The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Greg Sheri­dan

You know you are get­ting just the tini­est bit older not when the po­lice­men start to look young. Nor in­deed when the nurses start to look young. They looked young even when you were a kid. Nor still yet when the GPs start to look young.

No, two things sig­nal the pass­ing of rather a large amount of time.

One is when the em­i­nent spe­cial­ist physi­cians you con­sult as the ma­chin­ery starts to break down are so lu­di­crously youth­ful you can’t re­ally be­lieve they need to shave. The other is when the rebel yell youth move­ment rev­o­lu­tion gen­er­a­tion rock ra­dio sta­tion you lis­ten to in the car, as a pri­vate men­tal con­fir­ma­tion that you are still hip and loose and rad­i­cal your­self, starts ad­ver­tis­ing re­tire­ment vil­lages, mo­bil­ity aids and arthri­tis treat­ments.

(I Can’t Get No) Sat­is­fac­tion fol­lowed by some age­ing rocker DJ telling you that a reg­u­lar an­nu­ity pay­ment is the best way to use your money in re­tire­ment.

Yikes! The rev­o­lu­tion may or may not be tele­vised but the sub­ti­tles will be in large print for fail­ing eyes.

It al­ways seems a par­tic­u­lar be­trayal of youth for a sports star to grow old. I was shocked the other day to find Ian Chap­pell, whose early ex­ploits I thrilled to as a child, is now in his 70s. The mag­nif­i­cent Richie Be­naud, on the other hand, seemed never to change from one decade to an­other un­til finally he left us, ex­ud­ing all the time his char­ac­ter­is­tic gra­cious­ness.

At a rea­son­able dis­tance Al­lan Bor­der still looks some­thing like he did in his play­ing days, but there he was on my TV screen ad­ver­tis­ing a cir­cu­la­tion booster, which is not some­thing, I sus­pect, the av­er­age By­ronic youth in the first flush of romantic re­bel­lion and pas­sion­ate life ex­plo­ration is likely to be af­ter.

It can be se­ri­ous trou­ble for peo­ple if they can’t ad­just to the stage of life they are in. Most no­tably, when you first marry and have kids it is a jolt from the wild, or at least hap­pily ir­re­spon­si­ble, ways of sin­gle­dom.

One of the great­est con­fu­sions arises from try­ing to dis­tin­guish an age ef­fect from a co­hort ef­fect. In the early 1960s Donald Horne wrote the clas­sic The Lucky Coun­try. In it he con­fi­dently pre­dicted Aus­tralia would soon enough be­come a repub­lic be­cause most young peo­ple favoured the repub­lic. The old peo­ple, op­posed to that change, would die off, the young peo­ple would be­come the ma­jor­ity and, hey presto, good­bye to the con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy.

The prob­lem was that as young peo­ple get older they be­come more con­ser­va­tive. The wis­dom of that most pro­found philo­soph­i­cal apho­rism — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — starts to ap­peal to them more. The value of a civic or­der that is peace­ful, law bound, sta­ble, pre­dictable — this be­comes a lot more ob­vi­ous.

So youth­ful sup­port for the repub­lic seems to be an age ef­fect.

A co­hort ef­fect, on the other hand, stays with a spe­cific group, even as its mem­bers grow old and mouldy. A taste for the Rolling Stones, an idea that us­ing rude words is in some way rad­i­cal or chic (be­cause it will shock their par­ents), the sense that coarse­ness is a sign of au­then­tic­ity, and above all the taste for the mu­sic of rock faux re­bel­lion (much of which is in­deed good mu­sic) that be­gan with the Bea­tles, these are at­tributes that stay with the baby boomers.

John Howard al­ways thought he did bet­ter with the gen­er­a­tion that came be­fore the baby boomers and the gen­er­a­tion that came af­ter them than with boomers them­selves.

This is be­cause so many baby boomers had their po­lit­i­cal at­ti­tudes de­fined by their mis­be­got­ten mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Viet­nam War and the ab­surd non­sen­si­cal mock heroic role they as­signed to the demon­stra­tors of that era, who so com­pre­hen­sively lost in­ter­est in the hu­man rights of ac­tual Viet­namese hu­man be­ings once the Amer­i­cans were de­feated.

But, as a baby boomer my­self, while mostly in op­po­si­tion to typ­i­cal boomer pol­i­tics, there is one area where I am, as Billy Sned­den might have said, on the wave­length of my gen­er­a­tion. From the Bea­tles to Mick Jag­ger to the Beach Boys to Billy Joel, yea even unto Lou Reed, this is the rhythm of my life …

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