Luxuries and Necessities Part 2


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Last time, we saw that fresh fruit and veggies, servants, ready-made clothes, television, and the Internet have all graduated from luxury to necessity status. Here are a few more things.

When I was a child, another luxury item was a motor car. My father was a mechanic, so we owned a car, while most of our neighbours relied on public transport. At least in Sydney, the system is efficient and economical, but beyond the metropolitan area, it has become a necessity to own a car. The whole infrastructure of this country was constructed to be dependent on the car and trucks. We even destroyed railway tracks, when trucks took over.

But has the car’s luxury status completely disappeared? No. For people who can’t afford to run a car, it is necessary to live in accommodation close to public transport. So they congregate in the cities and suffer the rat-race with its attendant stresses. I’m glad I can afford a car to get away from it and explore this wonderful country.

Another item that is still a luxury in the 21st Century, is an overseas education. Back in the nineteen sixties, scholarships were available for deserving students. I was a lucky recipient, whose fees and board was provided by scholarships. While at U.N.E., I made friends with Colombo Plan students who were likewise rewarded. But the majority of students who arrive in Australia today are self-funded. Their parents who didn’t have the luxury of overseas education can now afford it for their children to benefit. And some Australian students enjoy a gap year at an overseas institution if their parents can afford it. My grandson spent a year in France. But for Australia, perhaps this is a luxury that we shouldn’t rely on. We can’t afford to rely on overseas money to subsidise the teaching of our own students, as the current crisis has demonstrated. These students are not only paying fees but also doing menial jobs to support themselves. Can we afford it? Likewise, we could come unstuck by relying on backpackers to service the agricultural industries.

Backpacking may be carried out with minimal funds, but it is still a luxury that poor people never contemplate. In my youth, I could not have afforded backpacking or any other holiday. I had to wait until I retired. Luxury travel by retirees is another source of income on which Australia is reliant.

Both time and money are contributing factors that make overseas travel a luxury. It would be nice if it wasn’t so because travel is the best form of education. It helps one understand how others live and teach the tolerance necessary to eliminate racism. But the majority of people in any country, cannot afford the luxury of travel. As with education, Australia cannot afford to rely on overseas travellers (tourists) to survive. Tourism is the first casualty of an economic downturn, even without a virus, so any country that relies on it has made a foolish choice. Yet, more and more countries today wouldn’t survive without tourism. Let’s not be one of them. We need to find other ways to support our economy.

Tourism should be no more essential than sports matches. We need sport as a form of exercise but professional matches fill a different role. They provide employment for those interested in physical rather than mental activity, entertainment for the masses, and a source of taxes through gambling. But are these necessities? Have we come to rely on passive entertainment for taxes and mental stability? We must find some other way to build resilience. In the past, one created one’s own entertainment – it was not passively consumed as it is today. Every child learned to make their own music, dance, or artwork. Those with the talent we paid by the rich to entertain them, create great architecture, etc.

And, just as giving is more rewarding than receiving, creating anything is more satisfying for the performer than the audience – a great way to maintain one’s mental health. Passive entertainment for the masses is a luxury, not a necessity. So let us replace it with active entertainment. Dancing is one of the healthiest activities both physically and mentally. Singing together releases endorphins just the same as any sporting success.

Every parent learns to say NO to luxuries if they recognise them as such. And every society needs to separate the luxuries from the necessities when budgeting. At present we can only afford to support the necessities. When we can get out and about, let’s rediscover some of the enjoyment we can get by foregoing luxuries.