The millstone of the past

My husband has digitised huge numbers of our family photos and they scroll past on our TV, a never-ending stream of images of parents, grandparents, our son as a child, our idiotic youthful activities, old cars, old houses, and holiday snaps.
He loves to look at them. I hate them. They make me cry. That child, that we loved so much, is now an adult, so, in a way, that child no longer exists. I love spending time with my adult son, but I can’t snuggle that child ever again, or read him stories, or hear about his school day, or remedy any mistakes I made in helping him to grow.

old sepia photos of a netball team
I’ll never be that skinny again, or have so many years of my future ahead of me, or have so many opportunities still to take advantage of.
Do I regret decisions and choices I made? Sure. Can I do anything about it now? Of course not. Anything I was going to learn from those mistakes, I already have done. So why would I want to be reminded of it all?
What I do want to think about is now, and the future. How to make the future better for all of us. Navel-gazing the past is pointless, apart from the fun of laughing at the fashions of yesteryear. Those photos, the memories they represent, are an assault on my wellbeing, not a joyous celebration of achievement. I’m not in any danger of looking back with smug self-satisfaction; instead, all I have is a determination to do better. And it will all be so much easier without dragging the past along with me.

Gen X vs Millennials — a Baby Boomer perspective

I’ve spent years being infuriated by lazy stereotyping about baby boomers. This is my chance to return the favour. Survivor 33 is going to pit a Millennials team against a Generation X team. My money is on the Millennials. Why?

Here’s a story. My son, born 1982, is an early Millennial. For his tenth birthday we had a party. I set up a treasure hunt, with clues hidden all over our large yard. I expected that to provide twenty minutes or so of entertainment. It didn’t work out that way.

I gave each child a clues sheet. Did they rush off in search of clues like a bunch of frenzied lemmings? No, they did not. A dominant child (not my son) called them all together, and as a group they solved the puzzle, sending delegates off to each location to collect clues. Total time to resolve treasure hunt: five minutes. Pretty impressive effort for a dozen ten year olds.

Gen X though — I’m thinking of some of my ex-work colleagues here. Many were hard working people. Others were incomprehensible. I understood the desire to build collaborative solutions, although the essential requirement for coffee passed me by.

What I couldn’t ever understand was that after interminable discussions aimed at inclusion and making everyone feel good, we still couldn’t get any agreement on the problem, the solution, or any commitment from any individual to actually do anything at all. It was the avoidance of responsibility that drove me crazy.

Time for some new lazy stereotypes then.

Baby boomers: solution orientated, not very interested in whether there is consensus or whether people’s feelings are hurt in the process. Give the impression of being driven and dictatorial as a result.

Gen X: the only goal is that everyone feels good about the process. Solutions may never be reached but who cares? Give the impression of being very low achievers.

Millennials: the best of both worlds, both collaborative and practical.  I’ll back them over Gen X or Baby Boomers any day. I only hope society can live up to their expectations and provide them with the future they deserve.

As for Survivor 33, we’ll have to wait and see.

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.

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

Marketing to baby boomers

Yeah, we’re invisible. Unless we want funeral insurance, final expenses insurance, incontinence products or retirement village homes.

Do the people who make these ads have any clue? Over 50 is not the same as 90, or even 75. We’re talking half the human life span here, people, and all you can think of to try and sell us is 4 products?

Sorry, forgot the cruise ships. Sure, that’s my idea of a holiday, being incarcerated with a whole lot of other people exactly the same age as myself. Perhaps we could pass the time comparing hair dyes or hypertension medications?

This is an absolute failure of imagination by marketers. Older people have exactly the same huge range of interests as younger ones do. Try advertising for diversity in age as well as all the other demographics. I’m pretty sure your efforts to pigeonhole people aren’t going to work. Lazy stereotyping and wishful thinking won’t get it done.

And while you’re at it, stop assuming baby boomers aren’t using technology. Who do you think invented most of it? (And no, that isn’t an invitation to fill our email boxes with spam.)

Interesting article on this topic here