Tuesday, October 25, 2011



Grandmother Maggie and Me. 1940

Most mornings I wake to the sound of early bird call.  Its usually still dark, unless old man moon is slow getting across the southern sky, fools me into believing I’ve slept in.  Depending its orbit, the moon shines right in my bedroom window, so bright I’m convinced the sun is up and its time for brekkie.  I fall for it every time.

Coincidentally though, some of my most inventive thoughts seem to surface in those early hours. Today for instance I started a ‘then’ and ‘now’ theme. 

I began pondering the size of my world and how much smaller it suddenly seemed to be.  I mean, take me back sixty, seventy years ago to Bondi Beach,  when my Grandpa of the double identity and my darling Grandma Maggie were virtually my entire universe. To small me, the world was huge, just getting to town by tram took an eternity.

My world was the general area around Sydney’s southern beaches, anywhere further afield was out of sight and out of mind...

Easy to do when you’re pint sized.


But its not the size of a town or a city I was now contemplating.  Nor was it the fact that a tram in those war years seemed to take ages to get anywhere, to my four year old mind anyway.  I mean, today,  trams that served the city well from the early 1900’s have disappeared, buses have taken their place, but I bet with Sydney’s current traffic woes it probably takes just as long, if not longer, to get from Bondi Beach, through Kings Cross to Hyde Park than it did back then.

No.  My mind was coming to grips with the way I could suddenly speak face to face with my daughter, an ocean and thousands of miles apart;  I was musing on the world’s breaking news appearing, in real time as it happens, on my computer screen, my grandson’s mobile and countless TV’s throughout the country. Shock and horror on a breakfast menu.

I was musing on a world no longer isolated by distance, where a trip in an elongated, pressurised capsule could whisk you from Sydney to Hong Kong in a matter of hours.  Where, in boarding a plane to go from Brisbane to Quito I could confidently say, one more sleep and I’m there.


Even a car ride from A to B has maintained the distance but drastically cut the time. 

My Grandfather of the dubious identity, as far as I know, owned a vehicle for only a very short time.   Nothing flash as the photo of the squashed coupe with Grandpa at the wheel showed.  Later my Dad  owned a similar, if not smaller model in Sydney, the only member of his family to ever do so, and I remember well the occasion when it conked out, and smart aleck passersby yelled at him to pick it up and put in your pocket, ya galah!

I doubt either broke any speed limits.


I think, living as I do on an island, its very easy to ignore the 6 am news, race past the front page of the morning paper,  settle on the cross words, zero in, now I’m considerably older, to the obituaries.  (As my husband says every morning without fail, see if my name’s there on the list.)

It’s very easy to live within our comfortable cocoon.  Rather pleasant actually.

My Reluctant Traveller has taken the Monkey route when it comes to following the news of the day.  He refuses to watch it on the idiot box, changes channels the minute 6pm rolls round, and never listens to the radio.  Monkey doesn’t see, nor does he listen.

So another question enters the equation.  With all this zipping about, with all this instant and disturbing global knowledge dished up on personal platters, is the world, right now, a better place to live in?

I mean, have we learned anything at all from past mistakes?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Then I jumped on my computer.  Admittedly I can’t live without it.  And there in my Gmail inbox are a few more people asking to be my Friend.  Facebook, that modern version of a giant autograph book, where people with not the slightest thing in common urge you to confess your innermost secrets.  To lay open your life to their friends, and their friend’s friends.  All complete strangers.

And again, I ask myself,  does acquiescing to Facebook’s invitations make the world a better place to be?

Maybe.  And a huge maybe not.


By now I’m putting together my breakfast.   Cereal, fruit, milk, cup of tea.  And suddenly my mind takes a detour.  On one hand I’m looking at the banana on my plate and wondering has it been genetically modified, as have most of the store bought vegetables in my frig.

But then I’m overcome by remorse and think of all the people round the world, far less fortunate than me.  Those suffering through African drought, through poverty, through neglect by government, who would think themselves fortunate indeed to have just that one single banana.  And I wonder, for them, is their world a better place to exist in?

No, of course it isn’t.


As you can see, I’m really warming up to all the beefs and misgivings that only old age can deliver.  Stick with me, I’m only just warming up.

By now though,  I’m also beginning to lose the plot.


What had I started this blog with?  Shrinkage, a world smaller, more compact, easily accessible.  Joys of the modern world.

No doubt my unconscious sleeping hours have been spent mulling over the current economic news from around the world.  The state of Europe, of Greece, of all the so called civilised nations.  The very real threat of a disastrous World Depression.   A nightmare in the making.

And I’m forced to ask myself, has all this keeping up with the Jones, all these huge wage increases and million dollar incentive rewards to the undeserving few, the real value of currency versus the make believe of easily printed paper, has all this really made the world a better place to be?

And, because I can remember my grandparents stories about the Great Depression, their suffering and the resulting world wars, I have to reply...

No maybe’s about it...a resounding No.  


This political cartoon reflects only too well the state of the economy worldwide.

Economist Adam Schwab observed only this week in his Newsletter of Oct 25 2011 ... ‘Even in the most significant sharemarket correction since the Great Depression it appears that directors have been reluctant to show any restraint in the payment of remuneration and termination payments to executives.’

Schwab was commenting on the obscene termination payment of $3million paid to the CEO of Australia’s Telstra company, Sol Trujillo.  This was a payment made in 2009, but it is indicative of a current and growing trend where bosses and top executives secure excessive pay rises in the face of mass sackings within their companies.

He cited another incident where ‘current Pacific Brands CEO Sue Morphet has been criticised for receiving a $1.2 million pay rise while planning to sack 1850 workers. 

The disease of paying fat cats in the face of a downward spiralling economy is not limited to the business world.  We  see the same happening in Government circles where parliamentarians vote themselves huge wage increases while cutting corners on essential services to the community. 


The QANTAS debate, Australia's flagship airline, once the proud holder of world wide safety records reduced overnight to ridicule in a total shutdown of all services.
And why?  Unions are disgruntled, they've tried to deal with top management and been knocked back time and again.
And why shouldn't they be angry?
the Qantas CEO amidst all this angst and controversy has voted himself a multi million pay increase.  $5million seems a tad greedy to me.
His way of dealing with the Union problem is to stop all airline services, ground the entire fleet, put countless passengers all around the world stranded and very angry indeed. !!!!!


Perhaps we need to be reminded of the Great Depression, we need to revisit the scenes of hardship and despair.  Our grandparents suffered through these times.  They went hungry, watched their children struggle to survive, lost their homes, their self respect, they went without.

Families lived rough, forced out of homes they could no longer pay rent for or keep up their payments on.  Eviction was rampant.

  Advertising bill boards may still have featured a make believe world,  but dole queues and soup kitchens were only too real.

When my Grandfather, who admittedly was inventive when it came to alternative methods of making ends meet, was forced to take to the road, he went door to door selling household stuff to housewives who could barely afford to buy. He certainly wasn’t alone, Australia’s outback was awash with men trying desperately to keep their families back home afloat.

 Carrying their belongings on their back these became known as Swagmen, forced by law to search for work or else see their families denied the dole.  There was no work, none anywhere and they survived mostly on the charity of others.

I’ve no doubt my Grandfather’s masculine vanity suffered as he joined the growing march to nowhere, but he did what he had to do.  The big question now, could we do the same.

Could we survive a world where a loaf of bread was a luxury.  Could we make a tent our home.  Could we watch our children do without.


The symptoms of disaster are staring us in the face. This love affair with size and speed...faster cars, planes... bigger, more luxurious houses, holiday homes...this throwaway generation, overnight millionaires  rewarded for hitting a ball, singing a song, pretending to be someone else.  This increasing gulf between the haves and the have not, the super rich and the pitiful poor, simply has to be brought back down to earth. 

Man must be given back his incentive to work and live and make his way in the world. Our kids must rediscover their ability to create, to reap their own harvest, to earn a decent wage, to enjoy the simple things in life. To take pride in themselves.

When one’s dreams and ambitions are no longer attainable, then life itself is no longer worth living.

The world hasn’t shrunk, our ideals have.  We’re all dancing to an increasingly faster tune where the band masters have forgotten this is the only world we have.  If, through our selfish ignorance and vanity it is destroyed, we have nowhere else to go.


Gosh,  I do apologize.  I don’t know where all this vitriol came from.  A nightmare perhaps.  Or a sudden revelation that all is not good with the world.

Consider it a septuagenarian’s version of a protest march. 

I promise to return to my normal blogs, the ones where I explore and recall the days of old, where life was just as complicated as it is now, but lived to a different, less me me me tune.  I promise.

Robyn Mortimer. 2011.