Not widely publicised among January’s rollcall of Australia Day Honours was the award given to writer Geoffrey Atherden. Formally recognised as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), Atherden is best known for the classic television series Mother and Son which still ranks among Australia’s most beloved programs 25 years after it first went to air.
For many, Atherden’s sharply observed chronicle of a 40+ suburban male’s struggle to care for his intermittently dotty and manipulative mother represents the epitome of schadenfreude writ large. For others, the scenario of a family dynamic revolving around an ageing loved one’s dependence on their adult children simply reflects their lived reality in all its wonderful craziness.
As the burgeoning financial crisis wreaks havoc upon many Australian’s life savings and long term retirement plans however, the central premise of Mother and Son can be seen to take on a new, more pressing edge.
Baby Boomers in particular (now Greying Boomers aged between 44 and 63 years inclusive) have good reason to revisit episodes of the show, especially if their own parents, the aptly-named Forgotten Generation (now aged from 64 to 80 years inclusive), remain firmly ensconced in the autumn of their lives.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that their response to the show may not accord with that of previous viewings.
For instance, one-time allies of Arthur (Garry McDonald) and his hapless attempts to balance familial duty and devotion with personal freedom and ambition, may find their sympathies shifted more toward the ailing Maggie (Ruth Cracknell) and her battle to retain some precious self-dignity as her fading independence threatens her hopes of living out her days among her nearest and dearest.
Conversely, former fans of poor sweet Maggie and her various feints and foils (children especially tended to feel a sense of kinship with Maggie’s sense of disempowerment and delight in her victories over her smarty-pants guardians) may find they gravitate back to her beleaguered victim as the long-suffering Arthur does his very best to satisfy his mother’s every erratic whim, even if it means repeatedly putting his own plans on the backburner.
Still others might have acquired a newfound appreciation for the absentee approach adopted by Arthur’s older brother Robert (Henri Szeps) whose preternatural ability to shirk responsibility for Maggie’s health and wellbeing may once have incited the hurling of projectiles at the screen, but in light of personal experience, seems wholly reasonable. Not to mention the barbs of weary in-law Liz (Judy Morris) over just who in the household is the more psychologically crippled and in need of homecare: Maggie or Arthur.
These shifts may go some way to explaining the enduring appeal of Mother and Son - the renewed resonance that comes as each generation marches onward to inherit an eerie approximation of the same foibles and frustrations encountered by their predecessors.
Yet there is still one subset of the Australian population for whom the antics of middle-aged Arthur and his muddle-headed Mummy barely scratch the surface of the delicate adult child/elderly parent relationship. For whom the intricacies and impediments are far more complex due to a myriad of inherent cultural, linguistic and religious factors and concerns.
These are the non-Anglo contingents of the aforementioned categories: the self-proclaimed Ethnic Baby Boomers and the newly-dubbed Forgotten Ethnic Generation.
Determining the exact size and scope of these two groups is difficult and not just because ethnic self-prescription can be highly nebulous and transitory. Population breakdowns are notoriously imprecise and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) prefers to tabulate its census figures by decades rather than generations. Nonetheless, in 2006 it is estimated that the overall number of Australians falling within the birth period of the Forgotten Generation (1929 to 1945 inclusive) counted somewhere close to two million. Of this cohort, around one in ten, or 200,000 identified as being born outside Australia in a country where English was not the language spoken.
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