Have you noticed something about the women who were honoured this year in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list?
Have you noticed that a significant number of these leaders in business, the media, STEM, women’s rights, Indigenous recognition, and innovation are women over the age of 50 – usually referred to as ‘older women’.
These women have quite rightly been recognised for their valuable contributions to society.So why is it that women over 50 are generally regarded in the media and in terms of employment as having expended their value with their youth?
A recent Human Rights Commission report found that 30% employers would not employ an older person. The majority of people now on Newstart are older people, mainly older women. And they stay on Newstart much longer than younger people as their chances of getting employment are minimal.
There is a massive disconnect between what older women can and do contribute to society, and the prevailing attitudes towards them and their capabilities.
The fact that for the first time ever, 40% of those honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list were women does not mean that older women suddenly started doing stuff. They have always been doing the work, but it has not been publicly acknowledged. It has never won the recognition commensurate to the degree that reflected the actual achievements and involvement of older women.
But we have now reached the stage that we have such a critical mass of women doing great things that it can no longer be ignored. Perceptions have begun to shift. Campaigns such as Honour A Woman deserve great credit for making this a public issue.
This is important not only to give acknowledgement to the women themselves. It is also important to provide the younger generation with role models. As Julia Gillard in her campaign to promote women’s leadership always says – ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
But that still leaves us with literally tens of thousands of women ageing into poverty and homelessness because they are unable to find work. And I would like to remind you, that this is the first generation of older women as a demographic group who have been to university, have professions and expertise, and have spent decades in the workforce. But now employers won’t even consider them when they seek work.
Which means that employers are actually overlooking people with valuable sets of skills.
A recent internal review by Google into the top characteristics of successful employees revealed that soft skills were the biggest indicator of success. Soft skills were defined as : being a good coach, communicating and listening well, possessing insights into other values and points of view, having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues, being a good critical thinker and problem-solver, and being able to make connections across complex ideas.
Older women have honed these soft skills over many years and possess them in abundance.
This election is characterised by bipartisan blindness. Both the Coalition’s 2019 Budget and the Budget Reply show that Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten have overlooked a looming national crisis.
Neither is prepared to recognise that older women in Australia are ageing into poverty and homelessness in unprecedented numbers. These women remain invisible to both leaders and to their party platforms.
So it seems we can best describe it as an ‘Invisible’ crisis.
And yet the statistics are available to those who want to see them.
1,060,515 women aged 65+are living on or below the poverty line ( ABS 2016 Census)
1 in 3 single women aged 55+ live in poverty (Australian Human Rights Commission April 2019)
Older women were the fastest growing cohort of homeless people between 2011 and 2016. (AHRC 2019)
63% increase in five years of older women accessing specialist homeless services in 2017-18 (AHRC )
Approximately 48% of women aged 45 to 64 have no superannuation or own less than $40,000 (AHRC)
More people, particularly women aged 55-64, are on Newstart than younger people and they are on it for much longer ( ABS 2018 & The Benevolent Society 2019)
35.5% of Australian pensioners, the majority being women aged 65+, live inincome poverty compared to only 18.4% in Turkey! (OECD statistics 2018)
Yes, both parties did budget for increases in aged care, but we are not talking about women in aged care facilities or those receiving home care. We are talking about women who still maintain independent living. And it is these women who are struggling to pay for the basic necessities of food and housing, as documented by the excellent comprehensive 2019 Australian Human Rights Commission Background Paper: Older Women’s Risk of Homelessness.
The number of older women becoming impoverished is rising so rapidly that we arefacing a national crisis. And it will only grow worse. By 2030 around 1 in 4 Australians will be 65+. The majority will be women and a growing percentage of them will have no financial security or housing.
Bill Shorten spoke compassionately about people becoming impoverished throughexpensive cancer treatment. He is right and the new measures his party proposes are welcome.
However, older women as a demographic group, are not becoming impoverished solely or even chiefly through illness. They are becoming impoverished by virtue of having led conventional lives. They did everything right – got an education, entered the workforce, raised families or cared for family, and did most of society’s unpaid work. They can’t be accused of being slothful or wasting their years on drugs. They are the archetypal ‘hard-working Australians.’
So how is it that many in this generation are now destitute and homeless?
They are proof of the dangerous long-term consequences of depriving women of equal work opportunities, equal pay and advancement, and concentrating them in low paid or part-time professions.
Remarkably, these women were the first generation of Australian women in history to have higher education, professions and expertise, and decades in the workforce. They should have been better off than previous generations of women. But as they have aged, they have been left with fewer assets and superannuation than men.
Most of them have no super as it was introduced too late for them. But those who do have some super, prove that super is failing women. Currently women retire with on average $157,050 while men retire with $270,710. Super was designed specifically and unthinkingly for men in the workforce. It did not take into account unequal pay and time out of the work-force raising families and the subsequent inability to re-enter the workforce. Perhaps it was assumed that there was a male partner who earns the ‘real’ income.
Australia is now reaping the consequences of social and economic practices that have disadvantaged women’s financial independence and undermined their financial security. So much so that after the age of 50,it only takes an unfortunate event to push women towards penury – death of a partner, divorce, domestic violence, an inability to find work.
Bill Shorten did not relate to this issue. Instead he spoke about ‘intergenerational’ issues.
This ‘intergenerational’ argument which has taken off lately is extremely disturbing. It is populist talk that pushes stereotypes of rich boomers who have everything and now are standing in the way of younger people getting homes and everything else. It pits onesection of the population against the other. It distorts reality and is a dangerous demonisation of an entire demographic.
What it does most effectively is that it diverts attention away from the real sources ofinequality. That is, government policies that enabled speculators and investors, local and foreign, to drive house prices up astronomically.
If older women are still able to live in their homes it’s not because they are exploitingothers but because they bought their homes decades ago when all Australians, including the working class, were able to buy homes. They are not the ones who have made homes unaffordable.
Nor can young people blame older women for exorbitantly high rents. In fact it is older women who suffer most from unaffordable housing. Virtually no properties on the commercial rental market can be afforded by women pensioners without assets. Social or public housing has long waiting lists — 60,000 in NSW alone. Waiting time is up to ten years. And compared to young people, their chances of being able to keep working or even to find jobs diminishes dramatically with age. That’s why we see them couch surfing, sleeping in cars, and even in cemeteries. And that’s why experts say that this masks the real scale of homelessness as women are less visible than if they were sleeping on the streets.
And yet neither party committed to supporting the large-scale construction of social housing. A measure so desperately needed.
Age discrimination in workplace
Neither the Government nor Labour will commit to raising Newstart. But Scott Morrison goes even further. His stated aim is to pressure people off Newstart. “ What we’re doing is getting those people in record numbers who are on Newstart into jobs – that’s the best form of welfare, “ he told ABC’s News Breakfast.
But the reason older women are on Newstart longer than the young is because rampant age discrimination prevents them from holding and getting jobs. A newly released government report, Employing Older Workers, by the Australian Human Rights Commission, found that almost a third of Australian employers will not employ people over 50, despite the practice being illegal.
Tax cuts are not going to improve the lives of older women significantly. The Government will only apply tax cuts to people earning over $40,000. Labour will lower that threshold. But many women who are low-income, in part-time work or not working at all, are unlikely to see much if any benefit from this measure.
For younger women in the workforce today, the experience of this older generation offers salutary lessons. Unless gender equality is achieved and superannuation is revised, the only thing that stands between women in the workforce today and future poverty is a few years and a bit of good luck.
So the question remains – when will our leaders recognise this ‘Invisible’ Crisis – the plight of older women, and begin to address this as a national problem?
Paul Keating recently expressed fears that as our population ages it will be divided into two Australias – the privileged Australia with all sorts of assets, and the Australia of people condemned to the pension and poverty. But we are already there. We already have a generation of older women who have worked all their lives and now find themselves impoverished. They are women aged over 55 and there are over a million of them.
Referred to disparagingly as ‘boomers’, these women were actually the first generation of women in history to enter the universities, the professions and the workforce in mass numbers. This should have ensured their financial security as they aged. For many it did, but for too many it has not.
To try to find out how many older women face impoverishment you have to really search for the statistics. Older women are not only invisible socially, but are also often overlooked in economic data. Specific statistics about them are usually not included or appear as an afterthought.
Take for example, John Daley CEO of the Grattan Institute who rejected Keating’s fears of impoverished old Australians and breezily assured us that super and “savings won’t run out at 90 – multiple sources show that on current trends most Australians die with savings almost as large as when they retired.”
Which trends was he referring to? Certainly they totally overlooked older women who have neither savings nor super.
Two other recent reports were just as cheery. Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report pronounced that Australia has overtaken Switzerland as the country with the highest median wealth per adult in the world. Figures about older women facing dire financial stress were subsumed by the general affluence. And the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research added to this bountiful picture by remarking that the median standard of living of older Australians has improved but is “held down by the typically much lower balances of women, which average 64 per cent less than men’s.”
WHAT IS THE REAL PICTURE?
The ABS 2016 Census recorded that there were 1,060,515 women aged 65+ whose income was less than $499 per week, with $433 per week being the poverty line. That was two years ago. The number of women in this cohort has increased since then and will continue to do so.
OECD statistics this year recorded that 35.5% of Australian pensioners, the majority being women aged 65+, live in income poverty compared to only 18.4% in Turkey! The figures in the table show just how badly Australia compares to other OECD countries.
One in three Australian single women – unmarried, divorced or widowed – live in poverty by the time they are aged 60.
Thirty percent of people on Newstart are over the age of 50, and most are women.
About 40% of renters aged 65 and over are below the poverty line. And, among those living alone, the poverty rate rises to 60%. The majority are women.
We are already seeing thousands of homeless older women who can only afford to eat one meal a day, who couch surf, sleep in cars, or on the streets, or even in cemeteries.
Their economic disadvantage is the consequence of a history of gender discrimination.
An entire generation of women over 55 spent decades in the workforce but have little or no superannuation whatsoever because super was introduced only in 1992.
And throughout their working lives, these women suffered decades of economic discrimination, inequality and injustice in the following ways:
Working women were forced or encouraged by their employers to quit their jobs once they married, became pregnant or had children. This was a widely acceptable practice. For example, it was only in 1966 that the Marriage Bar was lifted so that Australian women in the public service could continue to work after marriage. Nowadays, women would sue for wrongful dismissal. It was not an option back then.
They received unequal pay and unequal opportunity across all professions and jobs throughout their working lives, regardless of position and seniority.
Maternity leave was unpaid.
Barriers prevented women re-entering the workforce after time-out raising children. If women were able to re-enter the workforce, it was usually part-time. Both their pay and promotion were consequently severely compromised.
No childcare subsidies were available to enable them to remain in the
Women carried out unpaid labour caring for dependents, including the elderly.
This economic discrimination has resulted in financial and social problems on an unprecedented scale. It has meant that unlike men, women enter old age with little savings, super or assets. And they are expected to make it last for 20-30 years.
These women worked, raised families, cared for relatives, and contributed essential services to society. Society could not function without their essential work. And it was work. A lifetime of unpaid and underpaid labour, as well as unequal access to employment and advancement. To abandon them now is unconscionable. It is also not a realistic option.
Nor is it realistic to tell them to go get a job.
The reality is that because of ageism, older women cannot get work however much they would like to both earn an income and use a lifetime of skills and professional expertise.
A newly released government report, Employing Older Workers, overseen by the Australian Human Rights Commission, found that almost a third of Australian employers will not employ people over 50, despite the practice being illegal. The government has let them continue to do so without sanctions. Some of those discriminatory employers may include government agencies.
Nevertheless, the Federal Government just issued new regulations that will make things even worse for older job seekers. As of September 20, in order to continue receiving Newstart, job seekers aged 55 to 59 who previously had to do 30 hours per fortnight of voluntary work, must now do at least half of these hours as paid work. And those over 60, will for the first time, have to do 10 hours of paid work per fortnight.
In the face of the clear evidence of discrimination against older workers, this regulation can only be interpreted as a cynical policy to cut off even the inadequate Newstart funding that they receive.
Inevitably, it will exacerbate an already perilous situation for older Australians.
We belong to a generation of pioneers – women over the age of 50.
But we don’t really see ourselves as a pioneering generation. And we certainly are not given any credit for it. So maybe it’s worthwhile remembering just what we did pioneer.
* We are the first generation in history of older, highly educated women to number in the
tens of millions.
* We are the first generation of older women who have spent decades in the
workforce in professions and skilled employment, and not in the
sweatshops and fields.
* We are the first generation of women to be able to take control of our bodies and our
fertility and access contraception and legal abortions.
* We are the generation of women who made feminism mainstream.
And now that we are the first generation of women who can expect to live into their 90s, we really need to talk about how we want to age.
In the OLD SHEILAS SPEAKING UP group, we want to be able to speak up about our lives as women over 50 – our achievements, our struggles, what worries us, what’s not right, and discuss how we can improve things for women in our age group.
In the same way we pioneered the choices for women when we were young, now we need to spearhead social change regarding women ageing. This is the last frontier of feminism.
We know that ageing somehow makes us invisible and silent to the rest of society. This is really not acceptable since we are one of the largest sectors of the Australian population. In the OLD SHEILAS SPEAKING UP group we’ll speak and listen. And we intend to make ourselves heard.
We could have called our group matriarchs or elders because that is what we are. But being Australian, we do serious things with a bit of a giggle and that’s why we take pride in calling ourselves Old Sheilas.
Let’s start by listing what other people call us, we women over 50 – matron, old lady, granny, biddy, old bag, crone, hag, witch, are some of the names used.
There is nothing positive about these appellations. They are either neutral or negative.
They denote weakness, ugliness, helplessness and even evil.
They constitute a massive put down.
In a society that values women primarily for their youthful beauty, sexual and reproductive powers, the more we age, the more we lose value. Our currency as women is devalued.
Until we become invisible.
Ask around and hear how many older women will tell you they feel invisible. Discarded.
Men gain gravitas and authority as they age, women are enfeebled and disappear from the
This does not reflect our true role in society.
Nor does it reflect who we women are and how we see ourselves.
We are a powerful force not only in the lives of our families, but also in the general community.
We include millions of women, the first generation in history, to have higher education.
We are the first generation of women in history who, en masse, entered the professions and an unprecedented range of occupations.
We are the first generation in history to have spent decades in the workforce – full-time and
All this while raising and/or caring for families – children, partners and parents.
We have a lifetime of expertise, skills, experience and knowledge.
And we just happen to be the largest demographic group in Australia.
There is power in our numbers.
It’s time for us to demand that older women be more visible and play a more prominent role in society. The campaign to have more women in leadership positions must include not only young women, but also older women. Older women should be present in all levels of government, on boards and in the media.
Older women must also be more involved in making policy and dealing with the critical issues facing women as we age – senior entrepreneurship, ageism in the workplace, poverty, homelessness, innovative housing and social solutions, aged care and elder abuse.
The existing approaches to an ageing population are outdated and collapsing. And the political establishment has little awareness and no commitment to tackling these issues.
A good starting point is proper recognition and acknowledgement of the critical roles
women have played and continue to play. It’s time we got, what Aretha Franklin demanded – R-E-S-P-E-C-T. As well as more decision-making P-O-W-E-R.
Changing the names we are called may begin to change the way we are perceived.
We should get to decide how we define ourselves and what we are called.
Earlier feminists didn’t want to be defined by their marital status so Mrs. and Miss were changed successfully to Ms as a form of address.
WomanGoingPlaces likes the appellation Matriarchs. It denotes respected status, power, wisdom, leadership and knowledge. ‘A powerful and usually older woman in charge of a family, or the female leader of a society in which women hold power’ is the definition of Matriarchs given by the Cambridge Dictionary.
We’d love to hear your suggestions of what you would like to be called and how you would like to be described. Go to our FACEBOOK page and join the discussion.
We, the Matriarchs… are the first generation in history of older, highly educated women to number in the tens of millions.
We are the first ever generation of older women who have spent decades in the workforce in professions and skilled employment, and not in the sweatshops and the fields.
We are the first ever generation of older women who have accumulated independent wealth and economic clout, despite discriminatory wage practices.
And we are the first ever generation of older women who can expect to live into their 90s.
But now we are entering the age of retirement.
What next? What does society expect of us?
Well, nothing really. We are the most invisible segment of the population. If they see us at all we are only seen as stereotypes – kindly grannies, old hags, frail spinsters or old biddies selfishly occupying homes that could better be used by young families. I went to a luncheon for International Women’s Day attended by over 400 women. So little was expected of this large congregation of women that the only sponsor was a funeral home.
The Last Frontier of Feminism
Over the last decades, feminists have addressed the issues in the life cycles of girls and women – contraception, abortion, education and workplace equality, child-care etc . But only now are we feminists of the ‘60s hitting our own 60s. Only now are we ourselves facing the problems of older women and experiencing the magnitude of the discrimination.
Women ageing is the last frontier of feminism.
A National Asset
Older women are seen as a national liability, whereas in fact, we are a national asset.
We are actually the fastest growing sector of the Australian population, we have significant spending power as a group, and remarkably we are a key driving force in the creation of start-up enterprises. More older women are creating new businesses in the US, England and Australia than cool young males.
We are society’s unlikely innovators. Creating new enterprises, re-inventing ourselves and re-defining how women age.
And we have had to take matters into our own hands and find our own way because there are no good roadmaps for women ageing in contemporary society. Society offers us few options. Thirty years is a long time to babysit the grandchildren, garden or play golf.
Instead, we see the coming years as a considerable period in our working lives uninterrupted by child bearing and rearing. Years in which to deploy a lifetime of experience and expertise. We enjoy using our highly developed talents and skills, but few employers are willing to give us work.
“Like kryptonite to Superman”, ageism is a huge barrier to female employment, notes the incomparable Kathy Lette.
Senior Women Entrepreneurs
Undaunted, many women over 50 have taken to the internet in mass numbers and are setting up our own enterprises. Astonishingly, baby boomers are expected to contribute an additional $11.9 billion to Australia’s GDP, specifically by starting online businesses. The numbers of male and female entrepreneurs are roughly equal at present, but Dr. Alex Maritz, Professor of Entrepreneurship LaTrobe University predicts a surge in women senior entrepreneurs.
Vulnerable Older Women
Older women continue to work, not only because we can and want to, but also out of necessity. We all know how precarious the situation is for many older women, particularly those in their sixties and older with limited or non-existent incomes.
We were the generation that worked decades before super was introduced. Then there are the cumulative effects of a lifetime of discrimination: lower pay than men because women were not “ the main breadwinner”; part-time work; lower paid professions and the exclusion from the top professional and business levels. Add to this, the years out of the workforce to have children and look after family members. Re-entry to the workforce then becoming either impossible or with reduced pay.
Since statistically, women live longer than men and only 15% will have their husband alive when they die, most women will lose the couples’ pension. Living on one pension with the government relentlessly chipping away at it, is forcing women to sell their homes.
With pensions cut and no jobs available for older women, not surprisingly, in the past five years, there has been a 44% increase in older women becoming homeless.
I am reminded of a film I saw about a Japanese man taking his ageing mother on his back up a mountain to leave her there to die. That was a traditional way of dealing with ageing women.
We must speak out against our government’s policy of impoverishing older women.
But we must not frame the discussion around older women solely in terms of helplessness and national liability.
We must provide opportunities for older women to earn an income in dignity and speak out against ageism in employment.
Not all women want to open up their own businesses, but the many that do must be given the legislative support, funding and incentives provided to the start-ups of younger people.
Australia has an enormous reserve of skilled womanpower that we cannot afford to waste.
And we older women, don’t want to live this part of our lives in the straitjacket of society’s expectations.
That is the mandate of WomanGoingPlaces. To showcase the older women of Oz in all our rich variety, wisdom, strength and accomplishments.
My name is Ajok. I come from South Sudan (in 2005). Before I came from South Sudan, it was all Sudan, not separate. But we are separate now, we are South Sudan now. And when I came to Australia, I go to Khartoum first then to Egypt. And we do the process with my husband and my kids. I born two kids in Egypt, and we came to Australia.
How long did you have to spend in Egypt?
Three years. We do process three years in Egypt.
Was it dangerous leaving Sudan and can you describe the journey from Sudan to Egypt?
When we come from Sudan to Egypt we have war in Sudan. That’s why we come to Egypt, with my husband. Egypt is very good.
What was the hardest thing for you when you arrived ?
When we arrived here ( in Australia), I don’t know the language very well. We have Dinka and we have Arabic in Sudan before. But when we come here, we don’t know English. I’m listening, but I didn’t talk. When I came here, I didn’t go to school. My husband went to school first and I stay with kids. It’s hard. When my husband go to school I will stay with my kids and when we don’t have something in my house, we wait until my husband coming back home.
You couldn’t go out and do the shopping?
Ah no. I have small kids, two or three, no-one with me. I’m waiting for my husband coming. My husband learn to drive and this is helping. We do everything together. And now we are happy. My husband finished school in 2010. When we coming from Sudan, he had three years in uni. And now he finished here – medical doctor. And now my children – the older one now is going to the uni, designer, and we are happy. And the second one now in year 11 and we are happy too. And the last one in year 1. I have six boys and one girl. And my husband and me we are happy in Australia.
Not all kids, but some kids, they don’t listen to us. They say these rules in Australia is good. But when they go out, they don’t do good things. Your Mum not there, your Dad not there, no older ones to say to you “Don’t do this, Don’t do this. ” That’s why they do crime, crime in the streets, crime everywhere. And then every white people they see black people and think they don’t do good things. But not all. This is not our culture. This is the rule for Australia culture.
Ajok in Wyndham Women of South Sudan 2017 calendar
How does it make you feel?
We feel no good. For us, when you see on the TV they say black people do this, they do this, you not feeling good. You feeling like tell your kid and your family to go back in your country. But not safe in our country. That’s why we are here. We don’t do anything.
When we come to Australia, the Australia rule say when your baby or child turning 18, they go out. But in our culture, no. You stay with your kid. Your boy – when they have married they stay in the house, not go outside. And girls too, when they are married they go with their husband (family). And here rule in Australia this is a bad rule in Australia, that when the kid is 18 and then they go out to take care of themselves. This broke our hearts. And we sad for this one.
But now our kids not listen to us.
We want to talk with the Australian people. We are good people. We are not bad people. This is kids who take the rule here. This rule is not our rule.
This is my dream, I pray to God, all my kids to be good, not take the Australia rule and all this. They follow the school and they follow good things, not follow bad things. This is my dream.
Wyndham Women of South Sudan 2017 calendar
*The Wyndham Women of South Sudan group was set up to provide English literacy skills and to build a community. The English class produced a 2017 calendar which features some traditional Sudanese recipes.
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https://womangoingplaces.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Ajok.jpg480640Rosalie Zycher//womangoingplaces.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/wgp-logo_new_v18.pngRosalie Zycher2017-04-16 12:05:362017-04-16 13:11:15Ajok - Women of Oz
My name is Fatma. I come from Sudan with my husband. We have eight kids, six boys and two girls.
Where did you come from in Sudan?
We come from Khartoum and then we are moving to Egypt and then we come here in Australia 2004. We are happy in Australia. Just I’m sad, I didn’t have anyone here, no sister, no brother, no anyone.
You left family?
Yeah, all there.
About your journey, how did you travel?
From Sudan to Australia, I live in Egypt four years, and then we do the process to Australia. From Egypt to Australia by plane.
And from Sudan to Egypt?
From Sudan to Egypt by boat.
Can you describe the journey?
It was difficult. Me alone with the kids, four boys, it’s very hard for me. And every day I pray, Oh God help me with my kids, until we get to my husband and I’m very happy about it.
Was it a dangerous journey?
Yes, very dangerous, very scary. Some people stealing some things, some people steal kids. I’m scared, I say, Oh my God, me alone – no-one to help me. Just me with four boys and all just small. Then we are coming very good, nothing happen to us until we get to Egypt.
And was it dangerous for you to leave your hometown?
Yes, it’s dangerous. It’s very dangerous. The people just kill people and everyone is scared. My Mum died and I didn’t see her and then my Dad died too.
What was happening in your hometown when you left?
Just rebels, they took people and there were some bad people.
Was there hunger then?
Yes. Until now, it’s not safe. Everybody’s scared.
When you first came to Australia, can you describe how you felt?
Yes. When I first come, it was very hard. In Sudan, I would just go to school with Arabic. English, it’s a bit harder. And then I know A,B,C….I know some stuff. And when I come here, I don’t know the money. My husband start work straight away, my husband good, he have full English.
I call him when we need to go shopping and ask what do we do? He say “ Just take the money and give to some person and then take the money back.” And then when I go to shop, every day I give fifty dollars. I was scared if I give small money, maybe they say, Ay, this lady steal.
One day I tell my husband, “See, a lot of money I put in the bin.”
He say, “Why put this change in the bin? “
I say, “ Nothing you can do with it, all this small.”
He say, “ No, no, no. This a lot of money.” And then we go to the bank, and they count the money and give us five hundred for (the coins). They say “ This is a lot of money Fatma, don’t do that.”
Fatma in Wyndham Women of South Sudan 2017 calendar
All my English, I get in the group (Wyndham Women of South Sudan English classes*). I didn’t study school when I come here. Always I have kids, I have kids, I have kids. Ah, I say when can I go to school? When my kids come home hungry nothing can eat, I don’t want to go to school. And then when I get the group like that, I start group until my English now is good. Yeah, I’m very happy.
You love coming to school?
Yes, yes. This time I have only one daughter, 3 years-old. I don’t want any child now for the moment. When I improve my English, I need to find a job.
What sort of job would you like?
A lot of people don’t know a lot about Sudanese women. What do you want to tell them about yourself?
We are Sudanese. We have full respect. We don’t like trouble. We don’t like someone just shouting like here. Some white people like shouting at people. We are Sudanese, we are scared. And then someone talk with you, you put your eyes down, and then the Australian, he doesn’t like that. When you put your eyes down, he say, “Ah those people, she didn’t have respect.” We have full respect.
We don’t know how to eat outside. Everything I do it at home – cooking, cleaning – everything. You do everything at home on time, and then when your husband coming, you respect your husband, give him food, eat the food, and then you take the dishes, do for him some tea. Everything we are doing at home. No-one go out, say I go eat out today. No, we don’t have that. We have full respect. Here some people just forgot the respect.
For the kids, not hard. When we’re come here, they all young. Now, all have full English. Sometimes, I want to speak my language, the little one, she didn’t understand and then I push them. I tell them don’t forget your culture, don’t forget your language. Yes, just like that, every day I tell them that.
Australia now is good. We are just scared about our kids when grow up – a lot of trouble. It’s very hard for us.
Now I understand everything, I know the rules, I’m driving the car. Everything is good.
Wyndham Women of South Sudan 2017 calendar
*The Wyndham Women of South Sudan group was set up to provide English literacy skills and to build a community. The English class produced a 2017 calendar which features some traditional Sudanese recipes.
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WomanGoingPlaces interviewed Esther, aged 107, with her daughter Norma. Esther has lived in an aged care facility since she was 102. Prior to that she lived independently. Throughout her long life, she travelled extensively in Australia, especially in the family caravan, with her late husband and her daughters. These trips were a joyful and an important part of Esther’s family life. She and Norma share some of these memories.
Esther: Oh yeah there was always picnics.The picnics? We use to go in a horse and cart. That I remember. (See photo below)
Rosalie:Did it take long? You were in Elwood at that point?
Esther:I don’t remember where we were living then.
Augustine: How long did it take you to get to the beach in a horse and cart?
Esther: Haha, a long time. Then I think we all must of had a little swim.
Norma: Do you remember the bathers that you use to wear? That the men use to wear, from the neck to knees?
Esther: Oh yes, and the ladies.
Augustine: What sort of bathers did you wear?
Esther: The same – Neck-to-knees.
Augustine: Did you enjoy being on the road?
Esther: Yes, it wasn’t what it is now. There were no idiots or drunks or drugs or anything like that.
Norma: We could pull up and camp anywhere and nobody worried, and you weren’t worried about being robbed or anything.
Esther: We camped one year I remember it was getting late, this was when the girls were with me in a caravan. I said “look we better go in here, its getting dark.” It was dark and we didn’t know where we were. We were at a cemetery. Do you remember that?
Norma: I do remember, Dad always said you never know where you might wake up. It might be somewhere wonderful. It’s an adventure.
Esther: In a cemetery. That didn’t worry us.
Norma: And you had a very good philosophy about it, and I do it now with my children and my grandchildren I tell them the same thing. When we got lost, remember what we use to say? You’d say “Oh it doesn’t matter. It’s just an adventure. Who knows where we’ll turn up?”
Augustine: What holidays did you take when you were married?
Esther: You want to know how I met my husband? Back then it use to be a Jewish dance every Sunday night. And this particular one I was in was a . . . what sort of a dance was it?
Norma: Tap dance.
Esther: And if you just got tapped on the shoulder they had to exchange partners. They just tapped you. Well actually they tap the man, so he had to go. And so that began our romance.
Augustine: How long were you married?
Esther: Oh God! Fifty-five years.
1920 – Esther ( front row third from left) her family & their horse and buggy on a trip to Mordialloc Creek
Augustine: Do you remember any other holidays, or trips or outings that you had when you were growing up, or when you were married?
Esther: Oh, when we were married we went to many places. Especially school holidays. We had a caravan and we went here, there and everywhere.
Norma: Remember when we woke up in the morning and what we saw way out in the sea? Whales! Dad said we’re lucky if we see whales and sure enough we woke up to this beautiful blue sea just beneath us, under the cliff and there were the whales. But the whale station wasn’t so nice, do you remember that? It stank to high heaven.
Augustine: And how did you eat on the trips? Did you have a barbecue? Did you stop at places? How did you feed the family?
Norma: We never went out for meals. Mum was a very, very good camper. We did a lot of camping as well. She was a very good camper. Remember what Dad – of course there was a little stove in the caravan – but do you remember the barbecue that Dad made. Remember the kerosene tin?
Esther: Oh yes, yes. He made it into a barbecue and grilled the chops on the top.
Norma: It was one of these um, an old kerosene tin. It was about that big and he cut a hole at the bottom, for the draft. And he made his own, he did his own wrought iron stuff. During the war he worked on aircraft or something. And um, he was pulled out of school because his Dad had a heart attack and he had to run the family business.
Esther: When he was about 16
Norma: And he had spent about 4 years in bed because of a congenital hip deformity so he didn’t have a lot of formal education but he was, he really thought outside of the square. But he made this sort of a grill thing that you put on top and we had the best barbecues. He’d put the potatoes in the, remember the ashes at the bottom wrapped in foil, the fish. He cooked the fish there and the toast, But mostly we had …
Esther: I remember the toast yeah.
Norma: …But mostly you cooked a bit in the caravan. But tell them about the other holidays we had. We had three different sorts of holidays, all wonderful. One was a camping trip, one school holidays. The other school holidays Dad gave you a break and what did we do? We went to the guest houses, Marysville and places like that.
Yeah, there was Sherbrooke and Marysville. Each year we would do a camping trip and then Dad would say Mum needs a break, we’ll have a guest house holiday. Then the long summer holidays and every weekend, which is where we’re both keeping the skin doctors in business, was um in the family holiday house in Edithvale. But Mum said I don’t want that big house and garage. We’ll have the garage thank you, where they use to keep the horse and cart. And Dad made it into kind of a bungalow thing. And we had a boat shed and boat, so we spent our entire summer down at the beach, from breakfast till sunset, didn’t we?
Esther: Oh we had the boat shed which was very convenient to sit on the beach and watch. Just sitting in the boat shed when it was too hot, you have your swim and come out and . . .
Augustine: And where did you learn fishing? Where did you pick up your love of fishing?
Esther: Fishing? From my late husband. He enjoyed it.
Norma: Because of his hip abnormality … he was a real outdoors man wasn’t he? He couldn’t run so he took to the water. But they spent their life, we all spent our lives on Port Phillip Bay, and then the various rivers and oceans around and up the east coast.
Esther: We camped on the river…Yes, it was the Murray. Oh and someone had left all their gear there for fishing which was very convenient for us. So he fixed it all, threw it in the water to catch a Murray cod. Well it started to rain cats and dogs so we had to leave it. We came back in the morning, the first thing he wants to see if he caught anything- Yes it was a set line, and “oh” he says “I think I got a horse on the reel.” He pulled it out and it was a Murray cod, forty-…
Norma: Forty-six pounds.
Esther: It was this big.
Norma: No, it was this big, they could barely carry it. And then how was it cut up?
Esther: It was put into a butcher’s refrigerator. He obliged us. And when we came back, the meat was still frozen. My late husband’s brother was a doctor and we invited him to come over and come and do something with the fish. He operated on the fish, cut it all up and of course the whole family got…
Norma: …And all the neighbours and all the cousins and everyone we knew. And all their freezers were full.
Esther: And nowadays, I don’t think you’re allowed to take them out of the sea.
Norma: You’re probably not allowed to have set lines either.
Esther: No, you wouldn’t have set lines now.
Augustine: Why do you love the beach so much Esther?
Esther: Oh… I don’t know. I wasn’t use to it before I met my husband. I remember him, where he bought a boat and he use to fish in it and I wouldn’t go on it. And he said “Oh come on, it’s flat, very flat and calm and when you want to stop and want to come in I’ll stop and take you in.” Well it was such a perfect day, that was the beginning, I didn’t want to go in.
Norma: And then Mum use to drive the boat when Dad water-skied. Mum only learned to drive at about what? Your mid twenties? But then she was driving the speed boat all over Port Phillip Bay well into her late seventies.
Esther: And now you’ve got to have licences and…
Augustine: You mean you drove a speed boat around Port Phillip Bay without a licence?
Norma: No, but you didn’t have to have one then.
Esther: No you didn’t have to have a licence.
Norma: Mum’s a very good pennant bowler. How old were you Mum when you stopped bowling?
Esther: Oh, ah, I’ve been an outdoor person all my life. I started when I was a teenager, playing basketball then I switched to tennis and then I . . . where did I go after tennis? Maybe there’s more in-between there. Anyway I played tennis till I was in my eighties and I couldn’t see the ball quick enough to hit, return it. So one of the girls said, who was a bowler also, said why don’t you come and play bowls and give it a try. Which I did, which I enjoyed very much. I played bowls until I was ninety-eight. Yeah, ninety-eight I played bowls. When I was ninety-two I bought a new car and they said “Oh, I’ve never sold a car to a ninety-two year old.”
Augustine: I read in the article that you said the secret is just to keep going.
Esther: That’s right.
Norma: And forget your age.
Esther: And forget your age.
Augustine: And how do you deal with all the ups and downs in life and all the stress and all the worry.
Esther: Oh, you try not to think about it.
Norma: She’s pretty good at that. She’s been through quite a few things and she copes. She’s very sensible. Very, very sensible. Common sense.
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I learnt to be on my own later, travelling as an older woman, because I think I have been left alone as an older woman in a way that I never was when I was younger. I used to be followed. Spain was a nightmare. You couldn’t be on the street in those days in the sixties. You could not go to Spain alone, under Franco. I was there. You could not go to Greece alone. And you could not be in Italy unless you wanted to be followed all the time. Now I feel very free because no-one even sees me! No-one sees me. They’ll help. I can ask questions and they’ll come to my aid, but no-one wants to follow me and touch me.
Oh, it’s great! It’s fabulous!
THE KIMBERLEY, AUSTRALIA
One memorable trip for me is going to the Kimberley a few years ago with my husband. And I feel like I’m a millimetre high when I go into that country, Australia. I feel like I don’t exist. I’m so insignificant. I always feel that when I go into that sort of country here. And the Kimberley was just extraordinary because of the colour, and the vastness, the silence and just so much going on. But you need a guide. You need to be shown how to look. Whereas, you go to Europe, you know how to look. I don’t know how to look in my own country. It’s fabulous.
THE NAKASENDO WAY, JAPAN
The Nakasendo way (Japan) was an ancient road that linked Tokyo with Kyoto, and it was controlled by the old warlords. Along that way there are stations like forts and they controlled who went on that road and it was for their own survival. It was a very violent time in the 12th and 13th centuries. So this road goes through the mountains, literally through the mountains behind Kyoto.
It’s a 10-day walk, and you walk from Ryokan to Ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). You stay in tiny, tiny little ancient Japanese Ryokans. You have to just carry a little day pack. You’ve got to be fit enough to walk up to 8 hours a day. But you go in the autumn or the summer. And the road can be hilly, very steep or it can be quite flat. And little paths, little beautiful tiny mountain paths. You’re surrounded on all sides by trees, bamboo. It was autumn so all the leaves are changing colour, and in that 10 days, the leaves went from green to brown to scarlet to yellow. And it’s meditative because the only thing you need to do is concentrate on your feet – that’s it! I tried one or two times…, things came into my head but I had to push them away. So you basically just get up in the morning, have a divine Japanese breakfast, and you put on your shoes and your jacket, take your walking sticks, and walk – until dusk.
It’s very spiritual. It’s very ancient. And it’s a challenge beyond. There are some days when you are walking on the original bluestone. They’re like 500 years old and you’ve got to walk on them in a certain way and you’ve got to be very, very careful. You’ve just got to plod. They’re sort of sticking up. It might only go on for half a mile because a lot of them are not there. You’ve got to plod. You’ve got to walk as slowly as your heartbeat. And what’s the challenge for me, is slowing down. You can’t run because you won’t make it.
And the other challenge was just to know I could get there. Because on about the third or fourth day you think, I’m not putting my boots on again.
We probably ended up walking 300 kilometres.
So, I know lots of people that are doing that right now. People of my age, women who are feeling – if I don’t do it now, I’ll never be this fit again. Because you must be reasonably fit.