Liz Gardner, a Melbourne-based journalist, on the vibe in Victoria, under curfew.
We joke that we're on the film set of the Truman Show or some dystopian thriller. But no, this is Melbourne in August 2020. The year that's disappearing in a blur of disappointments, rules, regulations and despair.
Melbourne wakes after its first night under curfew – a curfew, what the actual ... did we hear that right? No leaving the house between the hours of 8pm and 5am. Not that we were anyway ... nowhere to go ... but the idea that this is legislated, that police or soldiers (for they are now on city and suburban streets) can stop us, ask questions and issue punitive fines is so foreign. So dark.
We are reminded of the New Zealand success story, the collective effort pulling a country through this global pandemic and out the other side to tentative steps towards recovery. We like to keep this thought front and centre: if our Kiwi brothers and sisters can do it, so can we.
But then ... we've already endured 12 weeks of lockdown. We've been huddled in our homes since March 24, when offices, schools and universities emptied. And don't forget this came on top of a summer scarred by the total and utterly random devastation of bush fires. After a brief few weeks of visiting relatives in the country, eating out in restaurants, having a beer at the pub and pretending everything was back to normal ... BOOM. The virus explodes and here we are. Three weeks into a soft lockdown, the doors slam shut and we're living under curfew for another six weeks. Not even in wartime was such a measure imposed on this city.
Panic and fear set in. Lynne worries that her recently jobless son-in-law will kill her daughter – he put her in hospital in lockdown 1.0. She feels helpless and barely sleeps. Cathy remembers the blood and tears, sick to the pit of her stomach, wondering how she will stop her teenaged daughter self-harming this time around. Sal has been grieving at home alone, drinking, self-medicating, cloaked in loneliness since losing her husband of 30 years in February. Rob reckons his Year 12 (the final year of secondary school) son will just give up now that there is a return to remote learning, for without all the milestones – formal, valedictory, 18th birthday parties, the last swim meet, the last footy side to captain - what's the point? These are all real people, these are my friends.
That's the personal toll. The collective toll is no less concerning. We now live in a State of Disaster, officially declared by our Premier, Dan Andrews at the weekend. State. Of. Disaster. The virus, "this wicked silent enemy" as Andrews likes to call it, has exposed the fault lines of our economy and the bloodlines of our suburbs. We worry about the kind of society we've built, the kind of economy we've created that has helped this virus do its killing. Where people in the lowest-paid jobs, in a casualised workforce are having to choose between going to work sick and spreading the virus or putting food on the table for their families. Where people fleeing the trauma of war, torture and hunger who are still grappling with life in their new country now have soldiers knocking on their doors demanding to know their whereabouts for the past few days.
Yes we love to whinge, but Aussies also love to take the piss. Remarkably, our sense of humour is intact. And it is helping.
We're buoyed by all the middle-aged middle-class Covid-deniers on Facebook and their stark-raving mad musings ("It's my sovereign right not to wear a face mask" and "It's just sooooo boring walking the same streets every day") –and more recently rebellious law-breaking actions. Our Chief Health Officer has FOUR Facebook fan pages, one simply titled "Brett Sutton Is Hot". Some enterprising funsters have started manufacturing face masks and duvet cover sets featuring his moniker and the Premier's weekend wardrobe staple, a black North Face jacket, has its own Twitter account.
Once the shock wears off, we will make our new shopping and exercise plans. We will wrap ourselves around the frail, the sad and those enduring their own daily personal battles. We will hit the phones, get on FaceTime and Zoom, have a chat and a laugh. We want to stop seeing tearful families on TV remembering their grandpas, nonnas and yia-yias, we want to stop reading about the horror that's been unfolding in our aged care homes and we want to defeat this beast.
Victoria lockdown: $5000 instant fines after 800 people in isolation 'not home'
The Australian way – much like the New Zealand way - is to knuckle down, put up, shut up and get s*** done. We will rally and we will do this. And we will look to the light across the Tasman to guide us.