The Ageing Maltese

A minefield of need & neglect

Author: Lawrence Dimech

Summary of Report

This report, although limited by lack of adequate funding, shows that substantial research in the needs of the ageing Maltese has taken place. Holroyd and Blacktown were targeted as in these two local government areas the Maltese are by far the largest NESB community. The findings are nothing short of outstanding. If a community so numerically strong is left so neglected for so long one wonders at the extent of need and neglect elderly Maltese in other LGAs not covered by this report have to endure.

It is indeed paramount that a historical overview of Maltese settlement be given in the beginning of this report, as the present predicament is a direct result of gross neglect to the needs of Maltese since the late forties.

The report clearly points out to the three spheres of government that they are duty bound to redress the harm perpetrated by the Australian social welfare system that perceived Maltese migrants as an ethnic group who do not experience English language problems, and whose culture is wrongly believed to Anglo-Saxon in nature. Four decades later the Maltese are now demanding that the benefits of Access and Equity be made accessible to them, as they experience old age.

In his foreword to this report Dr Barry York asks: "Is Australia still the land of the future for those who came here as young men and women after the Second World War but who are now elderly?"

It is a statistical fact that the Maltese aged is growing faster than most other ethnic groups in Australia. The nineties and beyond will see 30% to 50% of the entire Maltese community well past the well and frail-aged stage. If prevention is better than cure and early intervention preferred to crisis management, now is the time to plan and implement the necessary infrastructure and services to meet the needs of this fastest-growing age-group within the Maltese community. The report therefore, strongly recommends the employment of full-time aged workers.

It is evident from this report that hardly any mainstream services are making any significant impact on the Maltese community. Even after twenty to thirty years of residency, the majority of Maltese migrants interviewed stated that they are unaware of such essential services as Meals on Wheels, Day Care Centres, Home Care, TIS, Community Health Centre, Family Refuges etc.

Consequently, this report strongly recommends, that as a matter of urgency, a massive educational campaign to introduce and familiarize the above mentioned services to the Maltese community be initiated on all fronts. Such a campaign, however, needs to take into consideration the high illiteracy -rate of the older Maltese both in English and in their own language.

The report finds that although the Maltese are regarded as an established community, those interviewed still choose to use the Maltese language, as there still is embedded in them an overwhelming preference for advice and information to be communicated to them in their first language.

Maltese are good listeners to radio programs in the Maltese language. Unfortunately, very few programs are targeted specifically at the elderly and home bound. The responses highlight a stronger usage of an audio means of communication, where listening rather than reading is the preferred means of finding out.

With regard to health matters, arthritis, diabetes, smoking and obesity will need to feature prominently in any health prevention education programmes. The report recommends that full-time health education workers be employed.

The report emphasises the significant role of the Catholic faith in the life of the elderly Maltese and the important role of the Maltese Clergy for a more effective outcome in any information-dissemination campaign.

The report also shows, that, although most of the Maltese interviewed have been in Australia for thirty years or more, Maltese cultural activities, such as religious FESTA, BOCCI and GHANA have lost none of their attractiveness over the passing of time.

The report also appeals to the younger community members to enter the social-welfare professions with a view to being of assistance to the community, especially the aged. This appeal emanates from a chronic lack of Maltese speaking welfare-providers who could effectively impact on the implementation of the principles of Access and Equity.

The deep-seated reluctance of elderly Maltese to reside in an aged hostel has been well-summarised in this report in the words of a Maltese doctor who observed " I am now convinced that the Maltese are yet reluctant to go to either a hostel or a nursing home. They prefer to live (and die) in their own home. Counter-intuitive...... but true! " The report makes it clear that to many older Maltese, their home is not mere bricks-and-mortar. It represents years of sweat-and-tears in rebuilding a familiar environment to the home they left behind when they migrated. They are indeed hesitant to vacate their home for institutionalised care. This highlights the importance for the Maltese to have linguistically and culturally-appropriate services made accessible to them in order to make independent-living possible.

The report concludes by affirming that the Maltese have been the forgotten community due to their low-profile and the untold damage perpetrated by them being wrongly perceived as English speaking and of an Anglo-Saxon background. They are repeatedly by-passed from their "fair share of the cake."

As a result, extended before them as an ageing community, lies a minefield of need and neglect!

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