Re-imagining the Golden Age of Retirement / by Tim Mahlberg

My grandfather, Ernie Mahlberg, and a much younger version of myself.

My grandfather, Ernie Mahlberg, and a much younger version of myself.

When my last grandparent passed away 12 years ago, I reflected a lot on his life. He started work full-time at 13, and worked 3 jobs through all of his children's youth to support his family. He loved his work and was close to everyone there, and was revered as a father figure to all of them. I used to visit him in Sydney and just loved to see him in his workplace and how all of his staff respected him. 

After he retired from work at around 75, his health declined quickly, and before we knew it, he was gone. 

The importance of work

From him, I learnt that work is such an important part of our lives and our identities, and a big part of how we matter to the world. For my grandfather, work was a central part of who he was. Perhaps this set me on my career pathway years later to be drawn to understanding how work gives us meaning and purpose. I feel that we are only just beginning to appreciate why work is increasingly important to us. In the past, we defined ourselves and our lives through communities and circles of practice all around us; family, our local neighbourhood (remember knowing our neighbours?), religion, civic service etc. For many of us, especially those living in cities, these institutions have been in decline, aside from one: work. I think that work now bears an increasing burden in our lives to satisfy what we all as social beings crave: belonging and identity. Without going off on another tangent I'm totally passionate about, we continue to need these two things even after our working lives. 

Now that I'm researching the future of work, I'm naturally led to think about what happens after. How do we build meaning and purpose into our lives when work (in how we traditionally conceive it) ceases to play a role in our lives? I reflect on this particularly now that my father has recently retired, and my mother isn't far behind. I worry about their health, and how they will remain physically, intellectually and socially fit, and I know that many others do too.

There seems to be to be an unspoken cliff that our most experienced workers drop off once they formally leave the workforce, a perceived obsolescence, that they are no longer 'needed'.  Perhaps because we think too much in terms of economic productivity. I think we like the idea of people continuing to contribute to society - think volunteering for instance -  but we struggle to quantify it in terms that we currently measure our social progress - think GDP, productivity indexes, bottom line accounting etc. None of these help us to account for what life should really be about: living a meaningful and purposeful life. 

visibility of our elders

As most of my grandparents passed away when I was young, and we moved around a lot, I've never really had many people older than my parents in my life. I suspect for most people it would be the same even now. How often to we see older people at the cafes we visit, the events we attend, or even just down at our local pub? Unless you are on a bus at midday or a bowling green, you'd be straining to see those more lived and wise than us. I reflected on this during a recent trip to the Middle East, where I was struck by how integrated older people in their 70's and 80's were in small business, community spaces, through the cities and on public transport. There is definitely something amiss back home.

I've always been curious about the elderly; wanting to listen, learn and ask questions, and hear about their life stories. Throughout my undergraduate and masters study, I volunteered with Meals on Wheels in Adelaide delivering meals to a spirited bunch of locals who were still living in their homes. The personal contact from volunteers was often the highlight of their whole day, as many were very isolated. I'll never forget the people I met, their stories (like the guy who traveled the world on cargo ship) and the impact our exchanges had for both of us. Older people have so much still to offer our society in their wisdom and experience, and it seems so strange that they are shuffled off to institutions and homes, and seen as a burden that we as society must carry.  


We know our ageing population will create challenges for our society, but therein also lies the opportunity. To imagine and build a better way of ageing. I'm curious as to what life after work could be like, and how it might be better. I'll never forget giving a tour in The Village to a group of retirement village investors and asking "What if every one of your villages was like mine? Would you want to retire there?" There was general consensus that there was a long way to go to create somewhere we would want to go when we were older, and that our current institutions just don't cut it. 

Ballycara Wellness Centre in Scarborough, Brisbane.

Ballycara Wellness Centre in Scarborough, Brisbane.

Recently, I've been very happy to start working with a fantastic organisation who have started to innovate in this space and are passionate about re-imagining retirement. Ballycara is a non-profit organisation who operate retirement villages and aged services for those wanting to live at home. Based in north of Brisbane in Scarborough, they have already launched a Wellness Centre in one of their villages, where residents and those living out in the community are able to access a range of events and services around health and wellbeing, or just meet friends for a cup of tea and cake. Life is always better with cake shared with friends!

Together, we are embarking on an ambitious project to bring a new vision of healthy ageing to Australia… to take life after work from "retire" to "re-inspire". We want to create an inspiring, collaborative, and innovative community for health, well-being and connection between people of all generations. Envisioned as a network of community 'hubs' for people of all ages, but especially as a place for those who from the magic age of 65. Think The Village but with even more diversity of age, more cups of tea, and a greater focus on physical well-being also, with members realising their full potential in life through a balanced lifestyle, a continuing sense of purpose and belonging, and world-class health and well-being support. This is how ageing should be.

Inspire share connect

As the first step, we are launching a series of pop-up community event series called Inspire Share Connect in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, to inspire healthy ageing, provide a place to share wisdom and knowledge, and help connect with the local community. These half or full day programs include a range of engaging and stimulating sessions around health, wellbeing, technology, and plenty of opportunities for participants to get to know each other and have some fun too.

Our first pop-up event is on Wednesday 8th June at Matthew Thomas Cafe, Sandgate, Brisbane. I'm really excited to hosting the event along with the team from Ballycara. If you can imagine yourself, a loved one or someone you know who would benefit from coming along, it would be amazing if you could to reach out to them. We would love you to share the website, or give them this number to call (07) 3897 3200. For a list of individual events, head to this link.

I look forward to giving you an update soon on how it all progresses!