Shock of the old

"You mean we actually used to stop foreigners coming to Australia?" my grandkids will ask me in 40 years' time.

"Not all of them, just the brown ones that came by boat," I'll reply. "We'd put them in jail for five years, while we worked out what to do with them."

Around then, I'll probably need to go to the toilet. So, I'll push a buzzer and a young dude named Abdul, Hong or Raj, who's earning $250,000 a year in the now savagely competitive aged care industry, will enter my room at the Fairfax Rinehart Nursing Home to give me and the grandkids a hand.

Hong will have arrived in our country, not by leaky fishing boat but business-class airfare, paid for by his employer who recruited him from his homeland of Asia, Africa or the Middle-East.

He'll have chosen Australia, turning down similar offers from aggressive recruiters in western Europe, Japan and the US because he likes the climate, and nasi goreng is now our national dish.

If you think this is some sort of neo-Liberal daydream/nightmare - think again because it's as inevitable as the planet one day running out of crude oil and 1951 Grange (well, maybe not the part about nasi goreng).

Last year our national fertility rate dropped 0.7 per cent, to 1.89 babies per woman. In order for us even to maintain our population at a birth "replacement rate", that figure needs to be 2.1.

Across industrialised Europe, countries are all well below that number, while Japan's estimate for 2012 is 1.39, China's 1.55, Singapore's 0.78 and the US's 2.06. In fact, Apple now sells more iPhones per second (4.6) than the world produces babies (4.2).

Not surprisingly this means we're not getting any younger. The 2011 National Census confirmed this last month, revealing Australia's median national age has remained at 37.

In simple terms, there's going to be lots more old people very soon. The Australian Treasury predicts more than 20 per cent of our population will be over 65 by 2050, up from just over 10 per cent now.

This raises the question - who's going to look after all these fossils? It's certainly not their families: how many grandparents do you know who are kept at home instead of shoved into aged care?

It's also not going to be Aussie kids because they'll all be at university or TAFE training to be music video directors, plumbers, software designers or celebrity chefs.

What's truly confusing is that last month we also saw almost 100 people drown trying to reach these shores; immigrants so desperate to get here, they risked their lives, then detention, so that they could one day clean McMansions, run the till at a 24-hour petrol station or help your grandma into the shower.

It's well-documented that immigration doesn't substantially change the age composition of a country's population, but there's no denying new arrivals are the ones more willing to do our dirty work.

The UN forecasts that, in 2050, the global fertility rate will decline to an average of 2.05 births per woman (down from 2.7 in 2000 and 4.5 in 1970), so, thanks to modern medicine and nutrition, we'll all be older, and having far fewer children.

A shortage of young people to run the economy will be a worldwide problem, except for Abdul, Hong and Raj, who'll get to pick and choose which country they'll reward with their now incredibly valuable physical capabilities.

Reckon we might get ahead of the game and start making them welcome?

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.