Richard Glower is time travelling back to late '60s and the early '70s when he was between seven and seventeen, growing up in Canberra, Australia. Recent studies have shown that older generations opinionated that life was better 50 years ago. Although life expectancy is higher, better public access and social welfare, and also the improving in acceptance of differences, is it possible that 50 years ago is really better than now?
Although I wasn't born in the '60s or '70s, I can relate the similar parenting style that I experienced from my parents during '80s. Or maybe I was born in a traditional Asian family, so it is not unusual for some of the old school parenting styles. But somehow, I can see the differences between my childhood time and current parenting styles. Although I have never been told that potatoes will grow in my ears, parents of older times indeed told fanciful stories to keep their children obedient. I just remember one. Don't swallow the chewing gum or else the gum will stay in my stomach for the entire of my life. When the author mentioned about Brussel sprouts and his mother compared with starving children in China who would love those Brussel sprouts, I experienced a similar thing as well. For us, to avoid food wastage and being a picky eater, my parents said how lucky that I have food to eat. There are so many starving kids in Africa that have no food to live. Actually, even until now, my parents still saying the same thing to their grandchildren.
I always thought there were so many unreasonable punishments in my country during my childhood time. Whoa. This is a different level in Australia. It never occurs in my school, and luckily, such a book and the Internet haven't existed at that time yet, or else, I am extremely confident it will be a massive inspiration for my country's schools to implement some of the punishment techniques. What we had at that time was standing on the chair (I still feel it's unreasonable for girls doing it with their pinafore dresses), standing while facing the wall, slapping your hands with a wooden ruler and etc. According to this book, some of the unusual techniques are:
- instruct the child to kneel on the floor and place his head inside a metal rubbish bin. Kick the bin regularly as you walk past.
- force students to do 10 push-ups on a gravel path, but with their hands formed as fists. This will usually cause their knuckles to bleed.
If any teachers in my country at that time aware of such techniques, I'm so sure they will love to implement it in the country with the reason of learning from the western countries. Another interesting one from this book is naughty boys were punished to dressed as girls for the rest of the day. What? I'm stunned and can't comprehend the reason for that. But the most interesting story is two kindergarten children caught spitting in the playground. They were punished and given a bucket which they had to fill full of spit before being allowed to return to the classroom. I don't know whether I should appreciate the creativity of the punishment, but I'm more dumbfounded, I guess.
I feel terrible of laughing at the poor boy who was punished for farting. He has to put his pocket money into a jar, and the money used to buy a can of air freshener — the teacher circling the boy and spraying him with an air freshener after every farting outbreak.
The part about women's rights gives me a better understanding of the history which relate to the women in Australia are still working hard to strive for their rights and strongly emphasize the gender equality between men and women. Some of the laws, such as asking permission from the husband to obtain a passport or opening a bank account, are really something new to me.
I really can't imagine that Australian customs at the airport used to have a list of banned books in the '60s. I'm wondering how many people knew that? Some of the books in the list are D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, Behan's Borstal Boy and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
I think the following statement has answered one of my questions after all this time:
"Australia has always had a peculiar attitude to alcohol. The Australian wine and beer industries were developed with the aim of limiting alcohol abuse."
It doesn't make sense, huh? What if I tell you recently, Australia has created or trying to develop an alcoholic drink that is safe for pregnant women? I was jaw-dropped when I heard that news. No matter whatever reasons, there is no way for a drinking pregnant woman is not risking the health of the baby. Instead of trying to be self-controlled, they twist the health or science facts to quench their thirst for alcohol. I was shocked because I always feel Australians care a lot about babies and kids, and they will do anything for them. Unfortunately, drinking takes higher priority, and they believe they have the right to drink in whatever conditions. I really strongly opposed pregnant women to take alcoholic drinks, and that idea is bizarre and irresponsible. I mean such a drink for pregnant women shouldn't exist at all.
This book not only has given me the insights of how Australia looks like between the '60s and '70s but also felt that I just stepped out from a precious history class. Thanks, Richard. Although I wasn't born yet at that time, I guess some shards of nostalgic memories can be shared with people who were born in the '80s. Sometimes, I feel once you reach above 30 or 35, you start to miss the past, trying to grasp or recall your childhood memories and begin to "tsk tsk" with the current generation which you are proudly comparing with.
I do believe that in a lot of areas such as work safety and acceptance of differences are a lot better than the old days. However, another side of me feels that the standards of humanity are better than now. Although statistics indicating that crimes are falling due to advanced technologies such as fingerprints and surveillance cameras, I often feel people in the old days are more polite, well-mannered and respectful. Maybe that is the thing I continuously miss from my younger times. Sometimes, when I see any kids who are polite and well-mannered, I'm surprised, and at the same time, I feel happy that the parents teach them well and humanity hasn't extinct yet. I guess I fall into the same category of being pessimistic about the current generation, clinging to the nostalgia of humanity.
Rating: ★★★ (3/5)
More reviews can be found on Goodreads: The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover.