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What Time Has Told: 80s, Janet Smith

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These days, we know age is no barrier to experience and youth is no barrier to wisdom.

For our latest HerCanberra Magazine: Time, we asked eight women across eight decades what life has taught them.

Janet Smith

At 28-years-old, Janet set off for India with a one-year-old in tow to commence a posting with her diplomat husband.

Across the next four decades she lived in Switzerland, Israel, Thailand, the United States and the Philippines on postings, as well as Canberra where she taught in ACT public schools.

She has four children, 11 grandchildren and is an avid concert and theatre-goer.

What was your decade of biggest change?

Probably the sixties, with the birth of my children and moving overseas. It was a time of great upheaval in the world—the development of the civil rights movement in the USA, the Kennedy assassination, the Martin Luther King assassination, the Paris Spring uprising in 1968—it was a time of great social change.

I found it very interesting—and very frustrating sometimes. Particularly when we were living in the States and it was the first time people tried to bring in new gun control laws. That was 1968 and they’re still trying to do the same thing. It must be so frustrating for all those poor Americans who have been fighting for so long.

What advice would you give to younger generations?

That’s easy—live, love, laugh and be happy. I don’t think it needs explaining.

How has your self image changed as you’ve gotten older?

I think I’ve become more self-confident—travelling certainly widened my experiences.

What age would you go back to for a day, if you could?

I find that a really difficult one. At my age I’m happy living in the present!

What are your hopes for the future?

That we may live with more awareness of environmental and international problems and find leaders to develop the vision to make the world a better place.

How did travel shape you as a person?

While living overseas I had many opportunities to meet fascinating people and do interesting things in many countries.

But my most unforgettable moment happened in the late ‘80s in Thailand, when we attended the opening of a memorial for those who lose their lives building the Burma Railway at a notorious place called Hellfire Pass.

The night before the opening there was a reunion of people who had been forced to work on the railway—former prisoners of war. There were some amazing people there, including Australian politicians Tom Uren, John Carrick and [surgeon] Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop. They were such different people—Uren was Labor and Carrick was Liberal—but they were all the closest of friends, having survived together. It was wonderful to see.

That night they had a concert and there was a man there who sang— he had the most incredible tenor voice. I’ve never forgotten it. We were all reduced to tears by the end. But it wasn’t just his singing that was amazing. During the war, he was a young English POW—just 19 or so—and he was commanded to detonate an explosive, which blinded him.

Because he could no longer work, he didn’t receive rations from the Japanese, but his fellow inmates kept him alive for years by sharing theirs.

The human spirit is an amazing thing. For me, hearing their stories was the most amazing experience I ever had.

PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Bean

This article originally appeared in Magazine: Time (AW2020), available to read free online.

Read it here.

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