But then again, I was only two years old at the time. My brothers in due turn received similar bears, one also named Me-me (with a stunning lack of originality) and the other Super Tom. No idea why.

My nieces, born post-2000, have rooms full of toys. Houses full. They have so much stuff that they have to stage annual garage sales to make room for the next lot.

That certainly wasn’t my baby boomer experience. The bear, the books, the blanket, and one bicycle, much anticipated, for my tenth birthday, kept until it was stolen eleven years later. Two dolls, a plastic tea set (also destroyed by my brother). I think I remember a netball, since I certainly had a netball goal post in the yard.

Lots of baby boomers are well off now (of course, many aren’t). That doesn’t mean we had childhoods of plenty. We mostly didn’t, mainly because there were too many of us. Young parents, lots of kids, meant not much money for things. We weren’t deprived, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t long for things we couldn’t have, TV made sure of that.

I desperately wanted a tin of  Derwent coloured pencils, the big one with a picture of the Lake District on the top and two layers of pencils inside. That was in 1964. I finally bought these for myself in 1998. Not to use, just to have, because I had wanted them all that time. That’s the baby boomer experience, delayed gratification with a delay of over thirty years.

I love my coloured pencils. But I love the bear more.

Buying a house in 1979 Australia

We were young (25), our total joint income was $A12,000 a year. Inflation was rife (9 percent in that year alone, 10 percent in the following year). Prices leapfrogged over and over, leaving wages behind. We were desperate to get into the housing market before it was too late.

Obstacles were huge. We had no deposit or savings record. It seemed pointless, since mortgage repayments were less than rent back then, and we had paid rent for years, thereby making saving impossible. I still don’t understand why paying rent doesn’t show financial reliability.

Mortgage rates were set at 3 percent in those days before the $A had a floating exchange rate, but banks were not lending. Banks were not our friend. Our only option was to borrow from a non-bank lender, at 11 percent. And that wasn’t easy either. We applied to four different building societies before we could find one that would lend against my income — the others wouldn’t take the wife’s income into account, and without it we wouldn’t have had enough.

My grandmother gave us some money, $3000, a generous gift. To make up the rest of our deposit, we took out a personal loan from a credit union. In those days, banks didn’t know everything about everyone’s money like they do now, or perhaps they just pretended not to know.

My beautiful picture
Our townhouse in about 1980

So here’s how it ended up: we paid $40,000 for our three bedroom townhouse (a row house) in a medium density development, all to be repaid over 20 years at 12 percent per annum interest rates plus capital, based on our income of $12,000 per annum. Our repayments were about 40 percent of our gross income. Difficult enough. But the 11 percent interest rates became 12 before we even moved in, and rose to 14 over the next couple of years. It never got easier.

Why didn’t we choose a fixed interest rate? Because they weren’t available. It was variable rates, at the lender’s discretion, or nothing. Also, this was all out of our after tax income. In Australia housing is only subsidised through the tax system for investors, not owner-occupiers.

In 1989 we sold that house and bought another larger one for our family. Interest rates rose to 17 percent on our new larger loan. Perfect timing. Just before we lost our jobs in the early nineties recession (unemployment then was over 10 percent).

Not until 1996 did interest rates fall back to 10 percent. By the time we paid our mortgage off in 1998 (19 years after we started) it had at last dropped to 9 percent.

So all you Gen X and Y people just don’t care? You think I’m playing the world’s smallest violin? You still think we boomers had it easy?

You should care. Part of the high prices you face for houses now comes from the massive costs we had to pay in interest, and then from the inflation of the 1980s that we coped with every single time we shopped for groceries. Sure, the house looked cheap, but the total once interest was added in wasn’t cheap at all.

I never want to see another discussion of relative housing disadvantage that doesn’t look at ALL THREE ELEMENTS: house price, income, and interest rates. Discussing any one or two of these is just cherrypicking.

Does that mean I think young people now have it easy? Absolutely not. The employment situation for young people is dire. But it won’t get any easier by fooling yourselves that your situation is uniquely terrible, or that back in the day baby boomers just walked into home ownership without sacrifice.

[Feature image licenced from iStockphoto, townhouse image P Kelley]

All our fault for being born

Baby boomers in Australia were born between 1945 and 1965. This is called a “boom”, a massive “bulge” in births, a “demographic time bomb”.

And it’s all our fault for being born then. Nothing at all to do with our parents. We will be an “unprecedented burden” on “productive workers” as we age. Because only baby boomers age, everyone else presumably stays the same age indefinitely.

But is any of this true? All those boom-time children made up around 30% of the population back in the 1960s. The cost burden was, presumably willingly, borne by the people responsible, the parents of these children.

Now check out the graph that shows the % of the Aussie population in each age group in 2014 (based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics).

By 2014 baby boomers made up only about 22% of our population, while Generation Y and the Millennials between them rack up 55%. Now that’s a bulge! The SHOCK HORROR baby boomer bulge looks more like a tiny ripple.

Daily I read cheery little comments from trolls about how pretty soon now all the baby boomers will “die off” and take all their pension-grabbing greed and ultra-conservatism with them.

Well, guys, you can’t count. The biggest bunch of baby boomers is now (2016) aged between 52 and 56. They are more than a decade off pension age and won’t be dying off any time soon. In fact, they’ll probably be around until at least 2040, so get over yourselves.

And if you don’t want us to be a burden, stop squeezing us out of the workforce as soon as we get to 50, or wear the consequences.

Multi-nationals rule the world?

Back in the sixties people were concerned about the military-industrial complex, companies which owed their prosperity to manufacturing weapons of war and other military requirements, and were said to have undue influence over national government decisions.

Since then large corporations, including financial institutions such as banks, have occasionally surfaced as public enemy number one, especially in 1989 and again in 2007. Environmental disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the recent tailings dam collapse in Brazil have also shone a spotlight on the behaviour of these behemoths.

Now it’s the turn of internet and technology giants such as Google, Amazon and Apple. Unlike earlier cases of corporations being bad public citizens, the complaints are mostly (not entirely) about their failure to pay tax in jurisdictions where they make significant sales.

In other words, they haven’t paid the appropriate bribes (tax) to the appropriate governments in order to be allowed to operate in the controlled territory (country). In Australia recently it was revealed that most of the 500 largest companies here pay no tax, and of those that do, the amounts are miniscule, often less than paid by a nurse or school teacher. Even worse, many of these companies are in fact paying bribes in the form of large donations to political parties — in other words, they are paying bribes to competing warlords. The government of the country, the representative of the people in our democracy, doesn’t get a look-in.

We haven’t progressed far past mediaeval times. Most of us are not much better off than the peasants that Robin Hood protected from the depredations of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Our own governments act as the Sheriff’s soldiers, keeping us in line for the benefit of the corporations. God help us if we don’t pay our own taxes, but for large companies this is totally optional.

I’m inclined to give Google a bit of a free pass, though. Yes, they make a lot of profit advertising to us. But, in return, they give us a lot for free, things many of us use every day without paying a cent. The Google search engine, free email, Google Maps, these are available at no cost to everyone with internet access, and would make a significant contribution to our personal productivity and therefore to national income.

I appreciate Google’s gifts to the world, and any similar contributions made by other companies. BUT, and this is a big one, it doesn’t disguise the fact that I woke up this week and realised that the dreaded government of the world by corporations is no longer a just a future possibility. This staple theme of science fiction, domination of the planet by corporate interests and the enfeeblement of national governments into irrelevance, has clearly already arrived.

This makes me sound like a conspiracy theory nutter. Perhaps I am. But what other explanation is there for daily decisions by governments that don’t benefit any of the people who voted for them, but only corporations, who don’t even have a vote? In whose interests is it OK to ruin valuable farmland (of which Australia has relatively little) by fracking? Why are miners permitted to dig up stuff, go broke and walk away, leaving the mine sites un-remediated, just one more socialised loss for taxpayers to meet? Why is it a waste to provide welfare and support for citizens, but a marvellous idea to develop railways and ports at public expense for miners? Why are we selling off public assets such as water supply (water being the single most scarce, vital and valuable resource in Australia) at bargain prices to private sector carpetbaggers? Why is our government signing trade treaties that benefit others but not us? Or still sending young Australians to die in other people’s wars over issues that affect us hardly at all and over which we have absolutely no influence?

It’s obvious in retrospect that the military-industrial complex never went away, and that other corporations have infiltrated global governance to such a degree that nations no longer have much control at all. And that means citizens have none, whether in democracies or not.

Marketing to baby boomers Part 2

So here’s the thing. We might be getting older (baby boomers are currently aged between 50 and 70). But unless physical reality insists on impinging, in our heads we are only 25.

Last year I moved house (no, NOT into a retirement village), so some of these purchases are atypical. Even so, last year’s big expenditures: furniture, replacement laptop when mine went belly up, replacement garage door, mattress and bedding, about 200 ebooks, some TV series on DVD (no streaming capability where we live), solar panels, baby gifts for a nephew.

Next year (maybe, depending on funds): electric bicycle, garden plants especially herbs, more ebooks, a digital SLR camera, accommodation for a trip to Grenfell, Mudgee and the Lachlan River in regional NSW, possible rail trip to Melbourne to see family, dictation software and microphone, a barbecue.

Not a single mobility aid, insurance policy or cruise among these items, notice? Nothing there that someone of 25 or 35 or 45 might not want (although I admit holidays in the country may not appeal to everyone, that’s a personal preference. I like seeing rural Australia.)

Where’s the advertising for these things in the Seniors Directory I just received? Rail travel gets a guernsey, sure, but the rest of it, just not there. And you won’t see any ugly old people in “normal” ads for these things.(Don’t get me started on the sweet loving old granny who wants nothing more out of the next 20 years than to feed cookies to grandkids).

I don’t expect personalised ads. What I do expect is not to be bored out of my brain being inundated with ads for things that YOU (a 20-something marketer) think I ought to be interested in. Marketing is finding out what people want and finding ways to sell it to them. That isn’t what you are doing.

Instead, you are imposing an incredibly narrow, outdated view of age, based on century-old stereotypes, on people that it just doesn’t fit. In the marketing brain old has only two modes: either a sad bedridden old lady in a nursing home, or a rich grey nomad couple, masses of coiffed grey hair blowing in the breeze as they hoon around the countryside in an upmarket Winnebago in between rounds of energetic tennis or a leisurely excursion in the yacht.

Guess what? Most baby boomers are a thousand miles away from either of these stereotypes. We are just like you only we’ve been here longer. We don’t all want the same things. We never have and we never will. Stop trying to cram me into a tiny box of your own design. I’m not going quietly. In fact, I’m not going into that sad little confined space in your imagination at all. And you’ll watch your ever-shrinking market share and wonder why.


Science vs magic

I grew up in the space age, when we thought science had the answer to everything. In spite of my parents’ efforts (they thought I should be interested in literature and foreign languages), what I really wanted to learn about was physics and chemistry, geography, geology, plants, horticulture and landscape design. Useful things.

We live in a physical world and it really, really helps to have a bit of a clue how it works. The time comes when a cistern needs to be fixed, or you need to explain to someone why an evaporative air conditioner only works if there is air flow.

My parents, born in the nineteen thirties, instead lived in a world of mysterious magic.

They had a hand-held vacuum cleaner that was battery charged. When I visited it was sitting on the floor on the laundry, turned on but not actually vacuuming anything. Very noisy, for hours and hours. Why? They had been told to run the battery down before recharging it. I explained that you didn’t have to do this every time you used it. The worst that would happen if you recharged it often without running it down very far was that the battery would lose its ability to recharge fully. They were quite surprised.

This is an example of magical thinking. They didn’t understand why they were doing this action. Instead they followed a ritual, applying a rote response to a situation because of a complete lack of understanding of the underlying science (how different kinds of batteries work).

Here’s another. My mother was forced to study domestic science at high school in the 1940s. This representation of the nutritional content of an egg was in her text book.


She told me that for at least 20 years she had believed this was a literal diagram of where those things were located inside an egg.

Her interpretation makes no sense at all. After all, she had cooked and eaten thousands of eggs, seen the yolk in the middle and the white and shell surrounding it, and it is obvious to anyone that the inside of an egg just doesn’t look like this diagram. But this chasm between the symbolic and perceived reality didn’t result in her asking questions to resolve the problem. She just didn’t have any scientific curiosity. And she hated domestic science on principle.

What about the next generation? I saw a suggestion recently that calcium from milk was inorganic and couldn’t be absorbed by the human body, while, in contrast, calcium from plants was organic and therefore could be. So many misconceptions here I don’t know where to begin.

I don’t want to be too critical; I have been known to approach computer problems by rote methods. But without science, how can we understand, let alone solve, complex environmental problems? Problems of water management, salinity, erosion, soil depletion, loss of habitat and diversity, the impact of climate change, the behaviour of wild fires; solutions to all these depend on scientific knowledge and method.

Often these are seen primarily as political or economic problems. Perhaps this isn’t sheer bloody-mindedness, but just ignorance? Maybe most Australians are living in a world of magic, just looking for the right spells and rituals to make things right. The world is full of intricate, wicked problems, and it seems we are too stupid to fix any of them, or even to realise that we must understand the science first. Just a baby boomer view.


Hume Highway duplication— you’re welcome

An accusation that really bugs me as a baby boomer is that, somehow, we have sucked the economy dry for our own benefit and left nothing for anyone else.

After paying taxes for forty years I resent this. My taxes paid for all those new schools, those fabulous fancy arts centres, those new bridges, those flood and bushfire repairs, those hospitals. And those roads. You know the ones, the ones you hoon along at 20 kph over the speed limit, giving me rude gestures for daring to drive on it more slowly than you do.


The Hume Highway is a massive road that connects Australia’s biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. We rarely drove on it in the past. It was terrifying—trucks, semitrailers, the dreaded caravans, narrow, poorly aligned, hardly anywhere to overtake, degraded pavement.

Between about 1969 and 2013, this road was duplicated. It is now two lanes in both directions. This job took the whole of my adult, taxpaying life. While it was going on, it was a nightmare to drive on, with detours, delays, and long stretches of gravel and dirt.


Now it’s a dream. You could almost drive it in your sleep (it seems some people actually do that). And its fast. Canberra to Sydney was easily a four hour drive (now under 3 hours).

Just a little gift from us to you. You’re welcome.

All images from Roads and Maritime Services, NSW

Hogging big houses

I saw a recent flurry of age bashing in newspapers. Selfish baby boomers are refusing to leave their own houses, houses that they are “rattling around in”, houses with back yards. We are supposed to pack ourselves away into little closets somewhere out of sight so that “families” can have our houses instead. Think of the children!

Not happening. I love my backyard. I can make a mess there, watch birds, play with plants. Not giving it up until I have to.

The Australian love of big suburban houses is honestly come by. Here’s a quote from Town life in Australia by Richard Ernest Nowell Twopeny, published in 1883:

“The colonist is very fond of living in his own house and on his own bit of ground.

Terraces and attached houses are universally disliked, and almost every class of suburban house is detached and stands in its own garden.”

One hundred and thirty years on, our cultural preferences haven’t changed. We still love our backyards. And our cars. You want people to change how they live, make the case, don’t use manipulative shaming techniques.

Introducing Sue

Hi all, welcome.

Australian countryside
A typical bit of Australia

I’m a baby boomer, class of ’54, and I’ve been lucky enough to live my life in Australia. I’ll be using this blog to express my many opinions and discuss topics that interest me. This will not include coffee, baristas, shoes, babies, overseas travel, clothes, makeup or any aspects of fashion whatsoever. It might include bellyaching about politics or economics or the environment. In other words, the same things baby boomers have always cared about.