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At the recent International Conference on Ageing in Melbourne I came across a group of older Aboriginals (mostly women and one man) who were nervously waiting to make a presentation on their work. We hear so much about the sad state of Aboriginal communities in terms of health, unemployment and education it was really inspirational to hear the stories of this group. Apparently they had decided to take matters into their own hands in their communities, working with the children in schools. They felt they needed training to undertake such issues as sexual abuse and domestic violence and had found funding for, and undertaken, this training. They had numerous certificates as counsellors in a wide variety of fields. Apparently they go into the schools and raise these issues with the children, as well as teaching them about their culture. They were incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about what they were doing. I felt really humble after meeting them.

One of their achievements was to create a business calendar to pass on knowledge of their culture. They very generously gave me a copy and autographed it for me and it is now a treasured possession. They had designed it entirely themselves and had then had it professionally printed. They gave me their email addresses and I hope to keep in touch with them. I heard afterwards that they come from 6 different tribes and such cooperation is very unusual.

Many Australians are very concerned at what is, and always has been, happening to the first inhabitants of this country. There is disgust that the government tries to address the issues of worse health outcomes, less employment and lower education standards than the rest of Australia, by sending in the military and then wondering why it doesn’t work. The trouble is that both sides of the political scene use the same inappropriate approach.

There is also still the myth that white people did not take over the country by violence. This is far from the truth. The violence occurred but was not identified as one, or a few, battles. It happened over many months and years in separate instances and was not recorded. We are still following this behaviour today but it is not overt physical violence.

The work of such groups as that of Aunty Shirley at the conference in Melbourne is a very positive way forward and should be encouraged and supported.

The Victorian branch of the Council of the Ageing was co-sponsor of this event and had many members helping acting as volunteers so at least there were some older people in attendance. Most of the speakers, as expected, were ‘younger’ people. My presentation on Lifestyle Choices for Successful and Healthy Ageing gained some very positive comments.

I mentioned to the International Federation of Ageing organisers that it was inappropriate that there was no discount for the ageing at the conference. Most people attending would have been paid for by their employers at a cost of nearly $1000, plus travel and accommodation, would have been well out of reach of the majority of older people. Apparently this hadn’t occurred to them. It is high time that such conferences try to attract as many older people as possible for accuracy and validity in their aims. The IFA doesn’t even offer membership reductions for older people.

Apart from these limitations, the conference was very enjoyable and there was quite a lot of valuable and relevant knowledge, but it would have been more valuable if it had been authenticated by having many more older people there.

I tried to attend talks on the ‘fringe dwellers’ such as the homeless. One charitable organisation realised that there was commonwealth government finance available to provide accommodation for homeless older people and as a result their work has been much more succesful. In particular they designed accommodation taking into account the needs of their clients.

The conference was followed by a one day conference on age-friendly cities which Canberra is aiming to become. One of the advantages of this is that it makes life easier for older people as well other age groups! It helps to bring humanity back into our cities. There was idea sharing from various countries.

One of the most inspiring groups I met were a group of aboriginal women whose work I will include in a separate blog.

A couple of weeks ago I presented a paper at a regional conference on ageing in one of our coastal cities in Australia. It was a very pleasant, friendly affair although as usual most of the speakers, and the audience, were younger people whose knowledge of ageing is limited. One of the major presenters appears to be a leading expert on housing for older people. I heard another speaker on the same topic some months ago who had worked to adapt a ‘grandad’ flat for his elderly father-in-law and the latter was far more knowledgable as a result of the practical experience. I asked the speaker at the Ballina conference why the government didn’t put solar panels on housing for older people to cut down on fuel bills for them. I was told that they are not satisfactory as eventually they rust. I hadn’t the heart to point out to her that the word ‘eventually’ is a word that is relevant to younger people like herself but not to older people. It is like the life insurance salesman who tried to sell his product to an older person and was told ‘Young man, at my age I don’t even buy green bananas’!

Next week I go to Melbourne to the IFA conference to present a paper on lifestyle choices for successful and healthy ageing. I doubt if that will be as well received. I argue for a better deal for older people so that we can achieve in the later stage of life. This includes conferences on ageing being run by older people, just as conferences on women’s issues are now run by women (many decades ago they were run by men). The Melbourne conference doesn’t even have a discount for pensioners. Add to that travel and accommodation and few pensioners will be able to attend. This is in marked contrast to those who will be attending who will have all expenses paid for by their employers.

The only person I have met who agrees with me on the issue of conferences on ageing being run by the ageing is the International President of the University of the Third Age who also thought the present setup somewhat ridiculous. He was at the conference in Paris last year which didn’t seem to impress many people. I got pushed out of the way by a younger attendee at the opening welcome!

The main Melbourne conference is followed by a mini-conference on age friendly cities which should be good. It is a concept that all cities should strive for. Age friendly cities are friendly for all age groups and bring humanity back into them.