Category Archives: Life and things
If you didn’t read the previous post, my sister had died in New Zealand, and her husband, an Australian, wanted to come back to Australia. Frank was a resident in an accredited aged care facility. How hard would it be to transfer him from one home, to another in Australia? Should be easy, surely? After all, the New Zealanders are our first cousins. We don’t need visas to visit each others’ countries, Australia has the largest population of Kiwis outside Auckland, we are rivals in rugby, netball, hockey, cricket, and we share the ANZAC tradition. Not to mention Phar Lap and Russel Crowe.
The first hurdle was to find his passport. When I said everything was jumbled up in that lock-up, I meant everything. Somewhere in that mess was Frank’s documents. While Cathy fought with the piles of stuff in New Zealand, I took up arms with Authority in Australia. I soon learnt that getting Frank into a home here wasn’t going to be easy. Authority would not accept any of the documentation from New Zealand. Frank’s physical state, and his financial state, had to be assessed in Australia. To be considered for a place in an aged care facility, he would require both of those assessment documents, and in both cases, Frank would have to be in Australia before assessment could be considered. Further, although I had Enduring Power of Attorney in New Zealand, this mattered not a jot in Australia, which caused delays as Frank, who suffers from dementia, was obliged to give his permission for disclosure of information. I had hoped, you see, that if the assessment people in Australia were given medical reports from the aged care hospital in New Zealand, this could fast-track the process. In hind-sight, it was a total waste of time.
After writing to our local member of parliament for help without success, my husband and I wrote to Tanya Plibersek (the Federal Minister for Health) and to Julia Gillard (the Prime Minister). In that letter we outlined Frank’s situation, described the steps we had taken to date, and proposed a compromise, wherein Frank would be admitted to a home, based on the New Zealand assessment of his condition. At that time, he could be re-assessed and moved, if need be. He wasn’t asking for financial support, having ample funds to pay for his accommodation. He was one lonely old man, wanting to spend what was left of his life in the country of his birth. Surely the rules could be bent? Just a little? Christmas caused even further delays, but after a gentle reminder had generated a ‘the cheque is in the mail’ response, we received a reply laced with sympathetic platitudes and the underlying message, them’s the rules – tough. (We had asked why New Zealand’s health care system was being seen as no better than a third world country’s, when our governments are negotiating a joint pharmaceutical benefits scheme, but that was adroitly ignored.)
The next step was going to be to approach the media, and let the shock jocks battle it out on our behalf, but it had been four months and nothing had been achieved. I decided, with some trepidation, to take on Frank’s care for the time it will take to get him into proper aged care. Because proper aged care sure ain’t me. I’m not a nurse, I’m not a sympathetic person. I’m an introverted, non-social woman in her sixties who loves her own company. Still, faced with no choice, I’ll do my best. But I digress.
This article is entitled ‘a question of identity’ for a reason. Because in our digital world, with the internet and databases, if you want to prove you exist, you need bits of paper. Even the Australian passport Cathy eventually found under a mountain of stuff in the lock-up would not be enough to satisfy the Australian Authorities. The 26-page application for an aged pension (with 28 pages of accompanying explanatory notes) indicated what was needed. Despite the fact you can’t get a passport without showing your birth certificate, and date and place of birth are shown on the passport, a passport was worth 70 points out of a required 100. What’s more, Frank would have to show he’d lived in Australia for at least ten years, a minimum of five years contiguously.
You might wonder why. The reason is financial. At one time, people from countries like Greece and Italy (and no doubt others – I’m not singling anybody out, here) would migrate to Australia, live there long enough to gain Australian citizenship (two years), then go back home. They could claim an Australian pension, which, given the exchange rate and cost of living, gave them a very comfortable living in another country, for very little contribution to the Australian tax coffers.
How to prove Frank’s claim? Frank would have had tax records lodged before 1972 when he left for New Zealand, but I wouldn’t think the good folk at Centrelink, a monolithic Government body which administers all welfare payments, would want to go looking for those. Fortunately, the wonderful Cathy had found Frank’s apprenticeship papers, his birth certificate and his marriage certificate amongst the remains of his life. So we should be okay for that. I hope.
Frank is booked on a flight for Australia next weekend. A person from the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT – don’t you love this acronym shit?) will visit him the following Thursday. In the meantime, he will have to accompany me to open a bank account, apply for a pension and grant me Enduring Power of Attorney so I can sign documents such as the application for a place in an aged care facility, on his behalf. We’ll have his sheaf of papers, proving he exists.
So let that be a lesson. As far as Authority is concerned, you might be nothing but a number being crunched through a process, but, despite the e-revolution, bits of paper do matter – very, very much. To misquote Tolkien, keep them secret, and keep them safe.
The photo? That’s the sun setting over Auckland – somehow very fitting, don’t you think?
My sister died last September. Oh, don’t feel sorry. She’d had a good life and towards the end, she was more than ready to go. Always an intensely private person, the inevitably intrusive care became harder and harder to take, increasingly an affront to her dignity.
Even so, death has its impacts, mostly on the only one really close to her, her husband, Frank. They’d been together for forty years and more, no children, few friends. My husband and I travelled to New Zealand from our home in Australia to attend the funeral and do what we could to console Frank. We held the funeral service at the nursing home where Frank and my sister had lived for the past several years, a brief and simple service shared with a group of inmates at the home. Their turn would be coming up, soon enough. We were the only relatives there. The only person outside the hospital to attend was the gentleman who looked after my sister and her husband’s financial affairs.
One thing about death is, life goes on. Since we were now responsible for Frank, who has dementia, we did what we could to sort out his affairs in the few days we had in New Zealand. We were told he and his wife were admitted to an aged care hospital in the space of a day. They went to see a doctor, who took one look, and sent them into care. They never went home again. The house, of course, had to be sold and to do that, it had to be cleared. The contents were packed into a storage locker. You know the type. A space like a huge garage, for which you had the keys.
Despite the threat of rain, we obtained the keys to see what was there, thinking to perhaps take some important papers and family photos with us. Getting the lock-up open was a chore in itself. The lock hadn’t been opened for several years, and needed WD40 and some elbow grease. The door lifted, and there it was. The remains of a life.
Everything from a house was in there. Whoever had transported it, hadn’t packed the goods properly. Items had been shoved into old grocery boxes, glasses weren’t wrapped, nothing was sorted. We were confronted with a higgledy-piggledy pile of… stuff. A lathe stood next to a glass-fronted dresser. Frank’s tools (he used to be a master carpenter) in their home-made wooden boxes, were to the front. Figurines stood next to anonymous boxes. The frame for the water bed, built by Frank and inscribed F ♥ L, stood against the wall. The bladder was somewhere at the top and back, beyond the sofa. In a few hours we examined what we could, feeling a bit like mountaineers without safety gear as we clambered up precarious piles. We took a few family photos, a magnificent piece of scrimshaw, and a few of Frank’s antique and beautiful tools with us. It was all we could manage.
Fortunately for us, a lovely lady who is now a friend, offered to sort through the lock-up, looking for photos and documents. Everything that could not be sold, would be disposed of. Over the next several weeks, she would tell me what she found, some funny, some odd, some poignant. The people who had emptied the house, had not even thought to throw away food. She found packets of biscuits and other perishables all thrown in with the pots and pans, and out-of-date medication.
When it was all over, the auctions held, the lock-up emptied, Cathy told me of the profound effect the process had had on her and her husband. Fragments of a life, a thing of the past, all too soon forgotten in the march of time. Yet Cathy saw a life well-lived, not the old and frail couple she’d known at the nursing home. Time was when they were young and fit and strong. Frank and my sister had travelled extensively around New Zealand, had lived on both North and South islands. They would go out in their station wagon and see the world. At night, travelling on the cheap, they slept on a mattress in the back of the car. They had also been overseas to America, a couple of times back to Australia. And a few family members had visited them. Sure, gravity had its way over the years, as it does with us all, but in their fifties they still had a photo taken with Santa. I guess for me, it was enough to know that life had been good for them.
Meanwhile, stage two was unfolding. Frank was born in Australia, and he and my sister married in Australia. In the early nineteen-seventies, they decided to leave family ties behind and travel to New Zealand, where they’d lived ever since. But Frank had mentioned to me when I went to visit them briefly a couple of years ago, that he wanted to come home. To Australia. And at my sister’s funeral, he said that again. “I want to come home.”
Of course, I agreed to make it so. It would be easy. Of course it would.
Loss of old trees has meant a loss of nesting hollows for many Australian animals. My husband and I have tried to do our bit by putting up nest boxes in a few places. We’re still waiting for the microbats to find their little house, high up in the eaves. The other boxes were built for medium sized birds, like lorikeets and rosellas. One nest box with a larger opening has been occupied by the local possum, but we have two up-market apartments still vacant. One is next to where the possum lives, so I expect that’s ruined the neighbourhood. But the one on the other side of the pool, attached to a palm tree, is a mystery.
A pair of rosellas showed some interest, then the box was ignored. Until recently. One day, I thought something had moved in, but I checked with binoculars and it was just the light striking the inside of the box. But wait a minute – the entrance hole had been chewed. It wasn’t flaking paint and if you looked closely, you could almost see claw marks.
What was it?
Not parrots or day birds. They went up there, for sure, because the palm was in flower, and everyone loves palm nectar. The birds would sit on top of the box, but I never saw anything going in, or coming out, and there was no wear on the perch. Sure, the possum went up there to feed at night, but she wouldn’t fit in that hole. Besides, there was no sign of hair on the wood.
An owl? Microbats? I’ve looked for droppings, but there’s nothing. Besides, the box doesn’t bother the birds at all. They’ll sit on top to take nectar from the palm flowers.
This morning, a pair of lorikeets showed some interest. Here they are, inspecting the premises. One bird spent a lot of time actually putting his head in there. One picture seems to show he was unimpressed and maybe a bit fearful – but he put his head in, again.
It’s absolutely intriguing. Sure, we could get a ladder and look in through the top, but that’s not very neighbourly, is it? And who knows? Maybe we’ll get to hear the clitter-clatter of tiny claws some time. Wouldn’t that be nice?
By the way, any suggestions regarding the tenants would be welcome.
After I lot of thought, I’ve decided to create a new photo blog. That’s all it is, pure and simple, a place to share my life and what I see through the camera’s eye. There’ll be nothing about writing books, marketing or science, just nice photos with some accompanying text explaining what you’re looking at and how I came to be there. Which means I won’t post photos here, unless I feel they add something to my science interests or something. I used to post photos on Facebook but Facebook has started doing odd things and in the ever-present search for return on investment, a lot of posts don’t get much audience. I know quite a few people enjoyed my pictures. Links to my blog will appear as my status on FB each time I post a new story. This way, my friends can see them, but I can also share with a larger world.
Anyone who knows me will be aware of what you’ll find over there – sea, sky, clouds, whales, birds, insects. Maybe a few flowers. So here’s the link. Pop on over and have a look around. Click on a picture to see the article. Some stories (like the whale calf one) have multiple pictures. Oh, and please comment or like if you see something that tickles your fancy. It’s lovely to get feedback.
On this last day of 2012 I’m indulging in a little bit of reflection.
When I was younger, old people used to annoy me. They’d get in my way, putter around when I wanted to hurry. They’d shuffle along, backs bent, maybe a walking stick in hand. Silly old farts.
Like I said, maybe I’m getting ‘old’. These days I look at those old people, hunched over their canes, shuffling along, and I wonder what they were like when they were young. They’ve lived a life. Been to school, fallen over in the playground, kicked footballs, built billy-carts, had a cat or a dog or a horse, or maybe all of them. And then they were teenagers, bopping along to Buddy Holly or Bill Hayley. They went to the drive-in, snogged (or shagged) in the back seat of the car. Perhaps they sat in the back row of the pictures on a Saturday afternoon watching serials of Tom Mix or the Shadow.
Those folks might have had kids, gone through the trials and the joys of childbirth and raising a family. Now maybe there are grand-kids, perhaps great-grandkids.
There was a time when those backs were straight, those legs strong and active. Maybe, like me, the brain in that old head thinks it’s still thirty. Or twenty-one.
These days, I don’t have much time for the emails circulating amongst us retirees listing all the things ‘we’ used to have. So what? Time stops for no man. Life goes on. I remember my mum saying (in the eighties, I think) that she wouldn’t want to bring up children in ‘this day and age’. And she’d cite the cold war, and drugs and cars and crime and and and. This from a woman who married in the Great Depression and lived in occupied Holland through WW2 with five small children, before packing up the whole kit and caboodle and migrating to Australia in 1955. I hear it now, too, from people my age. Sure, I feel sorry for today’s kids in as much as they’ll find it harder to buy a home, they’ll have to cope with pollution and global warming. But my generation had its own burdens. Every generation does. And for every generation, it’s the same – and yet different. They’ll cope. It’s their life, their choices and they’ve never known anything else. And they never will.
I also don’t have much time for older people who won’t even try to cope with computers and the like. Sorry, but it really isn’t hard. It’s a matter of choice and the benefits of the internet far outweigh the drawbacks. The ability to easily keep in touch with friends and family is probably number one.
So I guess it’s possible I might be one of those with a bent back and a walking stick sooner, rather than later. But my brain won’t be old. Of that you can be sure.
Happy New Year, folks. And remember, that old fart was a young fart, once. Live life to the fullest. Try things. If you don’t like them, stop. Life is not a dress rehearsal.
Hallowe’en is no big deal in Australia – despite the best attempts by the retail stores. No, we set our sights on much more important matters than the Day of the Dead. Next Tuesday, the first Tuesday in November, the Melbourne Cup will be run and won. It’s a horse race, dare I say one of the most famous handicaps in the world. Run over 3200 metres (2 miles), these days it attracts stayers from around the world. But we’re a parochial bunch in Oz and we always prefer our own to win.
Australia has a love affair with sport, and horse racing gets a gig in the calendar all its own. Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival fits in nicely between the end of the football season (AFL and rugby league) and the beginning of the cricket. They run the Oaks, the Derby, the MacKinnon Stakes. But the Melbourne Cup’s the thing. They say it’s the race that stops a nation – and believe me, it does. Melbourne has a holiday on Cup day and for any other places, it might as well be. Restaurants, pubs and clubs around the country have Cup Day lunches, where you wine and dine and watch the Cup on the big screen. Even if you have to go to work, there’ll be a special spread of chicken and champagne and you’ll gather around a TV for the ten minutes it takes for the starters to go out on the course, run the race and return to scale. You’ll find a Cup sweep in every tin-pot country town, Aussies all over the world collecting in pubs and bars or around a tinny radio if there isn’t anything else. And for many, many people, it’s the only day in the year they’ll bet on a race. Forget about the form guide. What colours is the jockey wearing? What number is on the saddle cloth? What was last night’s dream about?
The popularity of this horse race is immense. The crowd on race day is expected to be over 100,000 people. That says something in itself, in a city with a population of about 4 million. But the first time the crowd stood at 100,000 was in 1926, when Melbourne’s population hadn’t quite reached 1 million. Think on that. One person in every ten was at Flemington racecourse at around 2pm on the first Tuesday in November.
So all you folks around the world, if you can’t get much sense out of an Aussie mid-afternoon next Tuesday (Eastern Daylight saving time), you’ll know why. Raise your champers, say ‘cheers’ and join the race that stops a nation.
Do you guys have anything similar? Please share.
My writing buddy Toby Neal wrote a piece just the other day about all the jobs she’s done, roles she’s played in her life. Reading it brought back my own memories; places I’ve been, things I’ve done. I won’t bore you with all of it, but more than one person has asked me how a BA(Hons) graduate in history ended up a computer programmer. So come back with me, into the dim, dark past. (Late-seventies, actually).
I got a scholarship to go to uni. My only ambition was to go to university. I had no career in mind (having long before decided that I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor), I just wanted that piece of paper with my name on it. So there I was, with letters after my name. Now what? Well, to cut to the chase, I tried the army, teaching, clerical stuff and a few other things thrown in and ended up as a clerk in a Government Department. This one just paid money to people, provided they passed all the criteria, of which (needless to say) there were a heap. There weren’t too many computers around then. Just great big IBM mainframes with their own special machine rooms. But small machines were starting to filter through and one clever man I worked with figured you could a write a program to enter the responses for the criteria and thereby generate the appropriate letter to send to applicants. Saves money by avoiding stacks of form letters.
I’d always been led to believe that a programmer had to be good at maths, which I wasn’t. I’d done an aptitude test for programming when I finished uni, and received a polite ‘no thanks’ letter. So I had no ambitions in that respect. I was a dutiful little clerk and collected all the criteria we employed and grouped them for the clever man who would program the computer. I gave the list to our resident genius on a Friday afternoon just before home time. He looked down his nose at me and said, “I haven’t got time for this. You do it.”
My jaw dropped. “What? Me?” I squeaked.
“Yeah, it’s just if… then statements.”
“C’m ‘ere. I’ll show you.”
So I got a thirty second lesson in if… then statements and he disappeared out the door.
I went home in a fug. Not me. I couldn’t do this. I was trained as a reasonable historian, a pretty ordinary teacher. I couldn’t add up to save my life. I drifted through the weekend, doing I can’t remember what, but those bloody criteria wouldn’t go away. If the client answered 1 to question A then B had to be 2…
Monday morning, I took out my list and started writing.
IF $A = 1 then
$B = 2
IF $A = 2 then
$B = 4
You get the idea.
I remember my mentor (let’s call him Jim) came in with his trademark take away coffee in his hand. I stopped him in front of my desk.
“Is this right?” I said.
He tried to hide his grin behind the polystyrene cup. “Yep. Now go enter it into the computer.”
Yes, me. He took me into the ‘computer room’ where the machine sat on a desk, a Wang micro with 4Kb of RAM (yes, four) and two little cassette tape drives, one for the program, one for the data. The data entry girls entered the data (duh) and the program printed out the form letters. I was introduced to the editor on the system and a manual explaining the Wang variant of Basic for this machine.
And I fell in love. Turns out I have impeccable problem solving skills and a great logic engine. And, I might add, the humility to know that if the program is wrong, it’s not the computer, it’s my incorrect instructions. Soon, I attended programming lessons at night school and because this was a very new discipline, I was able to spend hours each evening playing with a small Vax system at a technical school. Then I gave up work for a year to get a qualification so I could get a job as a programmer. The rest, as they say, is history.
History? Isn’t that where we started from?
For the record, the history degree and the teaching qualification came in very handy. Unlike most people in the industry, I could string a sentence together and write a good report. I also knew how to structure and conduct classes to teach people how to use the systems I constructed, and how to give formal presentations. Nothing is ever wasted.
And now I use my programming background to sketch in some details in Morgan’s Choice. What goes around, comes around.