Our city

19 Jan

See Discovered: 300 who died alone.

ALMOST 300 people died alone in NSW last year, only to be found weeks or months after they passed away.

Yesterday the body of a woman in her 70s, who may have been dead for up to two months, was found in her Belmore home. Neighbours called police after becoming concerned that the woman, who lived alone, had not collected her mail and that her yard was overgrown.

The State Coroner took custody of 299 decomposed or decomposing bodies in 2006 and 283 last year, figures show. All had been dead for at least seven days before their death was reported; some had been dead for almost two years.

Most deaths were due to natural causes, but some died by their own hand or in accidents. Most were found in their bedroom or lounge room. And only 22 of almost 600 had died in Housing Department flats over those two years

Sue Schreiner, a long-serving NSW magistrate and now an acting magistrate in Sydney, has been concerned about unreported deaths for 30 years. While working in the coroner’s office in the early 1980s she was so moved by the number of long-dead bodies being discovered that she conducted her own research into who all these people dying alone were. She examined the 269 cases that came through Glebe morgue in 1981 and 1982 and found most were elderly, single men. Some were so isolated that their only human contact was with a rent collector or a bank teller…

At the time, Ms Schreiner mourned the loss of neighbourliness. Her feelings have not changed more than two decades later. “It seemed to me then, and it is still so today, that the solution lies with each of us,” she said.

The State Coroner, Mary Jerram, agrees. “We don’t have a sort of vigilant community that keeps an eye on each other.”

Pat Daley, a Salvation Army spokesman and a founder of the now-defunct Neighbourhood Watch, said isolation of the elderly was worse than ever because necessities that once provided contact, such as bill payments, were now automatic.

“Australians are an uncaring society, generally speaking, compared to Asian communities and some European communities,” he said. “They tend to look after their elderly. It’s appalling the way we treat our senior citizens in some situations.”

Yes, it could be me, or you, one day, but that is not my point. Funny in a country where “mateship” is allegedly a core value, isn’t it? I still recall Korean and Chinese students at the language college where I worked in 1990 saying the thing that most shocked them about Australia was the number of older people who seemed not to belong…

The price of individualism?

1 Comment

Posted by on January 19, 2008 in Australia, humanity


One response to “Our city

  1. Oscarandre

    January 20, 2008 at 9:43 am

    The price of many aspects of our life, I think – work obsession, consumerism, busy-ness…Who will value wisdom where wisdom is not necessary? Who will care for people where only things matter?

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