How about swapping just one status update with a conversation with an Aussie elder?

I have to wonder if we’re seriously missing a really important point in regards to this new era we’re in where communication and technology are supposedly giving us so much more knowledge than we’ve ever had access to before.  But are we forgetting that a lot of the most valuable pearls of wisdom, fascinating stories are often sitting right in front of us or pottering around next door.

If we had one face to face conversation with someone we cared about, a grand parent, an ageing aunt or uncle or simply a senior citizen sitting on the bus, instead of posting a tweet or updating our status we might learn something useful to ourselves.


If we made a commitment to ask the odd question about the life, past and present of these people rather than trawling internet news feeds to see what hundreds of strangers are doing at that particular second, might we be absorbing information worth passing on to others?  Something that helps to join a few of life’s dots?

In the sunshine on a perfect day in Marino, I decided to do just that, with my oldest mate; and I mean that in the birth certificate sense, with my Nan.  I’ll call this exercise, The Thoughts Of Nan Witcomb.


The man who really got South Australia up and running was Sir Thomas Playford.

THE MOST RECENT THING IN THE NEWS THAT’S GOT YOUR BLOOD BOILING WAS? Oh there’s so many things…the fact they’re putting people who have been in jail in trust homes yet some people who have been waiting for years don’t get them.

WHAT DO YOU FEAR MOST AT YOUR AGE NOW? Getting ill. Becoming someone who can’t look after themselves. I therefore live a very healthy life (she laughs with a cigarette and drink in hand). I do believe seriously though, all in moderation.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SUCCESS OF APPLE? What? Of Apple?  (she cracks up) I know what you mean but the only apples I know about are the ones that fall off my trees and the birds get them.

AND THE IPHONE 4? (Note, I had explained the night before how I could Google information via my phone) I didn’t know what the little magic box that you were consulting all the time, I didn’t know was an iphone.  I have never seen anything like it in my entire life.


IF YOU KNEW THE DATE YOU WERE GOING TO DIE, WHAT WOULD YOU GET DONE BEFORE THAT? To get all my television interviews, plays, poems, photos etc all gathered together to be passed on to next generations.


(played audio grab from Our Last Enemy)  Turn it off!!!


The end of World War 2.

DO YOU THINK ‘WOMEN CAN HAVE IT ALL’? I think they can as long as they do everything in moderation.  If they try to be top of their jobs, they won’t be top of their families.



SOME WOMEN ARE LEAVING IT VERY LATE TO HAVE CHILDREN, WHAT ARE THOUGHTS ON THIS? I think it’s a mistake because the women will be going through menopause when their children are teenagers, so they’ll all be a bit crazy at that time.

WHAT WAS THE BEST DECADE TO BE ALIVE IN AUSTRALIA? They were all pretty good really. Probably for me the ‘50’s.  It was the last of the innocent age.

My questions could go on forever, but the idea is that her answers and others like her will do the same, if just take some time.



55 thoughts on “How about swapping just one status update with a conversation with an Aussie elder?

  1. The Magic Box Fan Nan

    Nan Witcomb
    Mar 11 (2 days ago)

    to me
    Very dear AA
    You must be at the Airport now so I hope you get this on your little Magic Box before Take off.
    Loved having you here, you are welcome to come and stay whenever or for as long you wish
    Couldn’t help myself – so I wrote this …

    The Magic Box

    Amber has this magic box
    which does a million tricks –
    It sees & hears & answers her
    on any subject that she picks.

    It tells the time & wakes her up
    then reminds her what to do –
    takes marvellous coloured photographs
    which it records for her to view.

    I’m known for getting lost a lot,
    but with that magic box in my car,
    one flick across the tiny screen –
    and it tells us where we are –

    Amber mentioned her ‘skipe’ phone calls’
    so I asked what the word ‘skipe’means –
    Well, it turns out she & firends can talk on their magic boxes
    while watching each other on tiny movie screens !

    That little magic box is like a miracle to me,
    it can tell her what the weather’s like in Adelaide or Peru –
    or the stupidest remarks that Tony or Julia have recently made –
    or even even the latest report on who has murdered who !

    Now I wish I could remember the little gadget’s name,
    as it will eventually get rid of radios, TVs, phones & clocks –
    but if I live to be a hundred & three years old,
    to me, it will always be Amber’s little Magic Box !!

    Luv from Fan Nan (not to be confused with Nanushka) Have a great trip home xxxxxxxxxx

  2. A few years ago, quite unexpectedly, I sat down with my grandmother and we talked about a period in her life when she lost her husband after 48 years of marriage. It was something that we hadn’t ever talked about – probably because it was the kind of topic that a grandmother and grandson would never really have. But Nana revealed to me the grief she kept hidden, the acute loss of not only a husband but a best friend and confidant.

    Over the course of many cups of tea and Monte Carlo biscuits, those conversations evolved into a wider journey through her life where I discovered things about Nana that I never knew before – from as far back as her early childhood. I felt then (and feel now) that Nana gifted to me a precious treasure that no one else was privvy to.

    These conversations formed the basis of a novel I wrote and had published a couple of years ago and I was so proud when I was able to deliver to my Nana one of the first copies. I regarded her as one of my most important critics and I was so moved when I received a call from her at home one day and she told me that it was one of the most beautiful stories she’d read.

    Nana is still alive and spritely (at aged 86) and we still enjoy our chats by phone (she’s in Victoria) – but I’ll never forget those conversations I had with her a few years ago.

  3. Oh that is SO beautiful! You know, I have a bunchof CDs sitting in my kitchen of my Nana telling all these stories about her life. My auntie got them done before she died. I am a little ashamed to say that I’ve been putting off listening to them because I’m scared….as she’s passed away now…..that I’ll get really sad listening to them. I wish I’d had more of the conversations about her life when she was still here. Probably why I feel strongly about them now. I will listen to them of course but I’m waiting for a strong moment. I think it’s just hearing her actual voice that will make me feel sad and weird. But I’m ever so thankful that we have them. What was the name of your book that you published?

  4. to me
    March 23rd.

    Dear Miss Petty,

    I really have to write to you to tell you how much I enjoyed your two articles on Nan Witcomb.

    I first met Nan over 40 years ago when she attended my adoptive mother, Concert Comedienne Anna Russell’s concert and we have been friends ever since.

    You certainly brought Nan’s wonderful character out so clearly in both articles.

    Congratulations and very best wishes,

    Deirdre Prussak

    Amber Petty
    9:50 AM (1 hour ago)

    to Nan
    Look x

    Sent from my iPhone

    Begin forwarded message:

    From: D PRUSSAK
    Date: 25 March 2013 10:12:21 AM AEDT
    Subject: Nan Witcomb

    Amber Petty
    11:49 AM (0 minutes ago)

    to D
    Hello Deirdre,

    What a lovely thing for you to take the time to write to tell me you enjoyed my Nan columns. I really do appreciate it. She’s a fabulous woman, so full of character and attitude. Hahahah.

    But there are of course so many other fascinating people out there in her age group that I wish more of us should acknowledge and enjoy.

    Thank you again so much Deirdre.

    Have a lovely week


  5. April 19, 2013
    Embracing the Disinherited
    The Elderly Population
    by Madisyn Taylor

    An important part of our culture, our elderly, are almost always undervalued and underutilized – for they have much to offer.

    In tribal cultures, the elderly play an important role. They are the keepers of the tribe’s memories and the holders of wisdom. As such, the elderly are honored and respected members of tribes. In many modern cultures, however, this is often not the case. Many elderly people say that they feel ignored, left out, and disrespected. This is a sad commentary on modernization, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can change this situation by taking the time to examine our attitudes about the elderly and taking action.

    Modern societies tend to be obsessed with the ideas of newness, youth, and progress. Scientific studies tell us how to do everything – from the way we should raise our kids to what we need to eat for breakfast. As a result, the wisdom that is passed down from older generations is often disregarded. Of course, grandparents and retired persons have more than information to offer the world. Their maturity and experience allows for a larger perspective of life, and we can learn a lot from talking to elderly people. It’s a shame that society doesn’t do more to allow our older population to continue to feel productive for the rest of their lives, but you can help to make change. Perhaps you could help facilitate a mentorship program that would allow children to be tutored by the elderly in retirement homes. The elderly make wonderful storytellers, and creating programs where they could share their real life experiences with others is another way to educate and inspire other genera! tions.

    Take stock of your relationships with the elderly population. Maybe you don’t really listen to them because you hold the belief that their time has passed and they are too old to understand what you are going through. You may even realize that you don’t have any relationships with older people. Try to understand why and how our cultural perception of the elderly influences the way you perceive them. Look around you and reach out to someone who is elderly – even if you are just saying hello and making small talk. Resolve to be more aware of the elderly. They are our mentors, wise folk, and the pioneers that came before us and paved the way for our future.

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