My Dad Didn’t Get To Be A Teenager

By Mike Welsh

While researching for the new TBS Boomers section I stumbled across a batch of substantial sounding demographics of which I was shamefully unaware – groups of long forgotten last century people with more fashionable and intellectual tags than their feted Xs, Ys and Millennials of today.

My father was from the Greatest generation (1910-25) a period which sits between the Interbellum (between wars) generation (1901-1913) and the Silent generation (1923-44).

Sadly, and possibly ironically (irony not being a luxury broadly enjoyed by my dad’s demo), members of the Greatest generation suffered the potentially soul-destroying deprivations of the great depression, and would not experience the special freedoms of being a teenager or, in my father’s case, the opportunity to offer “his two cents worth”.

This generation was often forced to leave primary school and join the workforce in order to put food on the family table, vaulting across their teens, essentially becoming adults. A double tragedy by today’s standards as their lifespans were substantially shorter.

“Most cultural observers agree that the strange and fascinating creature known as the teenager – as we now understand the species – came into being sometime in the the early 1940s.”
Ben CosgroveTime Magazine

By the time my father left school at the age of 10 he’d been fatherless for two years. Undaunted and without an adequate education, he set out as the vast majority of his contemporaries did to make a quid whichever way he could. Like the rest of his generation which needed to be flexible and adaptable to survive, my dad mastered cooking, SP bookmaking and barbering (all of which are now firmly back in vogue).

It’s doubtful my father’s grandchildren – of whom there are many, and many of whom have university degrees and well-worn passports – actually still draw from the well my father dug. Today’s Xs, Ys and Millennials (the Me Generation which gave us the Me Me Me Generation) are sometimes characterised as superficial and easy prey for the predatory marketers. But these demographics which are surgically cropped and probed and prodded and targeted to within an inch of their lives now have a competitor – The Baby Boomer. The Boomers are rapidly shaping up as a very desirable and cashed up cohort which savvy advertisers are keen to separate from their vast piles of disposable boomer bucks.

Also on The Big Smoke

Almost a decade ago, demographer Bernard Salt described baby boomers as “an optimistic and even idealistic generation…educated, articulate and opinionated, and ultimately demanding”.

My father was not formally educated nor from my memory, opinionated or demanding.

He was a quiet man, strong on values such as respect for women and punctuality (though he did question the trustworthiness of men with beards). He was big on polished shoes and for his four sons, a mandatory neatly combed and Brylcreemed head of hair before stepping out of our three-bedroomed weatherboard home en route, on foot, to Sunday Mass. My father did not own a car or hold a driver’s licence.

In 1966 my dad was engaged and excited about the introduction of decimal currency which hit Australia just as the first batch of Boomers was coming of age. Sadly he didn’t get to “put his two cents worth in”. He died suddenly and prematurely aged 52, a few weeks shy of the 14th of February 1966.

But for what it’s worth, he did belong to the Greatest generation.


No Fences and Hedges Butt plenty of No Smoking signs

By Mike Welsh

FOR a city uncluttered with fences and hedges there sure seems to be an obsession with erecting signs banning all manner of activity in the most inappropriate places.


A sign proclaiming a ban on smoking within 10 metres of a set of swings at a Higgins park (and at others, I suspect) has just appeared. Is an ugly steel post standing in concrete three metres from a set of swings in a very large and, sadly, often deserted public facility, warranted? Should not a more concentrated focus be applied to the second-hand, smoke-filled haze around the 30-metre radius outside office buildings in nearby Belconnen?

When Heather Powell met Patch Adams

For the real Patch Adams, treating illness with the power of laughter was more than just a Hollywood byline. How he taught me that is up next in our TBS Boomers series.

It was in the early 1990s. I had read of this American doctor who advocated the importance of humour and compassion in hospitals. It was long before the film starring Robin Williams was made, though nothing could prepare me for the actual experience of encountering Patch Adams in person.

It was a day in Scottish August – the rain lashing down, and my first visit to the Findhorn Foundation near Inverness. An expectant “new age” mob was crammed into a room far too small for the occasion. The door opened. Everyone broke off mid-sentence and gaped. In sauntered a tall slim multi-coloured apparition. His long brown hair was plaited and reached the base of his spine. He had bushy eyebrows, a flamboyant moustache and dangly earrings. His flowing smock shirt and baggy pants a riot of different colours, even different coloured socks, nevertheless gave an impression of artful harmony.

He grinned at his dumb-struck audience. After a friendly hello, he asked in a clear voice everyone could hear, “Now before we start…is there anyone among you who gets embarrassed if asked to stand up and make a public show of themselves?”

A girl apprehensively raised her hand. “Ah, good!” he beamed. Everyone watched as he threaded his way through the chairs and sat on the shy girl’s lap and gave her an enormous hug. The crowd erupted in laughter, she blushed then laughed as well. Patch stood up and said, “There! That wasn’t too dreadful after all, was it? Now you need never again be afraid of being embarrassed.”

Weaving his way around the crowded room, he would speak to this person or that.

“Laughter is not about telling jokes at a party. It is far more.”

“What is the most infectious thing that spreads fastest among human beings?”

No one answered.

“It is not the common cold, or plagues. No…it is laughter.”

He encouraged us to promote laughter in our particular arena, to notice how laughter, even a smile, can instantly diffuse tension in a situation. It is not the huge occasional dramas, it’s the little stressors that occur on a daily basis. They build up unnoticed. That’s when the diversion of a smile can break that tension.

“You have all been in a room filled with chatting groups. Suddenly one group bursts into peals of laughter. What does everyone do? They break off their own conversation and stare at the source of the laughter. Test if for yourself. Burst out laughing in a public place and observe the effect.”

He earnestly encouraged each one of us to promote laughter in our particular arena, to notice how laughter, even a smile, can instantly diffuse tension in a situation. It is not the huge occasional dramas, it’s the little stressors that occur on a daily basis. They build up unnoticed – like a parent battling with the shopping at the checkout counter while the baby is screaming its head off; the agitation of a patient in a doctor’s or lawyer’s waiting room; being delayed and fretting that the parking metre has run out or a person waiting for you has left. That’s when the diversion of a smile can break that tension. He had us in helpless fits of laughter, relating stories of how he does this – at airports, in shops, queues, on the street.

“Equally important” he stressed, was “to laugh at the serious things – yes, even death – anything that frightens us, in fact especially those things”.

Also on The Big Smoke

“And there is one source of humour guaranteed to avoid any personal offence: yourself! Each of us can be an endless source for giving others a laugh.”

Patch then asked us all, “and what is the very worst thing anyone can say about you if you are acting the fool?”

“That you’re mad,” all laughed in unison.

“Exactly! And what is wrong with being labelled mad? Ask yourself: ‘do I have a personal issue with madness?’” The room became silent again.

“It is possible to laugh at anything unless you have some personal unresolved issue with that subject.”

That struck a chord in my memory. It was years earlier. I was directing a play in a boy’s High School in Harare. Twelve Angry Men was written by an American who never imagined black Africans might be cast as members of the jury. One of the lads approached me with a big grin on his black face “Excuse me Ma’am, I think you’re going to have change a few of my lines. I refer to Lovemore as that sour looking man over there with the blond hair and mean blue eyes.”

“Oh heavens, I see what you mean!”

We both grinned, then he cheerily added, “well Ma’am, I can just say ‘who is that mean black bastard over there?’”

Everyone laughed – and everyone could, because no one had an issue about the colour of their skin or that of anyone else’s.

Patch had incisively pinpointed the mindset that inhibits humanity’s delicious, health-giving, innate humour from bubbling up. That workshop with Patch ignited a spark in me that is alive and well to this day, and I remain eternally grateful.

“You have all been in a room filled with chatting groups. Suddenly one group bursts into peals of laughter. What does everyone do? They break off their own conversation and stare at the source of the laughter. Test if for yourself. Burst out laughing in a public place and observe the effect.”

Back in Batemans Bay, NSW, a meeting was called to inaugurate a U3A group . All agreed to run a course to give the venture a kick start.

“Heather, what will be your topic?”



“Yes, laughter.”

“Oh…well, er…thank you.”

I had no idea what I would do, but do it I would…somehow!

What a ball. We compiled Smile Files for waiting rooms and hospitals, painted clowns on Grin Bins, spoke and wrote on “My Most Brilliant Blunders”. On and on we rolled. I even self-published a book on my own life of brilliant blunders to give a laugh, and in the hope others might share a laugh at their own “mis-takes”.

Meanwhile, Patch Adams still travels with teams of clowns to places all over our planet that are war-torn or oppressed – as he has done since he first took clowns to cheer anxious folk on the streets of Moscow during the harsh communist rule there. What a man, what an inspiration to all who would choose to look at what he is doing and the moulds he has broken.


Heather Powell

Born Dublin. December 1943, I went to an Art College and became an art teacher, teaching naughty Girls in Zimbabwe from about 1972. I then worked with the army rehab centre till mid 80s, then in England I worked with physically disabled adults. In 1989 I came to Australia.


Mike Welsh

A parliamentary inquiry chaired by Greens leader Shane Rattenbury has released an options paper and called for public submissions.
While the anti-corruption body’s powers are debated, its name needs to be closely examined lest the acronym for the obvious, ICACT, draws ridicule.
A UNIQUE acquisition by the Australian War Memorial has added a feather to its already distinguished cap, but is expected to draw fire from critics.
The military museum purchased at auction, exclusive rights to two images from a series of chilling shots, taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, some of which depict people jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.
Known as the “falling man” series, the photos were deemed too graphic for general release in the years since the 9/11 terror attacks but AWM director Brendan Nelson says “failing to recognise their significance is to dishonour the 42 Australians who died in Afghanistan and those diggers who continue to fight terrorism”. The images go on display next month.

CHIEF Minister Andrew Barr’s pessimistic prediction for a new sports stadium may return to bite him. With the Brumbies now seemingly tethered to the capital and rumours circulating of a consortium ready to back a Canberra-based “A” League outfit, Barr’s no-“A”-League-no-Brumbies-no-stadium stance is on shaky ground. Though ever the savvy political operator, Barr clearly has a plan B.
A makeover at Bruce, with some minimal moving of goalposts could provide a practical and politically satisfying solution. But those with a long memory would know a “coat of paint” at Bruce can be political suicide.

A REAL live princess, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, recently dropped in on patients and staff at Canberra’s Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.
The princess, wife of the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was in Australia to watch her team play the Socceroos in a World Cup qualifier in Sydney. Enchanting the young patients, staff and families, the princess was clearly impressed with the facility’s “atmosphere and energy” and was keen to develop an ongoing relationship.

STILL on royalty, our newly crowned town crier Joseph McGrail-Bateup has had a royal seal, of sorts, bestowed on him by the Queen.
McGrail-Bateup posted royal correspondence, signed by a minion, on Facebook in which lady-in-waiting
Phillipa writes, HRH “was interested to learn of your appointment as town crier for Canberra and wishes you all the very best”. Just goes to show how far a hyphenated moniker will get one.

THE local arts community is not sure if Minister for Arts Gordon Ramsay is demonstrating his creative side or simply employing his creative accounting talents. Ramsay is boasting the arts community will receive its “single biggest funding increase since self government” but won’t reveal “the precise amount which is subject to Budget consideration”. Artists are demanding a lift in funding of $500,000 in the Budget.

CELEBRATIONS and confusion reigned in the capital with a win for our water and an iconic watering hole mysteriously closing.
The Best Tap Water competition saw our drop narrowly nudge out the Hastings (Port Macquarie) to take the trophy. Judges of the blind test competition said: “Canberra’s water does not have an underlying chemical taste and was almost sweet tasting more like pure water.”
However, the sudden closure of a live music venue in Civic has left a bad taste in the mouths of a few. A notice pinned to the door of the Phoenix Pub in the Sydney Building suggests to some that time may have been called on the East Row pub. The note stated: “Due to unforeseen circumstances the pub is shut until further notice. Hang in there, see you on the other side.”

Another Mystery Solved

By Mike Welsh

Once upon a time all the dogs in the village were called to a special meeting in the town hall. There had been an issue of some dogs cocking their legs and weeing on the statue of the village founder, Sir Humphrey Hounddog. As the dogs filed into the hall they passed a sign which read PLEASE HANG YOUR BUM ON THE HOOKS PROVIDED BEFORE ENTERING THE HALL. About halfway through the meeting as the Mayor, Sir Winston Bulldog was yapping on about statue weeing, the fire alarm rang, which sent all the dogs racing out of the hall. However, in the confusion they grabbed the wrong bottoms from the hooks in the foyer of the hall. And that is why to this very day a doggie will leave his juicy bone and sniff another dog’s butt in a desperate bid to find his own.butt smelling puppies.jpg


By Mike Welsh

COLONEL Sanders may have had a Southern secret or 11 up his sleeve when he began frying fowl back in Kentucky but he’s failed the “vibe” test in northern Canberra.
A petition with more than 1600 signatures objecting to a KFC outlet at Gold Creek Village has been presented to the ACT government, considering a development application. Gold Creek business owners contend the area is unique in the ACT and that KFC would be ”completely contrary to the vibe of the village”.ACT Green Caroline Le Couteur has also waded into the fast-food fight. The MLA says, with “six out of 10 Canberrans overweight or obese”, she has serious health concerns for the region and also has animal rights and employment issues with the company. Ms Le Couteur cited recent reports that companies such as KFC “have suppliers which routinely abuse animals and exploit their migrant workforce”.

DESPITE Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s blunt advice to CEOs to stop commenting on “fringe issues” such as same-sex marriage, the Canberra Airport is forging ahead with its second campaign supporting marriage equality. CEO Stephen Byron says electronic and 3D boards will greet transiting pollies with the message: “The right to marry is pivotal to the wellbeing and happiness of LGBTI Australians who just want to get on with their lives”.

MEANTIME, the airport’s relationship with Singapore Airlines may have hit turbulence with the carrier conducting a review of the Singapore/Wellington/Canberra link. While CEO Byron says results to date were “beyond expectations”, Chief Minister Andrew Barr was less ebullient. Barr says he understands the reality is the service is unsustainable without the Wellington leg.

The airline’s spokesman Karl Schubert says the review is simply seeking ways to make the services more successful and its commitment to the Canberra region “remains unwavering”.

ONE of Canberra’s favourite footballing daughters has made sporting history with 38-year-old, high achiever Bec Goddard leading the Adelaide Crows women’s team to a thrilling, six-point win over the (until Saturday) undefeated Brisbane Lions in the inaugural AFLW Grand Final.

Ms Goddard, a member of the AFP’s Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (SAPOL) quoted lyrics of the John Farnham hit “You’re the Voice” – “We have the chance, to turn the pages over” – to describe the team’s part in football history.

Goddard was handpicked for the role by the Crows in October and says: “AFL is Australia’s greatest game and now it’s a game for everybody”.

FANS of the ’90s cult movie “Fight Club” know “the first rule about fight club is you do not talk about fight club”, but it appears a conversation must take place on MMA (mixed martial arts) or cage fighting in Canberra.

Agreeing that a ban on the rapidly growing sport would drive it underground, the ACT AMA says the government must set rules. Pre and post-bout medicals, the removal of bikies and organised crime groups from the sport and the prevention of serious injury are among the considerations.

Branch president Steve Robson says: “There was a clear distinction between combat sports and collision sports; having the whole aim of the thing to bash someone senseless is not acceptable to most doctors”.

AN article in New York’s “Village Voice” suggests it’s possible to build a light-rail system that pays for itself. The premise of the piece, published online, titled “The Dark Side Of Light Rail” is that if you build light rail in the right place and, “in collaboration” with developers, the route will be magically lined with multi levels of small boxes for people to live in. Sound familiar?

The boxes would automatically appreciate in value and ultimately realise extra revenue through property taxes.

Though a parallel between the Brooklyn-Queens Connector, or BQX, and the Gungahlin leg of the ACT light rail might be more akin to comparing (big) Apples with lemons.


Seven Days City News March 21

A PROMINENT drug advocate has challenged local MLAs to back a Greens’ call for a pill testing trial (on-site analysis of illicit pills at music festivals) in the territory. President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, says ACT politicians should “pluck up the courage” and support the campaign. Greens’ leader Shane Rattenbury says a trial is an opportunity to lead the way in harm minimisation.However Chief Minister Andrew Barr remains circumspect, warning: “A complex range of legal and health implications needs to be considered before any formal pill-testing service could operate safely”.


ALL bets appear to be off in the funding battle between the ACT government and the local greyhound industry. Following the reversal of a ban in NSW in October, ACT Minister for Regulatory Services Gordon Ramsay undertook to “really look at things with clean eyes”. But as a promised follow-up meeting failed to materialise, the sport is convinced the Barr government is hell bent on banning greyhound racing in the territory. The Canberra Greyhound Racing Club cited positive comments on the NSW industry made by Dr John Keniry, handpicked by the Baird government to advise it on the greyhound racing transition, as further proof the Barr government mishandled the complex issue and acted in a knee-jerk and hasty fashion.

WITH youth detention centres nationally providing frightening headlines, another crisis is looming for the Barr government over the controversial Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.

Opened in 2008, the facility promised “a human-rights-compliant, youth detention facility providing safe and secure accommodation”. An inquiry into allegations that three detainees severely bashed a staff member last May, is yet to be completed.

Calls (off air) to my radio program detailing violent attacks on staff, low morale, staffing shortages and human rights breaches were common. In 2010 staff alleged then-Minister for Children and Young People Joy Burch, stuck her fingers in her ears and yelled “la, la, la” when challenged over issues at a meeting. It would appear very little has changed.



RADIO traffic reporters will need to dig deep into their cliche caches over the next nine months as pace on the light rail project quickens turning peak time into a frustrating snarl.

Radio music programmers also may need to adjust playlists to calm the commute. James Taylor’s 1977 hit “Traffic Jam” might be one hit worth considering:

Well I left my job about 5 o’clock…It took fifteen minutes go three blocks…Just in time to stand in line..With a freeway looking like a parking lot

STILL on the radio, and traffic, Tanya Hennessy, from FM 104.7’s Ryan and Tanya, has amassed some impressive traffic numbers on social media. Hennessy’s Facebook post “a realistic make-up tutorial” scored 4.9 million views taking out the number one spot on radio’s top social posts. Tanya’s tute went viral scoring mentions in the “Daily Mail”, “Glamour”, “Teen Vogue” and Fairfax publications.

FORMER Hawke Government minister Bob McMullan suggests if Canberra is concerned over losing Commonwealth departments to provincial areas, it should think outside the square, but only just.

Writing as a visiting fellow at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, the former ALP national secretary says while the relocation of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to Armidale was “a terrible waste of money and a brutally cynical piece of pork-barrelling”, there are measures locals can adopt to fight back. The former member for Fraser says serious consideration should be given to relocations to Queanbeyan, Yass and Goulburn.


AFTER winning only three NEAFL games last year the Canberra Demons look set to shine in 2017 after a stunning pre-season performance against Ovens and Murray powerhouse Albury.

Under the mentorship of former Queanbeyan premiership coach Kade Klemke, the home side thumped the Tigers, who’ve won six O&M premierships in the past decade, by 81 points.

The Demons travel to Brisbane to kick off their season on Saturday, April 1, against Redlands.