Connections: The changes that have rocked our world

Has your life been a roller-coaster of change? We explore who has been hardest hit.

What has rocked your world? Which generation in the past century has seen the most technological or societal changes? We asked people in their 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s and 50s to tell us about an area that has had a big impact on their life. These are their stories.

•••

Betty is 91. She says transport has come a long way in her lifetime.

The family used to live two miles (3.2km) from the nearest shops, rail station, doctor and so on. We were lucky enough to have a horse and buggy – actually it was a necessity because my father was very sick. A lot of families could not afford a horse and buggy.

A man from the grocer in town came out on his bike every Wednesday to collect our food order. The goods were then delivered on the Friday by horse and cart.

The iceman visited twice a week, also on a horse and cart, and that was a great improvement on the Coolgardie safe (a wire mesh and hessian water-cooled safe).

When I started high school in 1941, I rode my bike the two miles to and from the station every day. Then the first bus route started up. There were no such thing as bus shelters, so you waited in the rain or the hot sun or the freezing cold. In those days, you entered via the back of the bus and it had three seats either side and one in the middle.

When Dad died in 1942, Mum and I moved closer to the station. A steam train came along every day at 5am and made its way into the hills and to other towns. You could lift up the windows when it got hot, but if you put your head out, you would get a face full of soot from the engine.

In the early 1940s, one could count the number of motor cars on the road. For those who were fortunate enough to own a car – and very few were – most were up on blocks during the war due to petrol rationing. The only person I knew who had a car was the local doctor.

The only way to go overseas was by ship. Ships started sailing again after the war, though not many people could afford that. I think it took about 11 weeks to sail from Australia to England.

Also after the war, commercial flights started between a few capital cities. I recall needing to visit Goulburn in New South Wales. It necessitated my first flight. I was petrified. I had to fly to Sydney, stay overnight in the suburb of Lindfield, then had to backtrack into Sydney to catch the 8am train that covered the 121 miles (195kms) to Goulburn. The travel time was 19 hours. People fly to a wide range of overseas destinations today in the same time.

There were a train between Sydney and Melbourne, one each night, returning the next morning and vice versa. If one went by train from Melbourne to Sydney, it left Melbourne at 7pm and arrived in Albury at about midnight. At that point, due to the different gauge rail track between the states, you had to cart your luggage up the longest station in Australia to the next waiting train.

And a lot of the country crossings were manual. The person who manned the crossing was also the ticket seller and signalled to the guard when the train was clear to continue.

Even though we travelled at all hours of the day and night, we were never afraid for our safety, even when carriage windows were blacked out during the war.

It’s become a small world.

•••

Presentacion Morales, 87, grew up when women and girls from modest households worked from dawn to dusk in the home, without the aid of appliances.

When I sailed to Australia to start my own family with my new husband, I assumed my life would continue to be one of great toil. My parents’ little house was on an unsealed road and dust was a major problem. From a young age, it fell on me to get down on hands and knees and scrub the tiled floors every single day.

We were a family of 11 so there were lots of mouths to feed and garments to wash, and it was all done by hand. If we wanted hot water, it had to be boiled as our taps only ran cold water.

So when my husband and I settled to rent in Melbourne, I was delighted to find the laundry had a tub washer with a wringer. A few years later, by now in our own home, we bought a modern washing machine with a spin cycle and I thought I was in seventh heaven.

Sweeping floors was a daily chore, but washing them was just something we did every two to three weeks as we lived on a sealed road. No more getting down to scrub, though, because I had a mop! Now my back and hands could get some respite.

When we first moved into what was then an outer suburban house, the sewerage was not connected and traipsing to the smelly, backyard dunny was a chore while I was trying to toilet train my three girls. One of them refused to use it altogether because it was ‘scary’, so we had a lot of chamber pots around. You can imagine my delight when we were finally connected and installed an inside toilet.

Another modern innovation that saved my sanity was our first television. Before our little black-and-white set, the kids would spend a lot of time arguing and fighting over toys or whose turn it was on the swings, and so on. Well it seemed to be a lot of time. With the TV came quiet afternoons as the three sat mesmerised by the cartoons and series such as Lost in Space, the Addams Family, I Dream of Jeannie and The Brady Bunch. I know many would consider me a bad mum for admitting it, but it was such a relief to not have to be constantly interrupting my chores to run around the house with my slipper as I broke up the screaming matches.

•••

David Norton is a pharmacist. He’s 74 but still works two days a week – and they’re 10-hour days mind you.

There have been massive changes in my field of work. Obviously the arrival of the internet was the biggest but there were myriad others that changed the way we worked.

For a start my four-year diploma is now a degree. I had two pharmacies with a partner at Victoria Market in Melbourne from 1976.

Most prescriptions were made up from hand-written scripts written in Latin. Most mixtures were made from a huge number of galenicals (medicine made of natural rather than synthetic components) and had hand-written labels until typewriters became the norm.

From the late 1970s, most scripts were for tablets or capsules, but the proper name didn’t have to be put on the label. It would just say “the tablets” in the directions. Patients didn’t query things as much as they do now.

Our business was all cash. Most suburban pharmacies ran accounts and it was something of a nightmare recouping your money in a reasonable time. The general rule was the wealthier the suburb the longer it took.

Break-ins became fairly common after the 1990s. There were two or three a year, but generally hardly anything was taken, maybe a few packets of Valium. It was just the inconvenience of being woken up by security or police at 2am and driving the 20 kilometres to the pharmacy to arrange to fix a broken window.

I'm glad I'm not starting now, especially with the big chemist chains around.

Pharmacies stock a big range of extra products today. We sold a few unusual things in our time – I suppose Ukuleles were the most unusual. We also used to buy loofahs, soak them in water and then dry them. They were quite a big seller.

•••

Our The Long and Short columnist Steve, who is fast approaching 65, ponders the changes he has witnessed in music and communications.

Music in the home has seen quantum leaps in my lifetime – vinyl, cassettes, CDs, Walkmans, Spotify – and so has the way we communicate with family and friends.

I’m sitting with my 30-year-old daughter playing my favourite songs on Sonos.

“Who’s this?” I ask her, as Jimi Hendrix plays All Along The Watchtower.

“No idea.”

“Who’s this?” It’s Blondie singing Atomic, but she doesn’t know that, either.

“Well, you try this,” she says and puts on Florence and the Machine. I’d never heard it and hopefully never will again.

Then we got talking about the changes that happen between generations – how far we’ve come and whether we like it or not.

I tell her that last night I had a conversation with my daughter-in-law who is a flight attendant. At the time, she was 38,000 feet over the Pacific en route to Los Angeles.

We were exchanging texts and photos and they were arriving in the blink of an eye. Amazing.

I tell my daughter that this is a technological masterstroke that I struggle to get my head around. She didn’t find it too staggering at all.

She then noted how her one-year-old son would grow up with no concept of a home telephone. I know they’re still out there but neither of us could remember the last time we called one.

Earlier this morning, I took my grandson for a walk and we found a giant bear someone had put out for the annual hard rubbish collection. I took a photo and posted it on Instagram. Before we got home, 32 people had seen the photo and “liked” it.

Can you imagine explaining that to somebody who died 30, 40, 50 years ago? Someone whose only concept of a photo was taking a roll of film out of a camera, delivering it to a camera shop and waiting a week for it to be developed into prints?

I store about 1000 photos on my iPhone. I love looking at them. My only concern is what will happen to all my photos when mobile phones are replaced by the next thing.

And who has a wedding video they can no longer play?

One thing that hasn’t changed for the better is newspapers. A reflection of the modern management style which dictates that, to make money, you sack people to reduce costs. How about spend, become the best and make your product a must-read?

If I put my mind to it, I could think of other things that aren’t better, but that’s what generational change does to you. It makes you reflect and remember and compare and, if you’re a grumpy old man, complain.

So I’m turning on Sonos, searching Spotify, logging into Instagram and getting on with life.  The modern life. 

•••

YourLifeChoices journalist Olga Galacho is in her 50s and relishes all the different ways of staying in touch with far-flung friends and relatives.

I hadn’t long entered my teen years when we got our first telephone. It was an olive green, rotary dial model that weighed a fair bit compared to today’s smartphones. I know how much it weighed because I would have to pick it up and sneak it into my sisters’ bedroom, the closest room to the connection point, just so Dad wouldn’t hear me on it.

He would go ballistic if he thought I was using it for more than five minutes, and five minutes just isn’t long enough to chat to girlfriends, so I got into trouble a lot. He believed phones were for emergencies or receiving important news from overseas relatives. Any other socialising should be done in person.

He would be rolling in his grave now if he knew each of my kids have had several phones bought for them and they spend more time on the devices than meeting friends face to face.

And I suppose I, too, have always felt a great deal of satisfaction from staying in touch with friends and family remotely.

Early in my career, I left the ‘Big Smoke’ to work in small towns and, later, for a number of years overseas. Yes, I made new friendships, but I missed the company and gossip of my early adulthood pals.

When email was introduced, I was an early adopter and waited keenly for friends and relatives abroad to sign up so that we could still stay in touch if we found long letter-writing tiresome.  I wanted to know how my buddies were going now and to be able to have seamless two-way conversations. Email enabled me to keep many long distance relationships going until this day, in a way that snail mail would probably have killed off.

The arrival of Facebook was a bonus. Especially during the years that I freelanced from home and felt isolated from the camaraderie of workplaces. With social media, I could see what all my former work colleagues were up to and have virtual conversations with them. The advent of Messenger meant that I could now call my overseas friends and relatives for free over the internet.

Many say that these new technologies make us more lonely because they have replaced true socialising, but I disagree. For me it has enabled me to juggle many friendships that would have otherwise fallen by the wayside.

What are the big-ticket items that have changed your life – for better or worse?

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    COMMENTS

    To make a comment, please register or login
    ozirules
    28th Oct 2018
    10:31am
    my earliest memories are of waking before sunrise, slipping on a gumboot (I shared a pair with my brother) checking the rabbit traps to see if I had caught breakfast then home to the family tent to light the stove. My sister and I then walked 15 kilometres through hail rain or snow to reach school where we paid for our lessons by washing the windows and sweeping the playground with a toothbrush. I was reminding my sister about how tough our youth was and she laughed.....tough she said, you were the lucky one, you were born after we got the tent....
    Kaz63
    28th Oct 2018
    11:37am
    Thank you for this article. I loved reading the stories and I often imagine how people who have died years ago would find the society of today. My Granddad would have been absolutely fascinated and I think he would be taking things apart, like he used to, just to see how they work!!
    I can remember when
    28th Oct 2018
    4:49pm
    Yes! My Dad would have loved the internet. He was always looking for answers to life's questions and how things worked, and was always building contraptions in the shed. In fact every time I asked him how something worked or what a word meant he would get me to look it up in the dictionary or encyclopaedia.
    BeeTee-Ess
    28th Oct 2018
    11:55am
    I remember the iceman.

    My dad was in the army, and when my parents decided to lash out and buy a fridge, it had to be kerosene-powered. in case dad was posted to somewhere that did not have electricity!
    andytwo
    28th Oct 2018
    1:37pm
    A friend of mine kept his VHS, he loves playing his wedding video in reverse.
    musicveg
    28th Oct 2018
    2:21pm
    Some old school things are back in vogue, like vinyls, many Hipsters (though they don't like to be called that) are bringing back retro and vintage, so don't throw away your old stuff, sell it on ebay!
    greenie
    28th Oct 2018
    3:05pm
    "...quantum leaps..."?
    A quantum is the smallest quantity possible, so why use this term?
    I can remember when
    28th Oct 2018
    4:27pm
    Look up quantum leap. It's a saying. Words often have multiple meanings. Thousands of words have changed meaning over time.
    Lark Force
    28th Oct 2018
    3:19pm
    In the late 40s my Grandfather used to visit. He always rose early and would put on a country radio station, 3GL or 3CS, or 3UL and they played Cowboy Songs(before it was called C & W) for the dairy farmers milking early.
    So that's why I to this day like Country & Western Music. The older style Country Music that is.
    JJ
    28th Oct 2018
    3:27pm
    The advent of all modern technology has changed my world almost completely. As a nurse, the changes that were brought to our working life were incomprehensible to those of us trained in the 1950s. We had to cope with a huge learning curve. They also increased the stresses many fold. As a mother and housewife there have been the changes in food preparation, television, mobile phones, computers controlling cars, dishwashers, washing machines, banking, most facets of everyday life.
    I can remember when
    28th Oct 2018
    4:47pm
    Back in the day we all had to fix everything we could. Super Elliot in Adelaide sold rebuilt bicycles so parents like mine could afford them. We re-used old newspapers, tins, jars. Clothes were mended. Shoes were re-soled.

    Then came consumerism and cheap overseas manufacturing. Cheaper to buy a whole new printer for the computer than replace the ink cartridges. Fridges, bikes, TVs - you name it all built to die and be replaced.

    Don't get me wrong - so many things have improved in the last 50 years. People live longer, it's no longer acceptable for institutions to abuse children, you don't get arrested and beaten for being gay, women don't have to resign when they get married and pay is getting more equal, the road toll is down massively, health is improving, and so on. And the other good thing is that re-using and repairing is becoming trendy (even though millennials think they invented it and called it "re-purposing").
    musicveg
    28th Oct 2018
    4:55pm
    It is great that re-purposing is coming back, those with the skills should be passing them down before they get lost. My neighbour was having a clean out and I could not help myself and found so many vintage things that I am going to sell on ebay and/or repurpose. My 82 year old mum reinvents things all the time, using old tables and stools and redoing them, making art etc. Computer, tv and applicance stuff is the hardest though, but they do have places to drop them off and they go to special recycle centers. My son just fixed my 10 year old laptop so happy about that.
    KB
    29th Oct 2018
    10:28am
    Technology has come a long way. When I went to high school we were using typewriters. Just leaving high school and computers were just coming in, I remember the telegram days, Now if mother would want to let us know that she was returning form a trip she would telegram. Compared today she could use a mobile or use a computer. Growing up clothe were mended. parents would grow vegetables for food and nothing was wasted. In some ways we have moved forward for better. In other ways not. We live in a materialistic society where things get thrown away or things do not last as long, Generation of my parents and grandparents were recyclers without knowing this fact.
    musicveg
    29th Oct 2018
    1:22pm
    Yes, and we create way too much for landfill and making the Chinese rich because we keep buying imports.
    Chris B T
    29th Oct 2018
    10:55am
    A lot of you talk about the 40's and 50's.
    Living in remote WA 70's we only had ABC on TV so that was it.
    When cricket was on all daylong cricket with NEWS break at night then the crap.
    Not even a add thrown in. How we Hate Those Adds Now.
    Sporting Games Commonwealth/Olympics all day.
    Then all the people around would only talk about what they saw and heard.
    GROUND DOG DAY.
    Just to have something else to watch and talk about then ABC was a blessing.
    Something simple as cable/satellite TV.


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