Meanwhile in Australia

I’ve been trying to explain today all day. My moment of epiphany came when I said to Brenda Clough that today was “…a day.” It was the closest to a normal Monday in a long time. I’m still stuck at home, as most of Australia (I’ll talk about that in a bit) but I filled in forms and ticked my list of things done in the morning and in the early evening. I met a friend (online) for a while in the afternoon and we swapped family stories and I told him how I once met Chaim Potok and that Potok was a bit surprised by Australian undergraduates. I worked out that I’m really nervous about being shortlisted for an award. I’m not going to get the award – I am resigned to not getting awards – but the moment I was given a government grant to write some things over the next few months, getting an award didn’t feel quite as impossible. I realised that I have no idea when they will announce the award and I found myself grumbling that it better not be on my birthday.

My birthday is next Saturday Aussie East Coast time, so join me on Twitter or Facebook either the Friday night or the Saturday sometime (whichever is your equivalent of my Saturday night) and help me and several friends celebrate. We decided that if we can’t have parties with friends we shall have… parties with friends.

This is one of the reasons life feels normal. Substitutes are mostly possible. I don’t want to be a runner-up for anything on my birthday, so I am suitably nervous when there’s nothing to be nervous about.

Why is life in Australia so normal-sounding? Why is this post a bit later than usual because it was really important I watch Masterchef?

Our prime minister has done some learning. He’s still very imperfect. We still have a poor federal government. But…

Australia has Jacinda Arden running New Zealand right next door and it became obvious to our very competitive leaders that New Zealand wasn’t losing people to death. So far, fewer New Zealanders have died in the COVID-19 crisis than died in that single massacre in Christchurch. Not just one or two fewer people – a lot fewer. Ardern and her people got the whole country under severe lockdown super-quickly… and managed to get an 84% approval rating by her voters for doing this. That approval rating is why the lockdown worked. Dan Andrews, in Victoria (Australia) has the highest success at locking down and also the highest approval numbers. Trust and success go hand in hand right now.

NSW is in the most trouble here, partly because it had to deal with the worst of the carriers from the super-vector ship, but also because its premier lacks that trust. Tasmania is actually doing well overall, but two of its hospitals and all the people connected to them are on 14 day lockdownin quarantine because they were about to turn into another super-vector. Possibly around 6,000 people in our smallest State are in iso just from this one thing.

This is why Australia has changed in the last fortnight. Whole regions have found an emotional strength. It’s like the bushfires. This country is full of racism – but it’s also full of courage and, at critical times, common sense can also emerge. I do wish we could lose the racism.

Australia was still late in addressing COVID-19. It’s easy to point out where we’re pretty cool, but we could have been like New Zealand and we could have had a chance at losing the virus entirely for long enough for scientists to sort out vaccines (OK, NZ might fail at this, but what it’s done so far is incredible). What happened, was that our State premiers and our Territorial government didn’t wait for the national leaders to do stuff. Our borders are closed and we’re learning how to live smaller. Lots of people are still being stupid and we’re not through the woods yet. But, as of today, we have lost only 71 people to the virus. This is such a miracle, because we had super-vectors. Whole shiploads of infected passengers let loose without being checked properly. The worse of the cruise ships is under investigation and charges may be laid. And, miracle of miracles, even the prime minister has admitted that COVID-19 is a serious problem and economic measures are being taken.

This is what’s changed.

In my small community, I have all the support I need. A friend bought my market needs on Sunday when he did his own (eggs! herbs! fresh bread for a post-Passover treat!) and another friend is getting me all my medicines tomorrow. I am in isolation for a while to come, because I’m one of the more vulnerable people.

I made 2 big batches of biscuits the other day and within 24 hours most of them were with friends. They picked the biscuits up from the top of my letterbox when they were out to do other messages. The last 2 bags go tomorrow. Everyone talks about baking and Australia is a country where people cook anyhow, so those biscuits were part of me feeling normal.

This is why it’s so amazing that this Monday was normal. Felt normal. I complained about it being Monday.

Australia is not through this. What we are doing is delaying the numbers of people with the virus so that the hospitals can quietly build up the resources to help more people when the numbers of infected people increase. I have friends who work in hospitals and I have a bit of experience of them myself, and we’re all noticing the changes.

Here the hospitals are quiet. Emptier than usual. My annual checks are being delayed, and other peoples’ elective surgery is also being delayed. This is part of the getting ready. Creating a longer calm before the storm so that we can weather that storm. (This is how I interpret it – I, as ever, may be wrong.)

We see what is happening in the US and the UK and our heart goes out to everyone. It hurts so much to watch the news. Every friend of mine who gets the virus (and I have quite a few ill friends, both here and in the rest of the world) cause me to lose touch with the everyday I’ve been working so hard to maintain.

The good news is that today had a full hour of dullness. I’ve not had that since last July.

I’m still seeing everything from my flat. The outside world is a bit mythical. My mind drifts. This is a good thing. This means I’m unwinding enough and will be able to handle the next week and the week after. This is what I wish for all of you: that you have a pleasantly uninteresting hour in your life, at least once a week. That you get to make things for friends. That you can handle next week and the week after and then the week after that for as long as it takes. And, more than anything, that your governments do the learning that ours seems to be doing and that you all stay safe.

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Meanwhile in Australia — 6 Comments

  1. Thanks again, Gillian, for a glimpse from the other side of the world. Here in the USA, we also know all about incompetent leadership, but some of our state governors are the ones stepping up to halt the virus spread. I like your wish (a twist on the old curse?) “May we live in uninteresting times.”

    • It was indeed a twist on the old curse. I am so glad to hear that some of your state governors are stepping up. For both our countries, the federal system is saving lives.

  2. I am so glad you are in a safe place to hide out, and with such great friends close by. Keep reaching for normal. And may we all have good luck convincing people that staying at home when possible is a good thing.

    • I suspect we need to change the public narrative a bit. So many people are documenting the trials of being alone or in a family or teaching from home or… all of the things. The public story is “this hurts” rather than “This can be fun” or even “I can achieve this thing with grace and enjoyment.” So many people are adding to their trauma by not dealing well with the everyday. I a way, I’m lucky because my illnesses mean that epople are used to knowing I’m home and I’ve had to find way of combatting the problems for years. I never thought that this would be good fortune! Anyhow, right now my aim is to focus on not hurting myself or my friends through never seeing happiness in life. The bushfires reminded me of this. It’s not a matter of ignoring the dark, it’s a matter of seeing through it.