The Big Issue : Edition 453
22 THEBIGISSUE7--20MAR2014 WE'RE OLD LADIES now, my big sister Betty and I, 88 and 84. Luckily, we are still well enough to meet each week for Saturday lunch. Joining us is my young sister-in-law, Mary. She's only 83! Because my house happens to be in the middle, the other two usually drive to me. We take turns providing the main course, dessert, wine and chocolates. We discuss politics, children, cooking, our latest reading matter...anything and everything that interests us. But, inevitably, the talk comes back to memories. Mary and I share memories of the Nambour district, in Queensland, where we have both lived for 45 years, and of her side of the family. My late husband, Doug, whom I still miss every day, was Mary's twin brother. But it is when my sister Betty and I start to exchange reminiscences that things become interesting. Many of our childhood memories come in two completely different versions. So far, we have not worked out whether this is due to selective recall or the age difference! After all, four years can produce quite a different perspective when you are a child. Betty is a published writer. Several times, when reading her stories about her youth, I have found it necessary to point out that some incident happened to me, not to her. Her usual reaction is a smile, a shrug, an apology and the excuse of artistic licence. But usually she is genuinely surprised that this is my memory, not hers. The past year has produced several disruptions to our routine. Illness has caused a few changes of venue to one of the other homes; Betty does not like to drive in the rain. And it is accepted that commitments to events involving our younger generations, such as christenings or special birthdays at which our presence is required, will take priority over our own lunches. THEY LOOM LARGE in almost every news report these days: NASDAQ; the S&P 500; the GFC; Dow Jones; hedge funds; bulls and bears; and, most recently, from the US, fscal cliffs and pump-priming... Plus hundreds of other acronyms and terms. Reporters and business commentators chant them like ancient spells, but what on Earth are they all about? Most of us might just as well study the entrails of a sheep as try to work this stuff out; might be better off sitting with our hands over our ears and hoping for the best when some stock exchange necromancer cries: "Beware the Ides of March!" Aeons ago, in the late 1940s, it was all so much simpler. Back then, my brother Len and I were PWR students at Queensland Uni. 'PWR' stood for Post-War Reconstruction: Australia was re-building after World War II, frantically making up for housing and infrastructure shortages, helping millions of ex-service people adjust to civilian life, bringing in thousands of Displaced Person migrants to do the necessary hard yakka and become New Australians. Len and I were two of thousands in the universities' post-war intakes of ex-service-people, mostly men in their middle to late twenties. Len was not long back from New Guinea and I was, more or less, still foundering in civilian life after a couple of years in the AAMWS -- the Australian Army Medical Women's Service. (A quick retrospective 'thank you' here to Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifey and also ‘Nugget’ Coombs, his head of the Department of PWR, for our frst-in-the-family degrees.) I think Len and I more or less dream-walked into John Gifford's class in the newly established Economics Department in the Faculty of Commerce at Queensland Uni. Len was really flling in time until he could establish his own business; I dreamt of being a writer and had learned more about the economy, and with more passion, from Charles Dickens' novels than any Economics texts. But Economics seemed like a reasonable general knowledge subject. And Len advised me: "All you really need to know is the Law of Supply and Demand; everything stems from that." It was Keynesian economics, of course. After the Depression we'd lived through as kids, and then the horrors of war, Keynes' words were Gospel. He stood for things like PWR, like welfare for the poor, like greater equity in education and health and immigration. For no more wars... At uni, members of the Labor and Radical clubs shouted at each other at raucous lunchtime meetings held to determine who would best implement this brave new world while the newly established Liberals -- scorned by all others -- warned us to look out for the Reds under our beds. This Sisterly Life Befuddled by Figures BETTY BIRSKYS, WHO ONCE STUDIED ECONOMICS, WONDERS WHEN THE ECONOMISTS MANAGED TO TAKE CONTROL OF THINGS. MARGARET FORTUNE PONDERS LUNCHES, MEMORIES AND WHAT LIES AHEAD.