“I’ve asked patrons why do you need to behave like that and told them to keep their money, I don’t want it.”
“Why do you need to behave like that” – especially in your own backyard – is how I felt when abused by a man in a crisp button-down shirt as I walked home with flowers for my dad on Father’s Day.
That bit of footpath is more than two metres wide and was void of anyone but me and the guy who must have been walking a determined straight line behind me.
I stepped to the edge to make sure I could not possibly be in anyone’s way to read a text. I must have obstructed this stranger’s intended path because he sniped “bitch” as he stomped past.
Asking around, it transpires that despite all the uplift we’re receiving from hopeful stories about kindness, my experiences of tensions you would never have expected in our small, and the wider, community are common.
We’re all under serious pressure, yet as many Melburnians dig deep to help others and at the very least not to make others’ lives more stressful, others are are being, well a-holes.
Another friend, a small businesswoman with plenty of resilience, was shaken when an older man passing her in Port Melbourne saw her lower her mask to sip coffee and barked “put your f—ing mask back on you c—“.
Demographer and social commentator Bernard Salt confirms this kind of experience is happening more frequently and shows strain at the time when we face the greatest collective stress-test since Japanese subs entered Sydney Harbour and Darwin was bombed in 1942 – except right now only one city is going through the worst of it.
“There’s no doubt there’s a fatigue and a tetchiness emerging; you can almost see the trajectory,” says Salt, who lives in Camberwell. “Everyone’s heard that language – and it’s from a standing start to that. This is really where we’re at.
“The second lockdown really changed the mood and when it was extended it really pushed us to the edge. The tolerance factor has all but disappeared.”
So, now we’re turning our disappointment into bullets and randomly picking off strangers. Melbourne, come on, this is not a coping strategy.
Evidence our lockdown fatigue is turning to contempt just under the surface, and breaking through, is corrosive and will make recovery of any sense of “normality” that much slower.
Personally, having seen these and other confrontations, though I am quite tough, I am now wary of forgetting to step on eggshells and copping a burst.
I understand August’s bad-on-bad press conferences made us feel powerless, and the sight of conspiracists invading the community playground of Albert Park Lake and upending the “peace and prosperity” (the motto on Victoria’s coat of arms) of the Queen Victoria Market this month has made us nervy.
The questions with no answers about when our lives may return are hugely frustrating and fanning anxiety. We all sense it.
Yet now it seems it’s not just the outliers who feel smashing another person’s tenuous equilibrium is pandemic-acceptable and a tolerable way to deal with one’s own emotions. This only risks sending the 2020 stain deeper into the fabric of our celebrated Melbourne community.
The panic buying was predictable, the hoarding almost understandable, even the sharp increase in people dobbing each other in for breaking coronavirus restrictions is explicable, when, according to Melbourne University social psychologist Professor Brock Bastian, people are doing it believing they’re serving the greater good.
Bastian says a “tightening of the social norms” under which people are doing their best to aid and end this by holding ourselves and each other to account is evident. Fortunately, he says, if we can resist the temptation to hold onto resentment, including if we experience the kind of ugliness above, the community will emerge unscathed or stronger.
Being willing to put ourselves out to get this done is admirable, if uncomfortable. But with weeks of weird lockdown life to go, if I never encounter bad and aggressively selfish behaviour from a stranger/virtual neighbour again before the end of this, it will still be too soon.
This year, Ms Yengi is one of a number of African-Australian candidates standing in local government elections on October 24.
The impact of the racialised African gang coverage and the lockdown of the public housing towers has in part led to a new generation of leaders who hope to give a voice to under-represented communities.
Ms Yengi says Maribyrnong — where she is standing as a Labor candidate — has the second most ethnically diverse population in Victoria, with 40 per cent of residents born outside Australia. “Our council is definitely not reflective of this,” she says.
The African-Australian candidates come from a range of backgrounds and are standing as ALP, Greens or independents for councils including Wyndham, Maribyrnong, Yarra, Melbourne and Warrnambool.
Earlier this month, they held a Zoom community forum: Meet your African Candidates. “This is the first time we’ve had this many community members put their hands up for election, which is very exciting,” Ms Yengi said on Facebook.
The forum was told that residents had complained to a council about a large group of African Australians playing basketball in a park.
“Because we all stand out, perhaps people feel intimidated by us,” Ms Yengi says. “Rather than the council trying to speak to the community, they just shut the playground.”
She says the African-Australian candidates are all passionate about advocating for greater representation for marginalised and underrepresented community groups.
“I think that other than having different perspectives and experiences, our advantage is the connection we have to the grass roots and being able to relate to other CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) communities,” Ms Yengi says.
This year will be the first time all councillors in Victoria will be elected via postal ballots to address the risk of conducting elections in the middle of a pandemic.
But the fact the elections will proceed at all is controversial amid concerns they will heavily favour incumbents who already have a profile.
A frustrated Municipal Association of Victoria president, Cr Coral Ross, said the decision meant the elections would not have the quality and diversity of candidates that Victoria deserved.
The Victorian government — which has committed to achieve 50 per cent female councillors and mayors by 2025 — has funded the It’s our Time campaign to encourage more women to stand.
Currently, the representation of women sits at 38 per cent, with 13 of Victoria’s 79 councils having only one female councillor.
Zahra Haydar Big, who came to Australia in 2008 as a refugee from Afghanistan, is standing as an independent for Greater Shepparton Council. She says so far she is the only female Hazara Australian to stand in Victoria in 2020.
“One of the reasons I am standing is gender equity,” says Ms Haydar Big, who has worked in a range of community service roles including as a case worker for the Australian Red Cross and a community hub leader at a local primary school.
“I want women to fulfil their dreams. Nothing here in Australia can stop our dreams.”
Ms Haydar Big hopes her election tilt shows the wider community that refugees are hard-working and want to contribute to Australia.
“Shepparton is our home. I want to be a voice to improve the local area.”
Hamdi Ali, who was forced to flee refugee camps in Somalia because of war, came to Australia in 1992 on a humanitarian visa.
“To be honest, I’ve never thought of myself as a politician,” says Mr Ali, who lives in a public housing estate in Carlton.
But over time, Mr Ali, who volunteers for the Carlton Legal Service and Carlton Housing Estates Residents Services, came to realise how disconnected the east African community was from the political system.
“For a lot of people, the first time they learn about council is when they get a fine for not voting in the elections,” he says. “They think the ballot is junk mail.”
Mr Ali says Melbourne City Council is especially unrepresentative, in part because it is the only council in Victoria where businesses are given two votes.
His decision to stand for the council was confirmed by the July lockdown of public housing estate towers in Flemington and North Melbourne.
Mr Ali does not oppose the decision but says it was not explained to the east African community, which exacerbated their sense of being outsiders. Initially, community leaders were prevented from providing food to residents and Muslims raised concerns about it not being halal.
“It just confirmed the disconnection between the community and services being provided — they were not made to be a part of it,” Mr Ali says.
After careful consideration, Mr Ali joined the ALP, which has endorsed him as a candidate. “I realised you need to be inside the tent.”
Candidate nominations for the council elections close at noon on September 22.
Jewel Topsfield is a senior reporter at The Age. She has worked in Melbourne, Canberra and Jakarta as Indonesia correspondent. She has won multiple awards including a Walkley and the Lowy Institute Media Award.
Patricia Callinan created the page Help 3095 and Surround with simple intentions. A new Facebook page, like many others in pandemic-era Melbourne, to preserve a sense of connection.
Someone nominates a deserving recipient and an appropriate package – books, pamper products or afternoon tea – and members donate the money to a local business to package up and deliver the gift.
“It’s putting money into local businesses because they’re struggling. And it makes the essential worker feel as if they’re noticed,” Ms Callinan says.
More than 20 packages have been delivered or are being assembled since R U OK? Day on September 10, and one very special moment has brought delight to all who learn about it.
Local resident Margaret Murphy turned 87 last month and likemany Melbourne seniors, had become increasingly isolated from her community during lockdown. Ms Callinan called on the power of the group to make her day special.
“All I did was ask people to write a card, deliver it to me, and then I’d deliver them to her, but oh, my God,” she says.
Ms Murphy was inundated with presents, morning teas, flowers and helium balloons. Children and adults stopped by for socially-distanced hellos and chats. A talented singer, a group member, even lured Ms Murphy into the garden and sang her happy birthday from the street.
In a thank-you note, Ms Murphy wrote: “I woke up the next morning and guess what! That feeling of dread that had been in the pit of my stomach had disappeared.”
Now, Ms Callinan’s community has set out to create 1500 personalised care packages for year 12 students in the postcode.
“It’s a mammoth task,” says Ms Callinan, who is currently living with 480 Curly Wurly bars in her living room.
“It’s also really bringing the community together, and I just love that.”
In a personal touch, each package will come with a handwritten letter of encouragement from a local stranger, including from residents in aged care.
Students will receive snacks and other goodies, including quality pens for the stark shift from home computers to hand-written exams.
Ms Callinan is organising the delivery of pledges from as far away as Queensland.
Group members have volunteered to assemble the packs in an unused section of local cafe, Platform 3095, and deliver them to the schools before the October 7 General Achievement Test.
“They have no graduation and no formal. The GAT may well be the last time all the year 12s are at school at the same time,” Ms Callinan says.
“We want the students to know that, number one, we acknowledge what they’re going through – that it sucks – and, number two, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and life does get better.
‘You bake with love and you bake with joy’
Every Sunday in Surrey Hills, Jennifer Aldous, a nurse of 47 years and still “bounding out of bed”, pours her heart out on an outside table.
Cupcakes, soups, biscuits, lamingtons and cakes of almost any variety, a market-stall bounty of freshly-made goodness, all of it free for neighbours or passers-by.
In the second or third week of stage four lockdown, when she began Windsor Crescent’s favourite new tradition, the theme was festive – mince pies and Christmas shortbread.
On Sunday and next week, she will give out “children’s packs”, including cookie dough they can take home, roll, cut and bake themselves.
“I guess I thought, ‘What can I do just to give some joy. Just a little bit, that’s all’,” says Ms Aldous, who turns 65 tomorrow.
“I believe you bake with love and you bake with joy. If someone sees that, they know someone’s made that, someone’s taken the time.
“It’s a little bit of joy in a real shite moment.”
The table, which Ms Aldous leaves unattended out the front, has hand sanitiser and extra masks, should anyone need them.
And while she asks nothing in return, people will sometimes leave flowers, kitchen presents and recipes.
“I’ve just said to them, ‘Please don’t give me money’,” she says.
“But one person left me so much money at once. I know some families who have not been working and not Australian residents, so any money that’s left I’ve been getting … vouchers for them to buy groceries.”
Ms Aldous, who lives with her husband and daughter, says it’s no fuss – the kitchen is her “place of solitude” after long hours at working helping mothers and children.
“It’s a joy to give,” she says.
“People out there are sad. You may not have any money, so just bake them a cake.”
The masked mowers of Cape Paterson
Geoff Boer has been invading backyards for more than a month.
He’s up to 48 now, more than he promised himself, and has even started going back for seconds.
His mate Tom and handful of others lend capable hands. But more in Cape Paterson, which is about eight kilometres south of Wonthaggi, are at it too – he’s seen their work.
“The first thing to say is there’s no organisation,” Mr Boer says.
“But you can see the evidence. Houses that are vacant are suddenly mowed.”
If you have a property in the coastal hamlet and stuck in stage four Melbourne, just hope the masked mowers have stopped by your place, too.
Mr Boer, a 65-year-old part-time accountant, walks his mower up to four hours a day taming wild Cape Paterson nature strips. If the gate has been left open, as they most often are, he’ll also do the front and back yards.
He says the challenge in any foreign yard is navigating the hidden roots and rocks.
“Sometimes you get a bit of a surprise,” he says. “I just bought another two sets of blades and a new air filter.”
The beauty of Mr Boer’s kind gesture is that its recipients won’t even know about it for weeks or even months.
“I would say half [Cape Paterson houses] are occupied and half are holiday homes,” he says.
“These people are stuck somewhere. This is just something I can do. It’s not all that significant, but it makes a bit of a difference.”
Open water swimming, only when you can’t
Open water swimmers landlocked by restrictions on travel have found their next best fix: Pay a mate to swim it for you.
It’s the initiative of the Bay Open Water Swimmers, a group with 300 active members in normal times, but reduced by more than a third in Melbourne’s five kilometre ring of stage-four steel.
While it doesn’t come with the spring and winter rush of an icy Port Phillip Bay, #swimforamate is helping strangers instead.
Peter Hendriks, a veteran open water swimmer and coach, says the group passed $3000 – all of it going to Lifeline – on Wednesday.
“With people struggling in these times, it seemed the most logical charity,” he says. “And I guess we’ll just keep it going until restrictions are lifted.”
The premise is both novel and simple. Swimmers who can’t access the water will nominate someone else in the group to swim on their behalf.
“It doesn’t matter how little or how much [you donate],” Mr Hendriks says.
“For me, every person I swim for I donate $10 or $20 and they’ve been reciprocating that.”
The lengths and types of swims are based on request and can be anywhere between four and 20 kilometres.
In the beginning, it was just Mr Hendriks and swimming mate Charlie Evans. Then the idea caught on.
“We’re picking up new people who are saying ‘I swam for four people who are out in the country’. Or ‘I’m swimming for people in the Dandenongs’. We’re getting to know more of our members through it too.”
The kernel of #swimforamate stems from Mr Hendriks’ plan to launch a website facilitating runs, swims or rides that raise money for the Cancer Council in the name of people who have passed away.
“I’m a cancer survivor and I got put in this category of ‘you kicked its arse, you fought it and you won’,” he says.
“But you know, I didn’t do anything. I just took my treatment and was lucky enough to come out on the other side.
“My sister and brother-in-law didn’t fight any less hard, but they weren’t as fortunate. I want to celebrate the people who couldn’t make it.”
Cooking for the vulnerable
For Lorena Ramos, a Colombian international student living in Melbourne, the opportunity to cook meals for some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged has given her a sense of purpose in COVID-19.
The 31-year-old has lived in Australia for two years, studying English and working as a chef at a Peruvian restaurant in the city – until the pandemic stole her shifts.
It was a blow, but she signed up to the Working For Victoria scheme and became one of the 150 chefs hired by FareShare to make meals for those doing it tough during lockdown.
FareShare is a charity which uses rescued and donated food to provide meals to thousands of Victorians experiencing food insecurity.
Ms Ramos, who worked as a teacher in Colombia, says cooking for FareShare is as rewarding as teaching because it gives something back to the city.
She says imagining strangers enjoying her culinary creations brings her joy.
“I don’t have enough words to express how happy I am here,” she says
It takes a village
Living through a pandemic is, on its own, an emotional rollercoaster.
Having another baby is a similarly life-altering experience.
So a month ago when Hannah Miflin gave birth to her daughter only to take her back into intensive care hours later, she was rightly overwhelmed.
When Ms Miflin’s neighbours and church community found out what she and her family were going through, they offered her all kinds of support.
Her friend in the area told others in the neighbourhood how the family was going and soon people she barely knew were offering a lending hand.
Her church group banded together and got the family over $700 in food delivery vouchers and friends took in her toddler for a few days while she and her husband were tied up at the hospital.
Someone even dropped off their spare car so the parents could take shifts watching over their newborn, because COVID restrictions at the hospital meant they couldn’t be in the room at the same time.
With Ms Miflin’s family up in Sydney, she says it is the support of her community that is carrying her through this time
“Because we’ve got a three-year-old, we had to rely on our community heaps here and it was just incredible.”
Their neighbour, Maria O’Driscoll, came to the rescue to watch over their daughter while Ms Miflin and her husband went to the hospital during the night.
Ms O’Driscoll says she knew her neighbour would have done the same for her.
“It’s really nice to have that community feel and to support each other,” she says.
“We’ve got a great little group of mums locally and we all catch up and keep in contact with each other, so it’s really good to be able to provide that support.”
Ms Miflin says the experience her family has gone through during COVID reminds her that people want to look out for each other.
“We are not designed to live as islands in isolation,” she says.
“It takes a village, right?”
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She recently had to attend the funerals of, and say her goodbyes to, both of her beloved sons. No mother should have to go through that much pain. She was frail, vulnerable and depleted.
Thank you, Victorians, for bearing the lockdown regime to give our older generation a chance, thank you, Premier, for putting the laws in place for us to work from. These measures allowed her to return to a familiar and comfortable environment, to be at peace and for my sister and our families to have a chance to say our goodbyes. I am grateful she was given the respect she deserved for a life well lived. Karen Meyer, South Melbourne
Carping criticisms, no positive suggestions Bravo, Janet Whiting (‘‘‘Stay strong and stop bucketing everyone’’’, The Age, 18/9): ‘‘we must, at the moment, stop the blame game … All that is happening is we are giving the nutters authority, which is not what we want.’’
All we get from the state opposition and the federal government (and much of the media) is carping criticism, with no positive suggestions. Merv Keehn, South Melbourne
Family members must have access No family visits to Victorians resident in aged care until 2021 (The Age, 19/9)? There is not, and may never be, a test to give 100 per cent security of the absence of COVID-19 in a person entering an aged care facility, and yet dozens of people enter aged care facilities every day.
Putting myself in the position of a resident: ‘‘Many of a team of strangers may wash my body, put food into my mouth when I open it, call a random locum doctor in the middle of the night if I have symptoms, but my humanity has been discounted – without my family, I am a physical body without a soul.’’
Family must be permitted to visit the elderly, using the precautions currently imposed upon the many strangers who are given access. Through the suffering of the elderly residents in aged care during this pandemic, society has at last identified a line over which it is unacceptable to cross. Ruth Farr, Blackburn South
Casey cluster a case in point The City of Casey outbreak has put enormous strain on the trace-and-test system despite stemming from seemingly unlawful activity by members of just five households.
Imagine the impact of multiple similar outbreaks. Their absence, at least at this stage, certainly indicates how important the restrictions have been in limiting the spread and that the Victorian community has, to a very significant extent, complied with the restrictions.
On a much more serious note, this single outbreak may raise the critical daily average enough to delay the lifting of the restrictions everyone so desperately needs.
Terry Bourke, Newtown
The missing element I read with great interest how some other liveable cities in the world have handled the pandemic (‘‘Different cities, same enemy’’, The Sunday Age, 13/9). I was particularly interested to read that Osaka’s public schools reduced their summer holidays from six weeks to two, which is consistent with Japan’s strong focus on maintaining its high educational standards.
It made me think, as a parent of three school-age boys, that a key missing element from our educational debate is a clear and unequivocal acknowledgment our students are increasingly falling behind and that a similar catch-up strategy to Japan’s is needed.
Why could we not take a page from Japan’s book and consider a similar form of catch-up education? I am sure some innovation from schools and the government would be required and that there are obstacles to overcome, most likely, strong resistance from teachers and the education union.
However, this strikes me – and many of those parents with whom I discuss this issue – as a very obvious and much needed solution to address the major developmental and economic impacts of Victoria’s children falling increasingly behind in their education. Jon Morley, Caulfield North
It definitely is their job I could not disagree more with Senator Jane Hume when she says it is not the job of superannuation funds to rebuild the economy, create jobs, reframe the climate debate or require industrial relations changes (The Age, 19/9).
Super funds are there to maximise returns for their clients, which is done by investing in viable long-term projects making sure that all the factors that might negatively affect their investments are minimised. They certainly will not invest in projects such as coal mining or gas-fired electricity generation if they perceive that their assets will end up being stranded as white elephants.
Perhaps the government needs to learn the lesson of ‘‘follow the money’’. Alan Inchley, Frankston
If they know this … Let’s just ask potential citizens to explain why we drink beer, eat fish and chips, play cricket and have the Queen as our head of state, while not being British.
If they can do that, they’re well-equipped for the paradoxes of life in Australia. Tim Durbridge, Brunswick
Neo-liberal reforms such as lower taxes and privatisations of state-owned power and telecommunications have not brought the promised benefits. In fact, they have arguably done the opposite with the stalling of Australia’s broadband network, until a new government-owned entity, NBN Co was created.
Similarly, the fragmented private power system, with its labyrinthine oversight structures and vested interests has increased power prices and held back essential decarbonising of the electricity industry for almost two decades.
We must now question the assumption of the perpetual growth of air travel and the environmental consequences of the associated carbon emissions. The great majority of business travel is unnecessary with modern communication technologies.
Increasingly, people are reflecting on the environmental cost of tourism. Perhaps the time for an airport rail link has passed. Michael Hassett, Blackburn
Variations on a theme Traditional Christianity has been on the nose among our ‘‘enlightened’’ opinion leaders and it seems our government is following a new variation.
Instead of ‘‘suffer the little children’’ it is now ‘‘let the little children suffer’’ as their citizenship is annulled by their parents’ beliefs.
Instead of ‘‘ruin shall come to those ruining the earth’’, it is now ‘‘profit and government intervention shall come to those ruining the earth’’. Daryl Budgeon, Noble Park North
Spare us the platitudes The Barney Zwartz Faith column can’t go unchallenged (The Sunday Age, 13/9). Basically it’s the old ‘‘don’t blame God for the pandemic or anything bad because he’s really doing us good but we won’t understand how this works until we’re dead’’ argument. Don’t feel sad, be positive. God’s got a plan.
Recently, a carer at my mother’s aged-care facility lost her four-year-old son, killed by a falling tree.
According to Zwartz, this is all for the mother’s benefit. Her excruciating grief is but a temporary (lifelong for her) price to pay for the inevitable revelation of ‘‘goodness’’ God enacts for believers.
Zwartz can’t explain random misery and death in a rational way because it has to be a good thing enacted by a good God. This is his starting point for everything that happens.
Yes, try to look on the bright side, folks, but spare us the platitudes about how this is ultimately good for us. It is not helping. Peter Harris, Preston
Thank you, Barney It was wonderful to the photo of Barney Zwartz in the Faith column. Having always enjoyed his writings expressing his faith the photo gave a connection to the reader and was especially meaningful during this lockdown when so many of us are feeling isolated.
The Bible verses he chose were so appropriate in giving us hope. A big thank you, Barney, as it lifted our spirits. Glenise Michaelson, Montmorency
Disappointing to see How disappointing to see this one-time advocate for the ordinary man becoming a mouthpiece for this tyrannical state government (‘‘Premier the focus of every grievance’’, Jon Faine, Opinion, The Sunday Age, 13/9).
The meaning of libertarian is belief that people should be able to do whatever they want as long as their actions do not hurt others. In other words freedom of choice, not blind obedience to authority. It is not synonymous with ‘‘conspiracy theorist’’.
And, sure, democracy is the best way to solve problems, but Daniel Andrews is running a state in which a group of people make arbitrary rules enforced by heavy-handed policing, with no parliamentary debate, or explanation.
If you believe this is democratic, Jon, you’ve come a long way from the freedom fighter this ‘‘wacko ‘libertarian’’’ listened to for many years. Lesley Black, Frankston
If it’s not funding … So , if it’s not ‘‘funding issues’’ that have had an impact on the ‘‘quality of care and safety’’of frail aged residents as Dr Brendan Murphy suggests (The Age, 19/9), one can only assume that it must be a lack of will on the part of the federal government to provide the necessary legislative framework to ensure a more adequate number of appropriately trained staff. Glenda Addicott, Ringwood East
A perennial US pattern ‘‘Heartland Blues’’ (Extra, The Sunday Age, 13/9) profiled Joe Biden, a Democrat, who could be the 46th US president. Will it amount to a hill of beans if he is?
The 33rd president, Democrat Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) in the first post-war year of his presidency proposed a national health insurance scheme for all Americans with provision for financial assistance for those in long-term recovery. It was to be paid for from fees and taxation.
It went nowhere. In the mid-term elections the Republicans gained control of the Congress and they were vehemently against it. The American Medical Association fiercely opposed the plan and public concern over being taxed by a federal government saw widespread opposition. Many called the scheme ‘‘Communist’’ and rejected it.
It’s a perennial pattern in American politics on this social reform. What will change on this issue if Joe Biden is elected as seemingly another saviour of the American people as a new president of the United States invariably gets cast? Des Files, Brunswick
Hard to argue with that. But consider, say, Florida: similar population to Australia, less restrictions and less compliance, more than 675,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 13,000 deaths.
It is naive and simplistic to think this carnage would not damage the economy and the social fabric. Booming hospital and funeral industries are not the same as a healthy economy. Sue Harlow, South Melbourne
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Vale Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A lone, intelligent, and thoughtful voice in the US Supreme Court over past decades. Her passion for justice will never be forgotten; and will so tragically be silent from now on. Wendy Logan, Croydon North
“It has really turned people against each other,” she says.
“I understand that people will react differently. I have a business and a young child and this is going to affect me differently to someone with an elderly mother. The whole state is so divided.”
This polarisation has led to heated debate across Melbourne, and across the political spectrum, about the merits of lockdown, curfews and restrictions on leaving the home that look set to continue until at least October 26.
Anti-lockdown activists have clashed with police at protests across the city, online petitions calling for industries to reopen have gathered thousands of signatures and the Give Dan the Boot social media campaign has encouraged people to place a pair of boots outside their homes to express their dissatisfaction with the Premier.
Frustrated Victorians are also taking their grievances to court, with retrenched workers launching a class action lawsuit against the state government this week, claiming its botched hotel quarantine program led to thousands of job losses.
In a separate Supreme Court writ, the Premier faces a challenge to his decision to impose a curfew across Melbourne by restaurateur and Liberal Party member Michelle Loielo, who argues the restriction is disproportionate, unreasonable and violates human rights.
While there’s no doubt most people are sick of lockdown, and those opposed to it are becoming more vocal, it’s difficult to measure whether there is growing sentiment against coronavirus restrictions.
And the situation is nuanced: many Melburnians are broadly supportive of the lockdown but opposed to aspects of it, such as the ban on travelling more than 5 kilometres from home.
When Roy Morgan started surveying Victorians about their attitudes towards COVID-19 restrictions in August it expected to detect strong opposition.
But Michele Levine, the chief executive of the market research company, was surprised to discover most people supported the strict rules.
“We thought there’d be quite a strong rebellion against the restrictions but most people said, ‘no we don’t need to visit the homes of our immediate families, we’re happy to wear masks and happy with the five kilometre restrictions and happy with the curfew’.”
But over time, as the number of coronavirus cases have dropped significantly, more Victorians are calling for restrictions to be eased.
One of the most contentious restrictions is the ban on visiting immediate family at their homes, with Roy Morgan research released this week showing that 55 per cent of people think Melburnians should now be afforded this simple joy.
And about half of those surveyed believe Melburnians should be allowed to travel more than 5 kilometers from their home.
Could the warmer weather also be behind this shift? Ms Levine believes so.
“When this began in August the weather was awful. It was cold, it was grey. A lot of people were saying, ‘what the hell, I may as well be at home’,” she says.
“Every time there is beautiful sunshine you can feel that people want to get out again. They want to go to the park, they want to walk their dog. They’re taking advantage of as much as they’re allowed to do, and probably a little bit more.”
Paul Strangio, an associate professor of politics at Monash University says it’s unclear whether opposition to the lockdown and state government is on the rise.
He points to a series of recent and conflicting polls: Liberal polling that shows a massive swing against Labor across five key seats, polling by the Labor-linked RedBridge group which shows Labor would retain power if an election was held today and Roy Morgan research which found 70 per cent of people approve of the state government’s handling of the pandemic .
“On both sides we have been hearing some strident voices,” Dr Strangio says. “There are those viscerally against the lockdown, demanding everything be opened up, and those who support the government’s position.”
These loud voices are not necessarily representative of mainstream opinion, which Dr Strangio suspects is much more measured.
He says even if there is growing dissatisfaction with lockdown, he expects that will dissipate once restrictions ease.
“It’s conceivable that the angst will be replaced by a sense of collective relief and a quiet satisfaction, pride and solidarity that we have emerged pretty well intact from the second wave.”
The Andrews government is no doubt banking on this and hoping for some political dividend once restrictions are eased.
According to Dr Strangio, support for the government will then hinge on how well it steers Victoria through the mammoth task of repairing the economy.
But Opposition leader Michael O’Brien doesn’t think the public will be so forgiving.
“Expert modellers do not support Victoria’s harsh lockdowns, nor do leading epidemiologists. Even the Chief Health Officer admitted he had no input into the curfew,” he says.
“The emotional and economic damage that Daniel Andrews’ lockdowns are causing Victorians is incalculable.”
Concerns about the restrictions are not just coming from the conservative side of politics.
Barrister, refugee advocate and former Greens candidate Julian Burnside, who is also president of Liberty Victoria, believes the use of CCTV and other surveillance devices to monitor compliance with the lockdown breaches Victorians’ human rights.
“They’re a serious intrusion on human rights and very difficult to justify,” Mr Burnside told The Age last week after it was revealed that mobile surveillance units were being used in parks and other public spaces to remotely monitor citizens during stage four restrictions.
“Imagine if each one of those cameras was a plain-clothes policeman, people would be up in arms.”
While Ms Johnston and her husband supported the first lockdown – in fact they wanted it to be stricter – they are not fans of the second one which has crippled small businesses across the state.
“We wanted them to do it once, and do it right,” she explains.
The pair have had to close, reopen and then close their Blairgowrie restaurant as restrictions have been eased and then tightened. They’re sick of pivoting. They’ve transitioned into a takeaway business, a supplier of grazing boards and they will soon launch takeaway picnics for customers who are longing for the day when they can dine in again.
Along the way, the Johnstons have had to throw out a lot of food, stand down staff, sell their car and tap into their superannuation to make ends meet. They’ve had to juggle all this while caring for a 9-month-old baby.
Ms Johnston doesn’t consider herself political, but says she’s angry the state government hasn’t accepted responsibility for failures in contact tracing and hotel quarantine.
“I’ve tried not to come out and take sides but I’m upset about how hotel quarantine security was managed. We have all played a high price.”
She also doesn’t understand why Mornington Peninsula is under the same strict lockdowns as Melbourne when there are just two active coronavirus cases in the community.
“It’s been frustrating. There is no real threat down here.”
Breanna Wright, a research fellow at Monash University who completed a PhD in psychology and epidemiology, suspects Victorians are not as polarised about the lockdown as they may seem.
She says a vocal minority who are opposed to the restrictions have been very effective at making their voices heard. Their opinions have been amplified by social media at a time when everyone is at home, spending more time online.
She points out that very few people have attended the anti-lockdown protests.
“They’re not large,” she says. ‘ We don’t have half of Melbourne out on the streets protesting.”
As coronavirus restrictions drag into their seventh month, convincing people to stay the course is becoming an increasingly challenging task for the government and health officials.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos acknowledges that Victorians have made huge sacrifices and says the government has been focused on driving down cases, saving lives and safely reopening.
“Thanks to the incredible efforts of Victorians the strategy is working, with numbers going down and the more we can keep these efforts up, the faster we can continue on the road to recovery,” she says.
North Fitzroy resident Phoebe Kerr says debate about the lockdown has grown increasingly toxic and there is a real divide.
“You have the conspiracy theorists, then the people who hate Daniel Andrews and then people like me,” she says. “I don’t have the energy to be invested in hating people or coming up with conspiracies.”
Ms Kerr is one of many Victorians who does not like life under lockdown, but supports it.
The public health worker says it’s been a struggle entertaining her active four-year-old in an apartment and she misses her mum, who lives alone on the Mornington Peninsula. But she thinks these sacrifices will be worth it.
Every morning, the 34-year-old visits the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services website and breathes a sigh of relief if there has been a decline in active cases in her postcode.
“You want to know that it is working,” she says. “It gives you a sense that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It is a combination of indoors which is 20 times more dangerous than outdoors. And the length of time you spend.
“There are brief encounters indoors, as you get your takeaway coffee, it is much less of a risk. But if you are indoors for a protracted period of time that is exactly when transmission occurs. People need to be aware of that.”
Since Monday, Victorians living alone have been allowed to visit a ‘bubble buddy’. Regional Victorians can now host up to five visitors from one nominated household.
A cluster of 34 in the city of Casey, thought to be spread by people visiting each other at home, is now under control, Professor Sutton said. He apologised on Saturday after he linked that spread to some members of the Afghan community.
“Members of the community might have felt singled out by statements I made recently. That was absolutely not my intention. So, sorry. It is a country I love and respect. I apologise.”
Premier Daniel Andrews says the low numbers showed the government’s strategy was working – not that Victorians could afford to relax it.
“Those numbers tell a powerful story of what can be achieved when you stay the course,” Mr Andrews said.
“Logic, commonsense, international our own experience shows us that you can’t hope to keep numbers low until you first get them low. That is just an undeniable fact,” he said.
To trigger an easing of lockdown restrictions on September 28, the new cases must average between 30 and 50 over 14 days.
Thirteen of the new cases are connected to known outbreaks, eight are ‘mystery cases’ from an unknown source.
The last time Victoria recorded a lower number of new daily infections was on June 24, when the state recorded just 20 infections.
That was the beginning of Victoria’s second wave; just a week later, the state would record 75 infections.
Another 11,900 tests were done on Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“To everyone who has got tested, thank you so much. And anyone who has got symptoms, the only thing to do, don’t wait until Monday, don’t wait a moment, go and get tested,” the Premier said.
“There are more than 200 sites, it is a very quick turnaround, 90% of results are back within 24 hours. It is a massive thing that you can do. Simple but so, so important.”
Premier Daniel Andrews said visiting residential aged care will not return to normal until a vaccine becomes available or until a rapid test was developed that could screen visitors as they arrive.
Trump Biden 2020
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Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter
It is heartbreaking that not only will my degree, and those of many others, be compromised by cuts to theatre, but future students will also be deprived of the chance to study one of Victoria’s most versatile and enriching theatre courses. Many students, including myself, came to Monash specifically to do a an arts double degree that allows us to study theatre and performance with no audition required.
One thing has been made clear through all the hits to arts students over the last couple of years: universities are no longer concerned with fostering student learning, rather it is about making money. The Centre for Theatre and Performance may have low enrolments but there is a strong sense of community and an incredible, creative environment under the guidance of the amazing staff. It is a resilient community and the staff and students will not be taken down without a fight. The centre needs all the support it can get to stay alive and continue to support Melbourne’s theatre industry. The show must go on and so must the centre. Stephanie Lee, Beaumaris
The train wreck which is the sector’s demise
Labor is correct, at least in part, in blaming ‘‘uni bosses’’ (The Age, 17/9) for the university sector’s current predicament. As a retired, long-term academic, I believe there are two continuing frustrations at watching the slow-motion train wreck.
Whilst a primary source of the sector’s problems is the withdrawal of federal government funds over two decades and the replacement of these with increasing dependence on overseas, fee-paying students, the sector has contributed substantially to its crisis in at least two self-inflicted ways. First, university councils have become dominated by business people with little or no understanding or experience of the sector, apart from personal experience often 30-plus years in the past. Secondly the sector has allowed governments to repeatedly ‘‘divide and conquer’’ it. The main division has been between the extraordinarily selfish, self-congratulatory and myopic Group of Eight and the rest. Governments of both persuasions have been able to play these internal groups off against each other.
This is compounded by using salary-focused, inward-looking, competitive vice-chancellors to focus solely on their own institution and personal welfare, to the detriment of staff and students at universities. Unless these senior executives and council members can unite as one to confront government, and put the sector as a whole front and centre, we will lose what is a rich, vital and critical part of our culture and society. Geoff Wescott, Northcote
Rural students are especially disadvantaged
Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek implies that the new fee structure for university courses will make it more expensive and harder for many Australians to attend universities. Whilst some courses will be more expensive, many others will be cheaper.
The HECS idea that Labor introduced meant that undergraduates do not have to repay their fees until they have graduated and entered the workforce. Hence the cost of a course is no hindrance to entering university. How quickly the debt is repaid depends on the individual’s decision of what course they choose, the demand for the occupations the course leads to and the salary level available. Those who choose a high-paying occupation will repay their debt relatively quickly. What Plibersek should be more concerned about is the financial disadvantage that potential students from regional and rural locations face. The cost of moving away from home and relocating to capital cities is considerable. This cost cannot be deferred, unlike HECS. Ian Bennett, Jan Juc
Accentuate the positive
Thank you, Janet Whiting (The Age, 18/9). Living in lockdown is stressful but is being made worse by the constant criticism and negativity being expressed. Protesters and critics are making a lot of noise but are not offering positive solutions or encouragement. Could we hear more about the creative and constructive ways in which people are working? This would lift our spirits and help us through this crisis. Gwenyth McMahon, Blackburn South
Face the harsh facts
In your letters pages, apologists for Daniel Andrews are somehow taking the second COVID-19 wave overseas to rationalise why we have one in Victoria. Surely even the most rusted-on of his supporters have noticed there is no second wave anywhere else in Australia, and the enormous damage that has been done to lives and livelihoods here is due to the incompetence of the Andrews government in handling hotel quarantine and contact tracing. Brian Healey, Brighton
Let’s all work together
How does the Victorian opposition think that putting forward a no-confidence motion in the Victorian government is a worthwhile move? Michael O’Brien could have chosen to work, in a bipartisan way, to assist the government during this dreadful pandemic. Instead he has politicised the situation by undermining the government and Dan Andrews at every opportunity. Surely the worst thing, at the moment, would be a change to the leadership team. Let us get behind the Premier and his team and work together, as Victorians, to reach a satisfactory outcome for us all. Pam Parnell, Footscray
The psychology of fear
Chris Uhlmann (Comment, 17/9) hits the nail on the head. His article suggests he is a realist. He says that, ‘‘As a nation we seem comfortable with authoritarianism’’. I agree and feel that these days as a people, we lack courage. We are becoming more selfish and inward. In Victoria, Dan Andrews works on the psychology of fear. Too many people respond and become scared – a bit like a mob of sheep. This does not augur well for our future as a nation. Richard Wilcox, Camberwell
Impossible ‘ring of steel’
Recently COVID-19 killed my 97-year-old mother-in-law. Although she had some dementia, she took no medication and was physically well. She still had her humour and Belfast feistiness. Ann lived in aged care and received exemplary care. They were ahead in their precautions but COVID-19 got in. It appears a staff member caught it from her child who had been infected at school before anyone was aware of its presence. She isolated as soon as the outbreak was identified, but too late for Ann.
The world’s best contact tracing cannot prevent such occurrences. Chris Uhlmann suggests a “ring of steel’’ around aged care homes. It does not exist. He also neglects the fact that countries that have not locked down have had both the worst death rates and the worst economic outcomes. My mother-in-law was worth more than his neoliberal platitudes. Peter Cook, Essendon
Very faulty memories
I can guarantee that in every government inquiry or royal commission, a key player when giving evidence will say at some point, ‘‘I don’t remember’’ or ‘‘I can’t recall’’. In the hotel quarantine inquiry, former police chief commissioner Graham Ashton and Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp do not disappoint (The Age, 18/9). Mandy Morgan, Malvern
Health must come first
I received an email from Qantas on Thursday asking me to click to support the opening of state borders. Here is my response: ‘‘Hello Qantas, I have no desire to lobby to see borders opened until the chief health officers declare it is safe to do so. I imagine that many Qantas customers share this opinion and would prefer that the corporate sector stayed out of the discussion.’’ Carolyn O’Brien, Richmond
In the spirit of WWII
In England during World War II, local agricultural committees ran large, tented, harvest camps to help farmers bring in the harvest. You were taken by bus or truck to a farm, worked all day, and returned to the camp in the late afternoon. Perhaps a similar organisation could be formed to pick fruit this year if overseas workers and backpackers are not able to come here (The Age, 15/9). Penny Garnett, Castlemaine
Congratulations, Barbados, on your intention to remove Queen Elizabeth as your head of state and become a republic. Come on, Australia, let us do the same and become an independent country. Christine Hammett, Richmond
Elephant in the room
I agree with Stephen Downes – ‘‘Push to make us eat outdoors is just ridiculous’’ (Comment, 16/9). The current number of cafes and restaurants with outside seating is not being disputed. What is being challenged is that this can work in all establishments, and must be part of the exit plan.
I have spent my life in hospitality, as a successful owner, manager and maitre d’, always working on the floor, dealing with the customers. I do not know how many times I have seated people, on a pleasant spring or summer evening, outside for drinks and/or dining and they have eventually requested to move to a table inside. Their reasons include it’s too hot, too cold, too windy, it’s starting to rain and even that people walking past are smoking. Not to mention flies and mosquitoes. Melbourne’s summer is usually short and the weather is unpredictable. Most cafe owners I have spoken to are shaking their heads. It needs to be 50/50, inside and outside. Meredith James, Glen Huntly
A man for all seasons
Climate science denier Donald Trump has reassured the people of wildfire-ravaged California, Oregon and Washington that their fiery nightmare will soon be over, as the weather will ‘‘get cooler’’. The people of Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, inundated by massive floods, must be waiting anxiously for him to announce that it will soon ‘‘get drier’’. Richard Hughes, Woodend
There has been concern that the US postal service will not be able to cope with the volume of postal voting in the coming presidential election. We need to raise a similar concern in Victoria where ballot papers for council elections will be mailed out in a couple of weeks. Australia Post is struggling to provide a basic service, with letter delivery reduced to three days a week so that it can cope with a deluge of parcels.
Given my experience waiting weeks for letters to arrive, I worry about the integrity of council election results. Australia Post must guarantee pre-COVID collection and delivery for the election period. David Glanz, Hadfield
Get your priorities right
How awesome that, according to Amber Collins, chief marketing officer at Australia Post, the staff have been so productive during lockdown (Comment, 18/9). Research, community sponsorships, digital programs, advertising campaigns, restructuring departments, promoting people and hiring team members does not actually get the post delivered. On August 22, I posted a parcel to Belgium. According to the tracking device, it is still at Melbourne Airport. Amber, a little less marketing and advertising, and a little more attention to delivering mail, whether done from home or your office would (unlike my parcel) be well received. Gina Brotchie, East Ballarat
Another tearless tip
I have a similar solution regarding Richard Cornish’s advice about how to stop the tears when cutting onions (Good Food, 15/9). I take a big sip of water and do not swallow until after I have finished the chopping. Somehow, it seems to work. Cynthia Pollak, Elsternwick
AND ANOTHER THING
Could we please extend the foreign influence legislation to include corporate and donor interference. Phil Bodel, Ocean Grove
Aged care: There’s a hole in the funding bucket, dear Henry. Robin Jensen, Castlemaine
An election slogan (technically one word more than usual) for the conservatives: Give Gas a Go. Peter Angelovski, Hoppers Crossing
Herd mentality: Republicans going over a cliff with Trump. Ivan Glynn, Vermont
I imagine there are smiles behind masks in Victorian regions. Kaye Jones, Nagambie
The Andrews government’s failed quarantine response: ‘‘I know that I know nothing.’’ Alastair Wright, North Dandenong
I suspect Chris Uhlmann (18/9) is referring to ‘‘Toorak Village’’.| Kristen Hurley, Seaholme
Take the advice of Uhlmann and ignore the majority medical advice? Irony, surely. Shane McGrath, Kialla
Michael O’Brien, show a bit of bipartisanship instead of persisting with unproductive, ‘‘attack dog’’ methods. Angela Gill, Moonee Ponds
Let’s hope Andrews is under-promising so he can over-deliver. Peter Walker, Black Rock
Yes, Janet Whiting (16/9), we must stop the blame game for now. All we are doing is giving nutters authority. Marilyn Hoban, Mornington
Re the Commonwealth Bank’s ads on financial abuse. Does it get the irony? Rosslyn Jennings, North Melbourne
Lucky Susan Leeming (17/9). Parcels sent on August 7 from Fitzroy to Essendon are yet to arrive. Ruth Finlayson, Fitzroy
Susan Leeming, I sent an item to Eltham via registered mail on August27 and it still hasn’t arrived. Graziana Spinelli, East Bentleigh
An ad on the back page of The Age again? Is nothing sacred? Grant Nichol, North Ringwood