Florence and Ted Gibbs are 87 and 88; I’m 17. They’ve worked all their lives in many fields, including nursing, programming and psychology; I’m in Year 11. They’ve raised a family, worked full-time. I asked them about their teenage years, their work and family life, what advice they could give me, and we compared the world they grew up in with the one I know today.
Anna: Hi Florence and Ted, thank you for having me today. What do you now know that you wished you knew when you were 17?
Florence: A lot about life! All the life skills that school doesn’t prepare you for.
Ted: At end of schooling, to be taught more about finance management and business management and taxation. This was something no one ever touched on.
Q: How did you maintain running a house, raising a family and working multiple jobs throughout the years?
F: Luckily, we’re both fairly organised people. We did what we had to do.
T: We just accepted it as part of life. We became part of new school committees as the kids went through school. It became your lifestyle, because the children were involved, you became involved.
F: We had a strong faith structure, which was vital too.
Q. When you were 17, what was a big challenge to get through?
F: I was pretty insecure. I was searching all the time for something to make me feel I was a valuable human being. I really didn’t know who I was.
Q. Has technology made a big difference to your lives?
F: We’ve got the phone, iPad, computers. It’s changed the way we live, and it’s intruded a lot, except we don’t let it intrude more than it has to.
T: Technology is so instant and we never had that kind of speed as kids, and is was initially a big shock.
Q. So what’s the biggest difference between the youth of today and when you were kids?
F: Walking around with their heads in their phones. Kids today are so technology obsessed.
T: They need immediate contact with Mum and Dad and friends; they can’t walk up the street without a phone in hand.
A: Yes, that’s true. I was raised with technology and it’s become the norm for me.
F: And we didn’t have a phone. It’s a very different world to 80 years ago.
Q. You still have a very big connection with the church and your faith as you’ve mentioned. I guess looking at today’s society, there are a lot of non-believers, so why do you think faith has died over time?
F: It’s a different world. Church has lost its appeal for young people, mostly because these days children are brought up to know nothing bigger than themselves.
T: Children these days are busy with other commitments. If you look back, sport was never played on Sunday, for example, or ever, on days like Good Friday.
F: And that’s occurred because we are no longer a solely Christian country. We have many faiths and it [no sport on Sunday] is irrelevant to parts of the community.
Q. Florence, let’s talk about your journey.
F: I left school at 14 to support the family and worked as a helper at the post office with my mother. I started studying nursing, but Mum, Dad and I got sick, so I was sorry to give that up. Then I moved on to selling ladies garments, underwear, lingerie. And then I had children.
T: Don’t forget we got married, too!
F: Yes, of course. I stayed home with our children until they went to school. I was ahead when I left school, thankfully, so I went to the CSIRO [Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation] and worked in mathematical statistics and worked a lot with early computing technologies. I was a programmer. I was made redundant for medical reasons, then I went and trained as a psychologist, which I pursued until I was 85 and a half!
Q. In regards to your counselling work, what topics did you deal with?
F: I did a lot of work in the domestic violence field. I also worked as a grief and loss counsellor and a suicide support leader. I ran groups to help people.
Q. Did all of that intense counselling take its toll on you?
F: No. I compartmentalised, if you will. When I finished work I would play cards on the computer, clear out the day and then get on with life. It’s important to do this in any job.
Q. Both of you worked for a long time before retiring. What was the motivation to get up every morning?
F: Well, you needed the money and you loved your work. You didn’t question it.
A: That’s another major difference in today’s world. Everyone seems to have a different view that they’re not afraid to tell everyone.
F: It’s not the same work ethic today. We worked for the love of our job and for the benefit of ourselves and the company.
Q. Let’s move on to family, grandkids. How would you describe your relationship with them?
F: The two eldest grandkids [both around 35 now] lost their mother when they were young, so we spent a lot of time raising them.
Q. How do you connect with them, given the age difference?
F: They’re always ringing to see how we are, and coming over. It’s never really been a big deal. They can come and talk to us about anything.
T: They’ll call and just say, ‘We’re coming over today!’, which is great.
Q. Speaking of grandchildren and childhood, how would you describe yours?
F: Mine wasn’t particularly happy. I did love school and being on a farm and all. It was hard, but I had a friend who lived opposite me and to this day we are still very close.
T: I guess I had a happy childhood. We all had our jobs, riding push bikes and carrying the shopping home on our backs, washing up, cleaning … we did it all.
F: You were your mother’s golden-haired boy, let’s be honest …
Q. What is your view on the changing gender roles today?
F: The roles have changed drastically. I see young dads these days changing nappies and being really involved. As for Ted, I don’t think he changed three nappies ever!
Q. What would be your one piece of advice for a 17-year-old, like me, starting life and putting myself out in the world?
T: Be what you want to be and have faith in yourself.
F: Keep learning who you are and be true to yourself. And stand apart from the crowd who are trying to influence you. Because if you’re insecure, you do everything to be what people want you to be, rather than the person you were born to be.
A: That’s some pretty spot-on advice. Thank you.
Q. I guess, to finish off, I’ll ask, do you regret anything you did or didn’t do in your life, so far?
F: I guess you just accept life and whatever you don’t love, you just go with it.
T: There’s a beautiful poem about that.
F: Yes, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.
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