Speech

Address By

Her Excellency the Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO

Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

ON THE OCCASION OF

Governor-General launches the book ‘In Praise of Ageing’

The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne

1 October 2013

Dr Patricia Edgar,

 

Distinguished guests,

 

Ladies and gentlemen

A few weeks ago I was at a gathering of senior citizens in Canberra for a special occasion; it included an exhibition of beautiful photographs.

I was delighted to meet the artist - charming, stylish, chic woman in her early 90’s working professionally in her field.  I was captured by her vivacity.  Our conversation was weaving in and out of several themes when suddenly she took a new tack.

How old are you she said?

70 I replied.

She poked her finger into me and said with a stern glint in her eye, you’ve got another 10 years in you.

Cripes I thought, I’d better get going.

 

My friends, Good afternoon. 

I want you to know how thrilled and delighted I am to join you for this significant occasion – the launch of Patricia Edgar’s ‘In Praise of Ageing.’

What a perfect way to celebrate International Day of Older Persons.

Surrounded by warmth, friendship and respect in the company of distinguished Australians whose contributions, achievements and example have enriched our community.  Whose vision and experience are immeasurable.

So much to praise

To inspire

To encourage

 

My friends, this book uplifts and energises. Our much loved Laureate Gus Nossal describes it as ‘a must read for every thinking Australian.’

 Its message is one of vital import to our country as we look to the challenges of an increasing ageing population.

 

And it reminds the reader about the dignity and worth of every human being, about neighbourliness, about caring and sharing and giving.

 

It’s about the personal being political. 

As our author tells us in her introduction

‘I only began to think about ageing when I turned 70, well after I retired and started to experience the aches and pains that led to a hip replacement.’

‘I was surprised and outraged’ she says

‘to discover that structurally, particularly medically, the system really works against you.’

 

It was a new experience for a clever, sophisticated, confident and mature woman to encounter the prejudice and misguided assumptions about ageing and its imminent burden on society. This started her thinking deeply about the way we live.

 

Why do some people live an active or rewarding long life while others die early or live miserably?

 Is it simply health that determines how long we live?

It is luck?

It is economics?

Or is there a pattern that can be emulated that so many more of us can learn to live productively and contentedly well into our advancing years.

Patricia Edgar has always been curious.

Across her eminent career she has asked big questions, been in the forefront of major issues in society. I have enormous admiration for her work.

Path breaking, influential, rigorous research, consummate advocacy, leading change, generating action, building an esprit de corps.

I could go back to Media She, her seminal book written with Hilary McPhee, that put sex stereotyping in the media on our agenda, and right into our consciousness.

 

But what brought Patricia Edgar into our families lives and into our homes was her fantastic children’s television – the innovative ACTF: - internationally acclaimed.

 

I marvel at what she did – what she showed us.

I look back on my days on the Board with exhilaration and wonder.  Now isn’t the time to indulge in nostalgia, but I did have a smile to myself when I saw Philip Adams’ words on the publisher’s blurb.

 

“Patricia Edgar is a sort of Centurion in her abilities to kick down doors and push walls over.  She gets things done.”

 

Some might say that was only the half of it.  We were her foot solders devoted to her and to what she wanted to do.

I love to watch my grandchildren laugh their heads off watching ‘Round the Twist’ for the millionth time.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, in this new era of Patricia’s public advocacy, she is speaking out to confront the stigma of ageing.

Her starting point – Australians are living longer than ever before and instead of celebrating life expectancy as one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, the elderly are perceived as an economic burden.

Her case is evidence based.

Facts, figures, clarity.

The cost of care and health support for aged people are overstated. 

The value and hidden contribution to the economy by many of the older generation, are ignored.

 

Patricia supplies plenty of examples.

 

Hugh Mackay observes that she explodes the myth that an ageing population is unrelieved bad news for our social and economic future.

 

And as he says if her rational arguments don’t convince us then her human stories will.

 

AND OH YES THEY DO!

 

8 fascinating people in old age who have continued to pursue interesting lives - to find purpose.

We learn some of their secrets, I have to confess I fell in love with every one of them.  Their stories made my heart sing.

 

My friends, you will know some of them but you will gain some fresh insights, I’m sure.

I must say I’m very excited that most of them are here.

The poster girl for old age is the title Patricia gives to Lesley Falloon.

She sure is. Her words: ‘Lesley’s doctor recently told her she will live to be 100 and Lesley nearly fell off her chair, I have a lovely life but I am not playing Bridge and going to my dear friends funerals for the next 10 years – I need a new career.’

 

Jim Brierley, the oldest skydiver in the world, with a store of legendary feats and escapades, is the youngster in the book at 89.

Our determined and courageous feminist activist Mary Owen whom I met in the 70’s.  Mary’s early years explain so much about the strength of character and fierce independence of mind that have underpinned her advocacy for women.

 

John Tucker good advice –  ‘do your best in everything that you do and live a life that you and others can respect. I have tried to have a clear conscience which is a valuable thing to me’

 

Flora Noyce’s life has been one of unselfishness given to the service of others.  Extraordinary energy that came from hard work and isolation, wresting a living from the land, carrying part of the load, absorbing the work ethic, the community spirit.  Having the guts to overcome a lack of education and confidence to take on a public role, just as Patricia’s mother did in Mildura in that era too.

Many things in these pages bought tears to my eyes and I hear the words I speak often to kids in remote Australia – a country childhood will stand you in great stead during your life.

 

John Lovell – the Lucky Captain has been likened to a cat that has used up a full quota of nine lives.  He talks about the significance of a good upbringing, lots of luck and rocket fuel (a dangerous drink that he concocts).

Sadly I just missed out on meeting Muriel Crabtree, I carry a place in my heart for those blue stocking feminists, Muriel was certainly one of them -  biochemist, academic, Vice President of Melbourne University Women’s College.  She triumphed as a scholar and mentor and was a brave voyager who travelled to places where few women ventured alone – a pioneer in so many aspects and greatly loved by generations of the College community.

I think it’s true to say that what happened to Dr Crabtree in her increasingly frail old age spurred Patricia on her journey – exploring old age.

 

What it means for individuals.


What it means for our country.

 

 Patricia, we are indebted to you. Congratulations on your stunning new book – ‘In Praise of Ageing,’ I am delighted to see that it is attracting great interest and good media coverage.  Text Publishing, you have done a marvellous job in bringing this important volume to us.

 

 Thank you.