I Wonder About The Demise Of The Aussie Backyard

Ok I’m showing my age here- no apologies to gen Y and younger. In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald a few weeks ago, a woman wrote about the demise of the Aussie backyard. She lamented that in her youth her backyard was used a lot more by her siblings and the neighbourhood kids than she has ever seen today.

She spoke about friendships, fights, imagination- all those experiences that build one’s character. The article resonated with me on a number of levels. Firstly when I first moved into Sydney’s lower North Shore I noticed how extraordinary quiet my street was. I put it down to the number of retirees on my street until I experienced my first Halloween when hordes of neighbourhood kids came by. And no they weren’t from other areas. On closer observation, I counted at least ten houses near me with primary school age kids but you wouldn’t know it unless you stalked the local bus stop in the early morning.

Why aren’t these kids playing in their gardens and out on the street with other kids? They are all approximately the same age. As a kid I spent most of my time on my bike riding with the neighbours kids, inviting ourselves to each other’s places for lunch and generally passing the long day light saving summer days pretending to be pirates, running away from giants, playing house or Drs etc. I don’t hear any of that now.

I attempted to make friends with a couple of families on the street but that went pear shaped until a realised: we’re too competitive, ugly and unfriendly to extend the generosity of true friendship and kindness to fellow humans and other people’s children. Society has changed and I seem to be experiencing the ugly side of highlighted greed, self interest and in short a corporate style transactional relationship devoid of integrity.

I personally think parents are scheduling their children to do all sorts of after school and weekend activities to keep up with the other kids. Despite the above million dollar price tags for gardens that should be used more often, Lachie and Bella are too busy with extra curricular activities and technology to go outside and romp around with all and sundry. And god help us if they are kids of colour! And yes, I get the irony of a having a dig at social media/technology but in my defence I’ve had plenty of days in the sun socialising with kids- of all hues, backgrounds and beliefs. I think this is what makes me extraordinary respectful, empathetic and flexible with ‘differences’- you learn this from a young age.

I fear children are growing up to be soft, insular, protected and maybe lacking the social niceties of yesteryear. My kids make a lot of noise in their garden playing (not uncontrollable screaming for no reason) and I won’t apologise for it. They don’t have a pool or lots of backyard toys, just their minds and personalities. And they will grow up not knowing the kids on their street or having the experiences that will open their minds to differences. I no doubt will need to schedule that in for them.