As the roads clog up with RVs on their annual migration north and daily 5pm drinks circles become firmly entrenched, take a moment to commiserate with those left behind
My parents have become Grey Nomads.
In the planning stages of it all I was quite happy for them, after all, they’ve worked hard their entire lives: why not fritter away my inheritance on a whimsical trip around Australia? Until they actually went. Until they literally sped off the front lawn in their gargantuan caravan, tears in their eyes at the enormity of the goodbye and perhaps just a little feverish at getting away from my fighting children. Then, tail lights receding, my thoughts were simple: “What a pair of jerks.”
To be clear, referring to my parents at that stage as ‘jerks’ was a mixture of love, jealousy and joyous expectation. My husband and I had travelled around Australia and were excited for my parents on their impending trip. They have worked hard all their lives and now they’re on a boundless holiday around what is one of the most diverse and beautiful continents on the planet. How awesome is that?
Tonight, I called them for the first time in a week or so. They sounded really tired. Exhausted even. This concerned me automatically: they were working too hard, making this trip laborious by travelling too fast, not taking enough breaks, doing overnighters instead of relaxing in one spot for a few days… It concerned me down to the pit of my stomach.
All for nothing, mind you. They were buggered because they’d booked a fishing charter that morning in Karumba, Central Queensland’s ‘Outback by the Sea’ and for the first time in 60 years, were out of practice at getting up at 5am. Mum caught a 2kg threadfin salmon, dad a kilogram bream. They saw crocodiles, the mouth of the Norman River as it empties into the Gulf of Carpentaria, had their hooks baited time and time again and morning tea provided for them while their guide regaled them on the history of the area. So, you know, they were tired from all that touristing about. Tomorrow’s activity will be watching the sun set over the water from the Karumba Tavern. Bloody jerks.
But my initial and unfounded worry that they weren’t ‘handling’ life on the road brings up a fairly serious issue facing people of my parents’ generation and beyond: ageism. No, ageism is not prejudice against anyone in a fancy New Age caravan while you’re towing your own ageing camper-trailer, but discrimination or unfair treatment based on a person’s age and, in this context, those of an older one. Put another way, the belief that those over the age of 65 are burdensome with little value beyond babysitting the grandkids and dispensing repeated pearls of wisdom beginning with “When I was your age…”.
According to “The Drivers of Ageism”, a research report from the Benevolent Society, ageism against our older generation is increasing and equates ironically to “discrimination against our future selves.” Currently, Australia’s population of over 65s is around 15% or one in five and by 2057, it will be 22%. In 20 years I’ll be in the same position as my parents, assuring my children on Facetime through my watch or inbuilt microchip that I’m tired because we’d spent the day walking through the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach and had been out on a boozy Thomson River Cruise with some fellow Wrinkly Wanderers the night before. Not because I’m simply incapable of getting through the
day without a Nana Nap or that I was spent from driving 40km/h under the speed limit all the way from Roma to Emerald.
The fact is, there is an entire economic and migrational revolution occurring across Australia, one being spearheaded by our older Aussie folk. Over 65s everywhere are travelling around, spending their well-earned money at fading country towns which have burgeoned thanks to their RV Friendly status. Instead of sitting at home in front of their televisions, Geriatric Gypsies are keeping themselves active by exploring this fantastic country of ours and reading the paper far, far away from needy adult children requiring babysitters. Our oldies are walking the slippery rocks of Karijini, fishing the remote waterways of the Gulf of Carpentaria and keeping frightened backpackers in their Jucy and Wicked Campers company in deserted roadside stops throughout the country.
With an ever-expanding 4WD and healthy RV market, it’s almost impossible to think of retirement not involving a few laps around the country. So as the kids left behind, what can we do to ensure that the caravanning goodbyes we dispense to our Adventure Before Dementia friends and family become more ‘Have A Great Time’ than ‘So When Exactly Will You Be Back?’ After all, I need to train my children (don’t forget I’m a millennial – it’s all about me)!
- Have confidence in your Senior Safari goers
They’re adults with decades of experience in staying alive and will continue to do so, just with no fixed address for a few months.
- Get connected
Set up and use an instant messaging and voice app on you and your Grey Nomad’s phone, such as Whatsapp. This will allow the instant sharing of videos, photos and voice or video calls over an internet connection, rather than costly phone carrier charges. Telstra Bluetick phones are also best at picking up a signal in places of limited coverage.
- Plan a trip
Pick a spot on the map, a realistic time frame, hire a motorhome or take your own and meet up with your Wrinkly Wanderer to see what all this ‘Big Lap’ fuss is about (as an added bonus, you’ll gain express entry into the 5pm Drinks Circle).
- Pay it forward
Buy them a copy of Camps9, the Wikicamps app or a cashed-up gift card for petrol, booze or food and wish them well.
- Be positive
There’s nothing worse than planning the trip of a lifetime only to have those nearest and dearest to you spout gems such as “You won’t last a month in that thing” or “I could think of nothing worse!” Instead, try, “You’re going to have a great time”or perhaps just speak from your heart: “I’m going to miss you.”
Underneath all my ‘jerk’ talk, the fact is I miss my parents when they’re doing a lap. I miss knowing that they’re ‘just down the road’ should I need them. That those roles we’ve played for 40 years of Travelling Daughter and Always-At-Home Parents have shifted ever so slightly, like tectonic plates grinding about where they’ve been rock solid for years. They’re Grey Nomads now and that is massive for people who’ve worked and saved and sacrificed their adulthood to the demands of children and mortgages. Which is truly marvellous. A little scary, but truly bloody marvellous.
Anyway, we hung up and my eight-year-old daughter piped up: “Was that Nana?”
When I said it was she replied, “Her spaghetti bolognaise is better than yours. So are her
Just like that. Jerks.