2018 marks the 60th anniversary of the NSW Seniors Festival. This year, the ten day celebration encourages seniors to try new experiences, learn new skills and actively participate in the community. As with every year before, the festival also gives us the opportunity to recognise the valuable contribution of older people.
There has been much debate in the public arena lately about pensioners, retirees and the elderly. Do retirees deserve a pension? Should they get tax breaks? Should they downsize to make way for millennials to get a foot onto the property ladder? Sometimes the discussion and debate implies that seniors are a burden, rather than an asset.
This perspective overlooks the fact that seniors have a lifetime’s contribution to society, socially and economically, behind them. It also overlooks seniors’ ongoing contribution. Measured economically, Australians aged 65 years and over contribute almost $39 billion each year in unpaid caring and voluntary work. That figure rises to $74.5 billion per year if people aged 55 to 64 years are included.
Economics aside, our seniors are valuable in their own right. They comprise a generation that has lived through: The Great Depression; World War II; the Vietnam and Korean wars; the Cuban crisis; space travel and the lunar landing; the sexual revolution; and giant leaps in new technology development including mobile phones and computers. They have a thing or two to teach us about enduring change and handling life’s adversity.
Seniors have many traditional skills - now lost by younger generations - worth learning. In a world of over-consumption and waste, recycling is advocated by environmentalists as fundamental to saving the environment. Reuse and repair was second nature to seniors as they grew up, and they have plenty of advice and experience in ‘making do’.
In an environment where poor nutrition is leading to an increase in ‘modern’ diseases - obesity, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions, depression and anxiety – gut health experts recommend adopting the home-grown lifestyle many seniors grew up with. Our grandparents and great-grandparents often grew their own produce, kept chickens and goats, fished and cooked using home-grown ingredients, and we can learn much from them in how to live self-sufficiently.
It is important for us to remember what seniors have to offer, because negative attitudes about older people can translate into social exclusion. The theme of this year’s NSW Seniors Festival is 'Let's do more together', and the festival aims to help remedy isolation by providing seniors with opportunities to be active and healthy, try something new, be recognised, be independent and get more involved in their communities.
The festival is designed to make seniors feel included and celebrated, and give back with ten days of diverse entertainment. They can explore the smorgasbord of events that have been organised across the state – dances, luncheons, exercise classes, movie screenings, concerts and expos – or learn something new at one of the University of the Third Age interest talks, library activities and art classes.
If you have a parent, grandparent, friend or neighbour who needs transport, offer to drive them to a Seniors Festival event and pick them up afterwards. If they need a helping hand to find out what’s on offer, why not jump online and check out local Seniors Festival activities that might be of interest.
Seniors are an asset, not a burden. A perspective that focuses only on the demands the ageing population will place on the nation, both now and as we approach 2050 – the year when 1.8 million Australians will be aged 85 and over – ignores the value of older people.
If we’re lucky, we may all be seniors one day and we all want to feel valued and included. On the 60th anniversary of the NSW Seniors Festival, let’s join together and honour our elders.