Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by group editor Kathy Sharpe.

Australia's oldest paperboy? Kevin McNaught, 90 not out and still delivering.

Australia's oldest paperboy? Kevin McNaught, 90 not out and still delivering.

Greetings from a genteel time,

What a relief it was to read last week that the robots aren't coming to take our jobs after all.

I've been following the dire reports that up to 47% of jobs would be fully automated within 10 years.

But as surely as a press release saying chocolate is good for you is always just around the corner, a report by Deloitte Australia has now hosed down the whole story.

It seems those pesky people-lish skills of caring for others and thinking deeply are still going to be required.

The whole thing got me thinking though, about what the future will look like. Already we're being pushed to self-service checkouts and online transactions. What will it mean if face-to-face service slowly disappears?

In country towns, it's personal. We all know the people who have had the garage on the corner for generations, the man who runs the cinema, the family behind the counter at the takeaway.

For them, work is more than work - they are part of the fabric of the community.

In my own town of Nowra, our local paper, The South Coast Register, recently recorded the closure of our last remaining old school menswear shop, Stanley Johns Menswear, after 55 years.

If you still have one of these shops in your town, you'll know the one I'm talking about.

It stands in pride of place in the main street with a suited mannequin in the window. It's where a discreet attendant, tape measure in hand, is waiting to show a country kid how to tie his first tie.

Generations of locals were dragged in by mothers and girlfriends to be measured up for their school formal outfit, and later, their wedding suit.

Owner David Harrison shared some lovely memories with journalist Rob Crawford. My favourite is the one where a groom and his best men staggered in, freshly drunk from the bucks night, and asked to be outfitted. When asked when the wedding was, they answered, "this arvo".

Then there's 90-year-old paper boy, Kevin Naughton, still delivering the Crookwell Gazette rain, hail, or in the case of Crookwell, snow.

His rounds are as much about stopping to chat with people as delivering the paper. Kevin told journalist Clare McCabe: "I help the older people who can't get out and get the papers off the footpath." The older people? Bless you, Kevin.

Master chef: Lorenzo in the kitchen during his last week at The Cheeky Fig.

Master chef: Lorenzo in the kitchen during his last week at The Cheeky Fig.

Up the road from me in Wollongong, the career of restaurateur Lorenzo Pagnan,who is closing his doors after 30 years, also tells the story of the influence of Italian migrants on that city's food culture.

Besides helping to mark the milestones of so many local families, Lorenzo has won friends along the way with his trademark style of coming out into the dining room and chatting to his guests.

"I like to send people away happy," he told Illawarra Mercury's Greg Ellis. OK, enough nostalgia from me.

What I hope for is this; that in a post automated world, these qualities of empathy, personal service and pride in workmanship might become even more valued and respected.

At least until they work out how to teach robots intelligence... oh, wait.

Kathy Sharpe, Group editor, Australian Community Media

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