After a weekend of teaching the subject Elder Law to undergraduate law students I began to reminisce about what it was like growing up as a “baby boomer” not, of course, that we knew that’s what we were!
I grew up in Adelaide and attended a local Catholic primary school. Adelaide in the fifties was not exactly cosmopolitan, but then we didn’t know that either. We were white and of anglo saxon heritage. We alternated between singing God Save the Queen obviously in English and hymns in Latin, not that we had any idea what we were singing when singing the latter. I guess I could say that our experience and horizons were somewhat limited. Meals were simple and as predictable as the sun rising each morning. It goes without saying that there was no breakfast on Sundays because we had to fast, from midnight so that we could go to Mass and communion on Sunday morning.
Starting with Sunday, it was always roast lamb for dinner, then the remains left on the kitchen bench to cool down all afternoon before putting into the ice-chest (great during an Adelaide summer) but then we didn’t know about salmonella either.
Saturday afternoons were for going to “the pitchers”. Hundreds of unaccompanied primary school kids converging on a local picture theatre for an afternoon of “Tom and Jerry” and “Cowboys and Injuns”.
And then in Grade 1 we had a teacher “from one of those foreign places”. I think in hindsight - that poor woman. Young, pretty, speaking with an accent nothing like ours and dressed differently to our mothers. Eighty kids – Grades 1 and 2 together – in a corrugated iron structure, 110 degrees Farenheit outside and God only knows what temperature inside.
Then our lives really changed. First the Italians came, not speaking English, eating “funny stuff” for lunch and parents who grew tomatoes in the front garden – when everyone knew that vegetables and fruit trees were grown in the back yard, front gardens were for flowers. I remember asking my parents if the Italian girl could come and stay at our place. I should say here I am an only child. My parents wrote a letter (well what else were they going to do, no phones or emails and you didn’t just “drop in”). How those poor parents found someone to translate the letter and then write the politest of letters back, affirming her visit, and mentioning that all her brothers and sisters would accompany her. My mother was in a state of shock. Well, that visit never happened.
After the Italian girl came the Polish sisters. Well, we certainly knew they were liars because they told us about snow at Christmas time (how could it snow in temperatures over 100 degrees farenheit) and sitting on top of the stove to keep warm. Honestly, who could sit on top of the Kookaburra gas stove, and even with the asbestos mat on top of the gas ring and you couldn’t sit on that. I was reminded of the sisters a couple of years ago when visiting friends in Poland and we went to a nearby uninhabited castle. There in the corner of one of the rooms in this building was a stove just like the sisters described fifty years ago – I guess they weren’t liars after all and we were subject to an overwhelming lack of knowledge of what happened outside of Australia, or even our own state.
Then in ’56 the Hungarian girl came to the school and she also ate different things. No vegemite on white bread for these kids. One time I went to the French girl’s home. Her mother served cold potatoes. Well everyone knew that potatoes were mashed or roasted. We certainly talked about her mother not knowing how to cook.
Our First Communion really highlighted the differences. All the Eastern European girls wore shoes with long dresses, and some with sprigs of Rosemary carefully sewn onto their dresses and perhaps around their necks a gold chain with a crucifix. As for us, white sandals with ankle socks with short nylon dresses or broderie anglais if your parents could afford it. I still look at the photo taken on that day with all of us lined up looking suitably devout - or intimidated.
So why am I looking back? Perhaps I look at the fact that our generation is, thanks to these early immigrants, now far more cosmopolitan than our parents ever were. After all as one of my Italian friends once said to me “. . . and bella what did you have before we arrived, extra virgin dripping?”
We baby boomers are also living longer than earlier generations and generally enjoy a more comfortable life style than that experienced by our parents. We are educated and have made substantial contributions to government coffers throughout our working lives. However, although governments come and go one point appears to be constant and overlooked by all them and that is - we still vote.