It seems when many sixty year olds here reminisce about the seventies, they remember the fond days of flares, and the fun times of rock and roll. But for some, when they think about the seventies, they want to block out the whole darned era. I got talking to a woman over the weekend who told me point blank that her life was “bloody hard” right through the seventies and that she could find no romance in looking back on the era. She would not tell her story for the site, but was happy if I told it to see how many other over 60s had a really hard time living through the seventies and rarely had the chance to reflect on this with others in the same position?
For anonymity’s sake, lets call her Jan. Jan, born in 1951, grew up in regional North Queensland, in a town with perhaps 5000 or less people. Education in the town was limited back in the sixties, having a career meant joining a small business or working for the local government’s typing pool, and she said herself that the greatest opportunity available to her was to leave and move to the city at the time. But she didn’t until much later. At the humble age of 18, Jan fell pregnant to her boyfriend. They weren’t married. In fact, the way she remembers it they were not really even in love, perhaps just lust. It was all a recipe for disaster, but a good catholic girl Jan had no other option but to live the life in front of her.
She was living the ultimate late sixties lifestyle before this. A life where the most important things were The Beatles and the fashion of the day, and where the next bit if fun was coming from.
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As a good Catholic girl, Jan had grown up at a convent school, a part of a big country family. She tells the story of being the youngest of five children, with a mother with typically high expectations. Such was the time, that when Jan told her mother she was pregnant, her mother reacted by freaking out, then not talking to her for the whole of the pregnancy. A whole nine months of time went by, and the two lived in the same house together in complete silence.
She didn’t ask her to give up the baby, nor take her to a single mother’s home; but she didn’t offer any emotional support through this time. Jan was alone. Her boyfriend had deserted her, her mother was silent and her dad, well, dad’s didn’t get that involved back then.
Alone and having a baby was how a lot of women had to do it back in the 70s but few people talk about it with each other and shared the reality of just how hard it was for them. The TV show on Channel Nine, Love Child is the first time I have seen this era spoken about for its isolated mothers in decades.
Jan was one of these. She gave birth to her little baby at a local hospital, alone, at the age of 18. Her mother had dropped her off there when she went into labor. Her boyfriend, who knew she was pregnant had been asked by his own catholic parents to keep away from her, and in consideration of his own youth and the inconvenience of children at the time, he did.
The birth of that little baby, back in 1970 started a life and a decade for Jan that she can only look back on as very very hard times. She doesn’t regret this, the only child she ever had, but says her attitude to children was very much framed by this experience and even now acknowledges that she feels too raw to read articles about those who had enormous fun in the 70s on Starts at 60.
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She lived on with her mother for a year, before her old boyfriend approached and they tried to set up a home as a family. For a year or two they got married, and tried to make things work, before alcoholism and violence caused her to leave with her small baby girl and abandon her home town for the city, seeking some kind of opportunity and hope. Living in a small boarding house in the big city of Brisbane was very tough, especially with limited parental support. Making ends meet with a young child was almost impossible, and a constant battle for a single mother like Jan.
It certainly made living the exciting looking life of Woodstock-style parties and Beatles-mania through her twenties look aspirational, unreal and enviable. But Jan lived her reality. What was yours?
Was the Seventies a really tough time for you too? Jan is listening as are many who lived a tougher life