“I grow old, I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” (TSEliot)

A weird week.  My recent trip to PNG saw one tiny experience in my life come full circle; this week I learned of the deaths of 3 people from my past and talked again with two women, once intimate friends some 20 years ago.  Life moving to full circles all round like the early effervescence of a bubble bath.

Perhaps these circles herald the drumbeats of getting older. A flurry of deaths demands to be noticed like previous ones:


Doug had been the best man at my wedding, a trailblazer in Asia- Pacific anthropology as one journal described him. In the sixties when almost still a boy he had gone to live with the Dayak people in Borneo. We shared a house briefly on his malaria-plagued return.  What an exotic path he chose. What led a boy from Newcastle to decide in the 50s that when he grew up he wanted to observe remote and different cultures, to live in longhouses in the jungle? Why didn’t I strive to stay in touch? I never do.

I didn’t know Tom had died either. Such a friend in the past that he would drop in on Christmas mornings with a box of ripe mangoes. We had weekends away and he never questioned working hard on any of my campaigns. His obituaries talked again of a trailblazer, this time in television putting together programs of conscience honouring the ordinary person and just causes. He was also a rare eccentric once setting up an office in the lift of the ABC when he was denied one of his own. I hadn’t seen Tom for years before he died. I had taken umbrage at some, probably unintended, perceived intrusive judgement on my life and always intended to hold out an olive branch. It is sad I didn’t. Must reflect on friendship.

Elisabeth was an acquaintance, a journalist and author, one of those people whom you know of and you know they know of you. Recently we met, became Facebook friends and I had resolved to finally get to know her. Her obituaries overflowed down to a new dedicated website. Tributes from her friends and colleagues showcased a personality and a life to be admired: “ deeply concerned about social justice but she came at it without any cant”; ”awesomely direct, passionate, she was loyal, independent: she was a wholly original person”; “a searingly honest and curious person with a mischievous sense of humour”.

These 3 had in common their passion, dedication and perhaps a touch of eccentricity. All were trailblazers – in anthropology, in television and in writings. I muse over why so many of the people I know of my generation seem to have been such achievers. I come up with two explanations; growing up in the 40s and the 50s there was so much more available to discover and innovate together with more opportunities, and it was a smaller society so it was reasonable that interesting people brushed up against each other.

Whence the passion for social justice? Australia was starting to break free of the cloying insularity of the British suburban, paternalistic, white Australia Menzies model (that we seem to be reverting to). The Age of Aquarius was coming over the horizon. We were the post-war lucky generation and anything was possible.

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