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Baby boomer 'easy life' getting tougher for Dandenong couple

Some parents worry about their children not having the ambition and energy to make a life of their own. Dale and Noelene Blair, from Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges, never really had that worry.

Consider their daughter Jane, 23. Since finishing school she's left home several times in pursuit of work. Last year she started her own business as a beauty technician. When the business didn't pay its way, Jane looked at opening a shop but couldn't get the finance.

''We couldn't go guarantor because it was too high-risk,'' says Dale, 56.

Jane returned home and is now getting the energy up to move out again, as well as enrolling in a course in training and assessment so she can teach at TAFE.

''That will cost $1300 that she doesn't have,'' Dale says. ''So she will try and see if she can pay in instalments. We'll be spotting her money until she gets herself on her feet.''

Meanwhile, Joe, 19, left home to study photography in the city, because the commute from Emerald meant he was on public transport for five hours a day.


''He thought he'd be all right on the Newstart allowance, but he couldn't sustain himself on that. He had to work casually and leave the course. When he can't make the rent he gives us a ring. Again.

''We say he has to pay it back because we're running up interest on our credit card, but say he gets laid off from his kitchen job. What's he to do? He has rent commitments.''

If Joe Hockey's budget proposal regarding the Newstart allowance (no support for newly unemployed young people for six months) passes the Senate, and Joe and Jane Blair fall out of work again, they'll have no choice but to move home once more.

''Which means they come back to a place where there is no work to be had. Certainly no meaningful work, and the government won't provide any protection for them whatsoever,'' says Dale.

''You have to empower people, not make them feel like they are worthless. You hope that something good will happen for your kids and everything is hunky dory. We're the only protection they have.''

All of this wouldn't be quite so difficult if Dale and Noelene's own employment situation wasn't so tenuous.

For 20 years, Noelene, 53, was the national learning and development manager for Myer. She survived the many rounds of redundancies only to leave the company and start her own business with a partner. For a couple of years it went well and then business dropped away.

''So she went to work for a hardware company part-time, but was retrenched,'' says Dale.

''Now she's working in a community house at Upper Beaconsfield as a tutor, helping people with little or no income with resume writing and how to grow vegetables.''

During the years Noelene took the corporate path, Dale, a one-time public servant, stayed at home and raised the children (without the benefit of generous paid parental leave).

He also studied at university, where he gained a PhD and saw his doctorate published by University of Melbourne Press, under the title Dinkum Diggers.

Challenging the stereotype of the unfailingly heroic and superior Australian Anzac, the book stirred some controversy. All of which seemed to set Dale Blair on course for fulfilling his dream of being a historian and teaching at university.

The reality is that at the moment, as a sessional teacher, he gives two or three lectures a week, for 22 weeks a year. ''It was 24 weeks but they have cut the semesters to 11 weeks instead of 12.''

The problem with universities (as it goes in the wider world) is they have ''casualised'' the workforce. There are fewer opportunities to pick up full-time work. To keep things going in the school holidays, Dale was doing demolition work, until his back gave out 18 months ago. ''He couldn't walk,'' says Noelene.

The bald reality is Dale and Noelene Blair - people who help run the community radio station, the local cultural festival and in many ways do the unpaid heavy lifting of caring for others - rely on Centrelink payments as a supplement to their low incomes.

''It keeps us above the poverty line,'' says Dale.

Says Noelene: ''We didn't realise we were eligible for anything. We could have applied for support a few years ago. We only did because we needed to,''

At least they keep busy. Dale's father is still in his own home, fiercely independent, but getting frail. Dale does his shopping, puts the bins out and is otherwise on call to help out in crises big and small.

''He's there probably every second day,'' says Noelene.

Noelene's father died just a few weeks ago. ''Actually, the one blessing of me being retrenched was that dad got sick at that same time. It meant I could go there every day and be available for his medical appointments.''

Her mother is in low-level care and needs family support. ''So I'm there just about every day.''

Dale and Noelene Blair, the baby boomers, the purported inheritors of the easy life. Now they're known as ''wedgies'' which isn't a comfortable thing at all. And that's what the country is coming to.