Gadget by The Blog Doctor.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Valuing Old Folks

The second half of the 20th Century was the era when youth was celebrated. This has meant that older people have been devalued, as doddery and uninteresting. The first two decades of life are very formative. For instance my basic attitudes to life were largely formed by the time I was 20 and I expect this is true of most people.

Those born in the 1920s lived through a period of very spectacular world history in their first two decades. I will give some examples of a 79 year old that I know quite well, my father who was born in January 1928.

He was born into the long shadow of the Great War (WW1). Dad was constantly reminded of the reality of that devastating conflict as his father had been wounded towards the end of the war, and never fully recovered his health . Dad reminds me that the prosperity of the "Jazz Age" was really an American phenomenon and that times were tough when he was young. This was compounded by the Great Depression, which might be dated from 1929 to 1933, but in his experience persisted throughout the 1930s. But, the thirties weren't all "doom and gloom" in his recollection. He has always been interested in Science and Technology and as a boy was fascinated by the new technologies that were developing. fROM THE 1920S His father had built radios (Dad still calls them wirelesses). Changing the station on the radio required changing coils, which were separate and had to be inserted into the "wireless". Dad was also interested in the new "talkie" movies, and would hang around the hall where they were shown watching the projectionist set up for a show.

Much entertainment in the 1930s, though, was still of the old fashioned type. Community singing was very popular. It was also quite organised. Entertainers would tour the country side organising and leading community singing sessions. My father attended elocution lessons (somewhat under sufferance) and so was asked to recite a poem at a community sing. He remembers being gently mocked by the compare after his presentation.

In recollecting the Second World War he says:
"For many people the declaration of War in 1939 is the stuff of books and films. For me it is a memory of a particular Sunday evening. One of our major entertainments was listening to radio plays. On Sunday nights the show was Lux Radio Theatre. On the night of 3rd September 1939 the show was interrupted by a 'grave announcement', from Prime Minister Robert Menzies's that Australia had declared war on Germany". Socially Australia was a very different country than today. Ethnically it was largely Anglo-Celt, and consequently very homogeneous. In those days it was usual to speak proudly of Britain and the Empire, though by 1942 that was starting to change as Britain could not help Australia with resist the Japanese and the new PM, Curtin, appealed to the Americans for help. Dad remembers that the American soldiers were quite unpopular during the war: "over paid, over sexed and over here." Empire loyalty died slowly.

He lived in a country town that was at the junction of two major railway lines, Seymour. Dad describes the concern that the Japanese might bomb the town to damage the communications infrastructure. Zig zag slit trenches were dug in the school grounds and were used for "air raid practices". He also remembers that his father started to build an air raid shelter in the back yard of their house.

Although there were many changes in the first five decades of the 20th Century some remained largely unchanged from the 19th century. My father joined the State Savings Bank in the mid 1940s. He remembers banking chambers being similar to the offices described by Charles Dickens. All writing was done by hand (there were not typewriters), figures were added manually, and the only bank employees visible to the public were the tellers, the rest worked behind a large partition. He describes on of his tasks as follows: "...
filling the ink wells and checking that the pen nibs were working and scraping the nibs clean, in the public area. Biros had not yet been invented and most writing was done with pens that were dipped in ink wells".

I was born , in 1950, at the beginning of the economic "golden age". My formative experiences were very different to those of "old" people born in the 1920s of 1930s and their recollections are very interesting. Although like all men of my age I was threatened with conscription into the Army, Australia has never been threatened by invasion during my lifetime. The "old people's" generation did face invasion as a serious possibility in the early years of the war and such an experience would change your outlook on the world permanently. Although the business cycle has had some "down periods" during my lifetime, my generation has not had to face economic conditions as devastating as the Great Depression.
Whenever you have the opportunity to talk to an "old" person about their life experiences, do not pass up the opportunity, for sadly there is only limited time to do it.

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