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The heart of Australia

Every day, as our politicians tell us that pensions and welfare are unaffordable, we must pay more for health and education, the unemployed are lazy, we cannot spend money on foreign aid, we must not help asylum seekers, we do not need disability advocates, we can’t afford to protect the environment . . . the heart of Australia beats slower and slower.

The Abbott government wants to take our ailing heart, promising to replace it with a diamond. That diamond is turning out to be not even a cubic zirconia but instead, a lump of coal.

Today I was reminded how paltry Tony Abbott is by forgetting about politics and spending a day with my family.

My mother is 93 years old. After being diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2003, she moved in with my family for six years before moving to an aged care facility in 2009.

She has managed well considering and, up until a few months ago, I would regularly pick her up to join whatever family members were available for lunch at the pub. We would eat oysters looking out at the water through the Norfolk Pines. Every time mum would say “Isn’t it nice how they’ve left the trees” and my daughter and I would smile at each other. It gave her such pleasure.

A couple of months ago mum fell and broke her hip. Despite enduring an operation, she will not walk again. She has been moved to a dementia ward at the nursing home.

Today my son came with me to visit her and he wheeled her outside where we sat in the garden enjoying the sun and the chocolates and bananas (her favourite) we’d brought.

My son is 23 and had been hesitant to see his grandmother in hospital – scared of the deterioration. Within seconds the hesitation was gone as he chatted away with the various other residents.

We stayed for hours and then all the way home he talked about how cool it was, that I’d exaggerated how bad it would be, how funny was that guy, how happy was that lady, how he admired them.

When we got home he was recounting all the stories to his sister and then he sent me the following email (from Facebook).

“When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through his meagre possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.

Cranky Old Man . . .

What do you see nurses? . . . What do you see?

What are you thinking . . . when you’re looking at me?

A cranky old man, . . . not very wise,

Uncertain of habit . . . with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food . . . and makes no reply.

When you say in a loud voice . . . ‘I do wish you’d try!’

Who seems not to notice . . . the things that you do.

And forever is losing . . . a sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not . . . let’s you do as you will,

With bathing and feeding . . . the long day to fill?

Is that what you’re thinking? . . . Is that what you see?

Then open your eyes, nurse .you’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am . . . as I sit here so still,

As I do at your bidding, . . . as I eat at your will.

I’m a small child of Ten . . . with a father and mother,

Brothers and sisters . . . who love one another

A young boy of Sixteen . . . with wings on his feet

Dreaming that soon now . . . a lover he’ll meet.

A groom soon at Twenty . . . my heart gives a leap.

Remembering, the vows . . . that I promised to keep.

At Twenty-Five, now . . . I have young of my own.

Who need me to guide . . . and a secure happy home.

A man of Thirty . . . my young now grown fast,

Bound to each other . . . with ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons . . . have grown and are gone,

But my woman is beside me . . . to see I don’t mourn.

At Fifty, once more, . . . babies play ’round my knee,

Again, we know children . . . my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me . . . my wife is now dead.

I look at the future . . . I shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing . . . young of their own.

And I think of the years . . . and the love that I’ve known.

I’m now an old man . . . and nature is cruel.

It’s jest to make old age . . . look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles . . . grace and vigour, depart.

There is now a stone . . . . where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass . . . a young man still dwells,

And now and again . . . my battered heart swells

I remember the joys . . . I remember the pain.

And I’m loving and living . . . life over again.

I think of the years, all too few . . . gone too fast.

And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people . . . open and see.

Not a cranky old man.

Look closer . . . see . . . ME!!

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within . . .

we will all, one day, be there, too!

The best and most beautiful things of this world can’t be seen or touched.

They must be felt by the heart.”

As I read this, I cried. I cried for my mother, I cried for my son, and I cried for my country whose heart has been ripped out.

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  1. DanDark

    One of your best articles Kaye…… Beautiful story…
    Thank you for sharing this story of hope, happiness and love 🙂

  2. Ana Milosevic

    Thank you Kaye Lee, sometimes I like to say to those that treat me with disrespect and make fun on my account, I like to tell them that soon they will be where I am now. I read this article and cried too, mostly for this country, because it took a lot of hard work, sweat and tears to make it into fair and welcoming country to almost all who wanted to make it their home…. there was a hope even for the First people of this country to be recognised and respected. And than it all collapsed, our hopes are quashed, our fear is growing and we are reminded every day that we are worth absolutely nothing yet the government is keeping us “safe”….. No wander our hearts are beating slower and slower…

  3. trishcorry

    Wow Kaye, that is one moving piece. Very well done indeed.

  4. rossleighbrisbane

    While we all pay taxes, the Liberals turn around and tell us nothing is free…
    So we’re asked to pay twice while they say that money going to their mates will trickle down and we’ll all be better off!

    It’s been said that some people know the price of everything but the value of nothing.
    Thank you for sharing something valuable!

  5. diannaart

    Thank you, Kaye, for giving us something that can never be degraded with a dollar sign.

    When we reach the end of our lives, who will be counting their money? I suspect even the neo-cons would wish to count their friends – who will be wealthy and powerful then?

  6. Harquebus

    The silent generation: 1925–1942;
    “Born too late to be war heroes and too early to be part of the boomers cultural revolution.
    They suffered silently the war, its aftermath and now, in their final days, they pass on through, in silence and without complaint.” – Various sources.

    The heart may have been ripped out of our country but, it still beats.

    Good to see you back Kaye Lee. Honestly.

  7. John Kelly

    My wife went through a similar experience with her father. He had such a profound impact on the staff at the nursing home where he spent 18 months before he passed away. At his funeral several staff attended and more would have but for a shortage of remaing staff to tend to the living.

  8. eli nes

    i liked it better a few years ago, when it was a crabby old woman.

  9. Kaye Lee

    No doubt this has been circulated eli nes….it came from facebook as I said. That does not detract from the sentiment or the fact that my son chose to share it with me.

  10. corvus boreus

    To our elders, we often ought to listen when they speak.

  11. Kaye Lee


    We must listen to our collective wisdom – it is truly awesome. Thank you.

  12. donwreford

    If pensions and unemployment benefits are unaffordable and the money is not their for these outgoings? how is it we are looking at submarines, jets and militaristic hardware costing if not billions as ongoing costs on parts and maintenance could become trillions of dollars, we know wages are not in accord with rising cost of living and the rich are getting richer? we also note Abbott is not talking about wage restraint on the contrary he books up every expense possible for himself such as appearing in lycra and a house for his use paid by taxpayers is not suitable as being up to his standard, I suggest he is a pompous hypocrite the Australian people who voted for him either did not know what he is about or he got in by default? it is my hope that people of Australia were duped or they are as a whole that stupid that ignorance is bliss?

  13. Harquebus

    I made a mistake. (Yes, I do make them.) Very embarrassing. Any chance my previous can be edited?
    “Born too late to be war heroes and too early to be part of the boomers cultural revolution.”

  14. Roswell


  15. miriamenglish

    Thank you so very much Kaye. Deeply moving.

    My wonderful, wonderful Mum is slipping into Alzheimers too. Horrifying. It runs in the women of our family. I’ve always depended upon her for advice. She has always been the axle upon which our entire family rotated. That seems to be a thing in Australian families.

    I often look at elderly people and try to imagine how they looked when they were young. It is especially interesting to see the photographs of their younger selves and imagine the world they lived in — the hopes, the knowledge, the loves. It is equally interesting to look at young people and imagine them when they’re old. The time machine in our heads.

    It seems to me the Abbott government considers all this humanity just wasteful sentimentality. It doesn’t bring in a dollar, so it needs to be jettisoned. Latest news is they want to completely gut public education, from kindergarten all the way up. They are vandalising our country. It makes me scared and angry.

  16. hilderombout

    Thank you so much for sharing Kaye, It brought tears to my eyes as well, even when i read it a second time. Such a lovely story to read at the end of the day. It counteracts all the crap we have been subjected to today. Thank you.

  17. stephentardrew


  18. Pudd'nhead

    Kaye -Given a choice I would always want to live in a world which has people like you in it. I hope you will excuse an indulgence of mine in dedicating a short poem to you. (P.S. I have misused the verse somewhat to impress the occasional lady but from henceforth will desist, as, as of now it is yours.It is titled My Girl).

    If there be time my Loving Lord
    To live her life to the full,
    Let her run ‘cross the sands like a flood tide,
    That tops to the moon’s magic pull.

    Let her fly in the sky like an eagle,
    Wind blown…but soaring high.
    Eager to chase where it takes her,
    See beauty, respond with a sigh.

    Let her give to those around her,
    With a heart that is steady and true,
    A tender word, the warmth of a smile,
    You know is reserved just for you.

  19. Kaye Lee

    That is beautiful. Thank you Pudd’nhead.

  20. Terry2

    A friend of mine volunteers in a nursing home. She frequently mentions how she is humbled by the generosity of spirit, the wisdom and the strength of character that she sees in many of these old folks.

    We need to listen to the wisdom of our elders.

  21. Kaye Lee

    We need everyone. We can all learn so much from each other. The wisdom and experience of the elderly, the exuberance and passion of the young, the knowledge of our Aboriginal elders, the vision of our researchers and the warnings from our scientists.

    The politicians and economists serve the corporate brain but who listens to our heart?

  22. John Lord

    Coincidently as I was reading your piece Kaye I also had a DVD of the Irish Tenors playing. On it is a very emotional song called “The old Man” I’m a bit of a mess. Thanks.

  23. Kaye Lee

    That means you still have a heart John….something you show us regularly in your writing which brings joy to so many people. Nothing wrong with feeling.

  24. Michael Taylor

    Hear hear!

  25. DanDark

    Yes feelings oh feelings…there is a song in there somewhere 🙂
    John “here is a tissue for your issue”, as my son says, it cracks me up when he says that to me,
    because if I feeling a little glum a tissue is always good…

  26. Stoo1970

    Great work Kaye Lee. Good people like you are the true heart of this country. Keep beating long and loud!

  27. Nan Deacon

    This poem has been around for at least 25 years and was previously called “Crabbit Old Woman”. As a nurse teacher I used it many times.

  28. Kaye Lee

    It is great that it is still being circulated. I think it would be a wonderful teaching tool.

  29. virtualnonsense

    So beautiful – except I’m a blubbering mess now…

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