When we shifted realities about September last year, the seasons changed. Canberra moved out of Firetime very quickly. Honestly, we had no choice. Even before the fires were out, we were preparing for Crowtime (I made a pun COVID-19 as 19 crows ie CORVID-19 and the moment I called it ‘Crowtime’ it became Crowtime forever) and now we have no Parliament (sitting days put off until August) and we are almost in complete lockdown. Today, most of Australia became like me. All the people who all these years have been telling me how wonderful it must be to work from home… are telling me how hard it is.
I want to tell you some of the particular qualities our Crowtime has. We didn’t bother with South Korea’s single disease vector, the one person who infected a thousand others. We ignored our pretty amazing borders which are sea all the way. Thousands of potentially infected people were let off cruise ships and the Prime Minister’s famous religious meeting permitted even more people to generously share close space the day before big events were shut down. Most of the cruise passengers took trains and planes and automobiles and shared a bit of virus on their way home, but at least they went home and into self-isolation (sometimes, I am told, via the local shops). If the newspapers are correct, some of the attendees at that religious conference infected the whole Barossa Valley. Our land girt by sea is now closed and anyone arriving goes straight into quarantine. What a mess was made of peoples’ lives until the power-that-ought-to-have-been realised their errors.
I want to give you a whole post about how bad things are… but this time they’re bad for you, too. I hope you’re all staying safe and that you get through this with your own personal flair. I’ll mostly talk about other things. Maybe I’ll be really daring and tell you what’s happening in the few rooms that have shaped my existence in both Firetime and Crowtime.
I’m back to life lived almost entirely in my unit, except with fresher food and with very fine air. The pollution here is still at the magnificent level of zero, and since there are fewer passers-by these days, I open my biggest windows and gulp in the outside. I look at my face in the mirror and wonder if all this lack of sunlight is turning me into a vampire. I take extra Vitamin D. I sit back every day and give myself time to think “I’m alive right now.”
If I remind myself of this every day, and treat myself, and watch comfort TV and read comfort books, and do gentle exercise and take bubble baths and talk to friends and check on my mother… I’ll get through. It takes work and every second of the day is exhausting. This is true for all of us, even those who never had Firetime. Crowtime delivers so many of us into a shared aloneness.
What’s very odd is that big things are happening despite Crowtime. It’s award season, and my novel, The Year of the Fruit Cake is a finalist for Australia’s most prestigious science fiction award. I don’t have to dress up or go to award ceremonies, but the shortlisting has still happened.
In normal times, people would race out and buy the book because they would say, “Oh, this must be good – I will read it.” This time, what with Firetime and Crowtime, my sale are less than usual. You already know what happened to writers in my region with the fires. Before we can build up again, events (especially paid events) are cancelled everywhere for writers. There weren’t as many of them to begin with in Australia, but now there are none. That sounds a bit like an Agatha Christie novel. The slow death of literature.
We no longer think we’re in an apocalypse novel. We think we’re in one of those social dramas where everything spirals slowly down until the hero, the last human on Earth, finds a way to survive. We’re a very social country and isolation at first led to much drama. I don’t want to talk about toilet paper or hoarding out of fear – Australia has heaps of food (we’re a major exporter of food and have been for over a century) so empty food shelves indicate panic, not shortages. The stories Aussies are telling themselves are critical.
Last week those stories changed. We mostly don’t listen to our Prime Minister any more. We have a federal structure (which I’ve said before and will no doubt say again) and most of the critical elements at times like these are at State level. We complain that Parliament put off governing until August (why can’t they work remotely when the rest of us have to?) but the work to keep the country going, while funded Federally, is done at State and Territory level.
How is it funded federally? Our taxes are all collected by the Australian Tax Office – we have local rates for Council level government and one set of tax collection for everything else. Businesses do their tax quarterly and everyone else annually: that’s it. Even with the once a year, we have a high tax free threshold (over $18,000). We complain unendingly, but compared with, say, the USA, most taxes are a doddle here. Because of this, the Federal government hands on the money to states and territories according to constant and continuing negotiations. Our prime minister might announce he’s saving the world, but the real work now and in Firetime was done at state level.
Oddly, the fact that States and territories make decisions in this crisis has worked in our favour. First, our prime minister is a week behind, which in Crowtime means more deaths. Some people need to see events happen before they can understand them and make decisions about how to handle them, and Scott Morrison is one of those people. If he were in charge of everything, we’d be lurching from crisis to crisis. We’re not doing that well in many ways, but it could be worse.
A lot of life’s goodness comes from where one lives. Communities work together, just as we did during the fires. Not all communities are equally successful. The disaster tourists from Firetime are now suffering along with everyone else, and they don’t have the capacity to reach out in good ways and solve things.
I shall leave it at that, I think. Next week we shall know more, and there will be other things to report, and next week is the first Monday of the month. That means you get an extra Meanwhile in Australia. I shall cease tormenting you… for now.