Archives for category: Country towns

This week, for the second week in a row, I have visited a small country town in Australia. This time it was Dubbo, a small inland town with about 36622 residents and a catchment area of 130000. It is a farming community although currently they are in the midst of a prolonged drought. The drive there makes you aware of why it is currently called a dust bowl- the landscape has a cloud of dust above it.

At one point I was trying to find the local shopping centre and asked directions of a lady who turned out to be a leading light in the town. She was going to the same place and we chatted as we walked there. Before we parted company she gave me an 8 page pamphlet, published by the local people, of all the events in town they were organising. There were about 30 listed, from gardening groups to writers, musicians, a historical society, arts and crafts, theatre, dining, to cooperation with the Sydney Opera House. What a vibrant community.

This made me realise how important local communities are and that this is the major problem with our cities. I am not sure what city planners are concerned with, I can only assume it is with roads and transport and housing siting and other non-human items. This lack of acknowledgement of the human needs of city dwellers is what makes them the disastrous places they usually are, particularly for older people.

My suggestion is that we design cities, and renovate them, in terms of smaller designated areas round a central hub, probably with local shops and some form of meeting place. It would be an area which allowed, and encouraged, all the activities currently Dubbo makes available to its citizens. It would be designed around humans, not merely convenient areas for the provision of water, electricity and other local governance responsibilities. If we put people first we will have much healthier and happier communities.

This is not a dream world idea although it will be difficult to implement initially, simply because it has always been a neglected area of city life and planning. When cities first developed they were created in the interests of the manufacturers who needed a large supply of workers for their factories. Workers were merely commodities. We have now evolved to the stage where workers are recognised as people who will work better and more creatively if they are treated properly. They will also be healthier and happier. We have centuries of catching up to do in our cities.

My final morning in Dubbo was surrounded by a cloud of female motorcyclists (and their partners). They were meeting at the local showground. If they could get 900 of them together it would be a world record. Apparently they held it 2 years ago but the Brits took it off them! What struck me was what a happy group they were, pleased to be together joining up with other bikies from across Australia. Needless to say this good news event didn’t hit the national news. After all, they were regarded merely females and bikies, not young women harmlessly enjoying themselves, passing on their pleasure and enjoyment of life to others.

 

Tomorrow I leave for a conference run by two regional associations in the field of ageing, the gerontologists and the aged care services. It is being held in a country town in Australia.

My big criticism of the gerontologists across the world is that they think they know all about ageing because they have read about, completely ignoring the fact that it will have been written by other younger people. It is likely to include inaccuracies because of this. This is reflected in the research papers they write and the papers they present at conferences. It is also reflected in the fact that so few older people take part in conferences these professional groups organise and therefore these events lose even more credibility.

The advantage of combining with aged care workers is that this group is in daily contact with older people and therefore are aware of at least some of the problems (and positives) associated with ageing. The other advantage is that these people are the treasures of not only the aged scene but of the workforce in general. Older people are not the easiest to work with, not only because of lack of, or reduced control over, our bodies and lives but also the lack of status amongst the community. This is reflected in the low pay and low esteem of their professional helpers. Sadly we, and they, don’t recognise the tremendous contribution they make to what is becoming an ever greater portion of our lives.

From a personal point of view these people are terrific company, not only because they are such interesting people but because having a great sense of humour seems to be a quality they all possess. If I manage to sit with them at the conference dinner not only will I have a very entertaining evening but I will learn so much about community care, particularly in country areas. On the other hand the gerontologists have read a lot about their topic but have little real experience of ageing and tend to discuss theoretical issues.

Visiting country towns is always an interesting experience. There is such a different atmosphere there. The pace of life seems to be much slower and they have time to talk if you want to. Last week I visited a different town and there I learned what life can be, and should be, about. A group of women of all age groups, including one with a pre-toddler, were playing tennis together. They were from different towns in the area and were participating in a tennis competition for teams from each area. What impressed me was that they were there to enjoy and benefit from each other’s company, in spite of the huge age range. One lady looked as if a walking stick would be more beneficial to her than a tennis racquet!

This is the type of community our ancestors lived in. They didn’t have all the tension and stress, and accompanying problems, we have in our lives. The big challenge now is to combine our modern lifestyle with the old approach. That way all age groups could live in harmony and peace and hopefully we could all still achieve, with a resurrection of the role older people had in the community in the past.

Meanwhile I look forward to meeting lots of interesting people with different ideas, including over dinner which is being held in the relaxing environment of the regional zoo!