Ed#461: Reelin' in the Years

20 June 2014 Alan Attwood

Ed#461: Reelin' in the Years

Young people are getting older. This is one conclusion to be drawn from the federal government’s move (outlined in the recent Budget) to increase the eligibility threshold for the age pension. The idea is that people born after 1965 may be required to work until they’re 70 to qualify for a pension. Reaction to this has not been positive. Yet it can be construed as good news. The pension is a marker of old age. So perhaps, in a while, anyone under 70 will be regarded as ‘young’. This interpretation may even put a spring in the step of anyone in their sixties. And here’s some more good news for them: they may have another two decades to go. The average life-expectancy is now just over 80 years for men and 84 for women in Australia.

We wrestled with issues about age when we prepared this edition. The plan was to celebrate the achievements of older people, as well as explore some problems increasingly faced by senior women (see Sophie Quick’s story on p17). But the obvious question soon came up: what counts as ‘old’ these days? Not so long ago, I suspect, 60 would have been deemed a milestone age. Or 65 – still the retirement age for many. But the Budget news helped us settle on 70 as a useful figure to work with, though we understand that chronological age is an imperfect guide to vitality and capability. Some in their nineties are much more sprightly than many in their fifties. After an office whip-round, we came up with a rollcall of Admirable Elders. Names that came up ranged from artist Mirka Mora (86) to former PM Malcolm Fraser (84), swimming legend Dawn Fraser (76), singer Roberta Flack (77), everybody’s favourite naturalist, David Attenborough (88), and eccentric designer Karl Lagerfeld (80). Influential American writer Maya Angelou, who recently died at 86, would have walked in. You could also add – out of admiration for her stamina and sense of duty – Queen Elizabeth II (88).

Some of those have already been featured on our cover, which ruled them out when we narrowed down the list of contenders for a starring role in this edition. We settled on Harrison Ford, a comparatively youthful presence in our Council of Elders as he turns 72 on 13 July. He becomes a poster boy for admirable oldies for the same reasons that a fellow actor, Michael Caine (now 81), represented all grandparents just over a year ago, in Ed#434: because he’s eligible, and because he was available. Oh yes – and because, 37 years after the release of the first one, there’s another Star Wars movie in the works. Ford will reprise the role of Han Solo, linking up with Star Wars alumni Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill and Carrie (Princess Leia) Fisher, who has described them all as looking “a little melted”.

And then, from the movie set, came a gift for editorial writers: reports that Ford had suffered a mishap – an ankle injury, following an altercation with a spaceship door. We wish him well in his recovery, though it’s hard not to feel that, not so long, long ago, in a galaxy close to where he is today, a younger Han Solo would have ensured the door came off second-best.

As we prepared this edition there also came news that English writer, comedian and actor Rik Mayall had died, too soon, aged 56. Mayall will forever be linked with the memorable British TV series, The Young Ones, from the early 1980s. And now one of the Young Ones has gone; something that can cause reconsideration of all our ideas about age and mortality. The length of time spent on Earth matters a lot less than what is achieved in that time. And now, thanks to this year’s Budget, many can feel younger for longer.

» Alan Attwood is Editor of The Big Issue.

This article appeared in Ed#461 of The Big Issue magazine.