Let me start off with today having been the coldest May day in a half century in the same part of Australia that had the worst fires. If I walk out onto the road and look south, I can see snow on the Brindabellas. Note that ‘if’ – it’s a bit cool out there and I’m staying indoors. Here’s a link to a picture taken this morning (I’m writing this on 1 May) at a place that was evacuated in January because the bushfires were going to devour it. It could be a brilliant ski season for those resorts that survived the fire (many did, but not all) if only the rest of us could travel to the snow and congregate there. And the pollywaffle (a sweet treat from my childhood) is coming back, largely because COVID-19 funding has extended to setting up the machinery to make it.
Also, the regular systems that keep an eye on how bad the everyday autumn illnesses are say that it’s at a record low. We’re all so scared of COVID-19 that we’re not giving others infectious illnesses. I am going to lay odds that this is the same elsewhere. Including places that have never heard of and don’t care about pollywaffles and have never experienced such snow in May.
We’re a living Hollywood movie. Or maybe a living fun fair ride. Australia definitely does crises our own way. The pollywaffle way.
The biggest news is that I can drop in on a friend for pleasure. Our restrictions have been eased and one household can visit another, within reason. For a short time, those of us who live alone will actually see friends and family. Not many, and not all at once, but one person here and one couple there. It’s much less lonely.
Victoria has relaxed its shopping rules and it’s possible there to shop for things you want rather than only things you urgently need. A group of bookshops instantly opened and said “Look! Reading!” In Canberra, someone instantly went to Bunnings, a DIY warehouse. He brought with him a sausage in a piece of bread (as a late and hurried breakfast) and every second person stopped him to ask where he got it from. Sausage sizzles are a very Australian thing and Bunnings has them, often, and a lot of people let their nostalgia for life a few months ago overtake their common sense.
It’s been made very clear that we should not abuse these privileges and that they will only last until wave 2 of the virus. To make it clear that we’re not even close to being through yet, let me give you an entertainment page put together by the Victorian government. Money for artists and fewer bored people at home. We get a lot more news from the Victorian government than from other states and territories. This is because the Victorian government is constantly arguing with the Federal government. One of the biggest argument between them right now is about schools. I’ll get to that shortly.
Since Crowtime is national and since Australia loves looking at itself in several mirrors at once and saying disparaging things, various organisations are pulling together information about what we do and how we go about it during lockdown.
The good news is that Australians are pretty dull and probably similar to many other places in the world where there is enough money and food to get by. The bad news is that I shop and do things in pretty much the right way. For the first time in my life, I think, I fit a profile. I suspect I’m not the only Australian who loves to think of themselves as just a bit eccentric or a having a whisper of difference to others, but differences are manifested and obvious. Being older, female, Jewish and disabled …. And working from home.
Right now, when we get the chance, many Australians are likely to chat about Masterchef. It’s a comforting season of a popular reality TV show – lots of enthusiastic cooks hugging each other and the new judges have swapped pretention for mild joking around. I think Australia’s overriding religious culture might have something to do with food and alcohol and less to do with Christianity when things get tough.
I’m not the only person who thinks this. The latest set of data says that we’re buying a lot of alcohol (not a single person in the rest of the world is surprised by this – Australia has always had a bit of a reputation for our robust drinking culture) but also that flour is hard to get.
Now… we are a major wheat producer. Production is down bigtime because of the drought. We’re emerging from that drought, finally – there’s rain outside as I type and Melbourne had more rain in April than it had in the whole of 2019, and the mountains have snow. The drought nevertheless is still sending problems our way. Our problems with wheat are not a problem for our own wheat consumption. In 2019 we still produced 15.6 million tonnes. The US produced three and a half (or thereabouts) the amount of wheat that we did, but the US population is more than thirteen times the size of Australia. All it needs is a small disturbance in the capacity to export and Australia is flooded with wheat products and COVID-19 is more than a small disturbance. (I want to make a joke about disturbances in the Force and how it shakes the midchlorian count.)
The lack of flour on shelves, then, isn’t a shortage, it relates to the sudden huge numbers of people who want to bake. It’s a supply chain issue. I’ve often claimed that cooking is a standard part of Australian culture, and the fact that yeast is also a supply chain thing suggests that I might possibly be right.
There are at least two classic Australian ways of making bread that do not require yeast or kneading or even rising time. I know some people are making damper, but beer bread is not as common. Sourdough is the bread I hear most about, right now, and I was given the best ever loaf of sourdough as my birthday present, but yeast bread is the bread a lot of people are making.
Many are buying appliances and pre-mixed packs: they want fresh bread and are not in it for the cooking. A lot of Australians had bread makers already, and I suspect many more have bought them. I hear so many questions about how to use them…
Me, I’ve always made bread. Since I was in mid primary school, I think. It amuses me that something I’ve always done is now standard. I don’t make much bread right now, to be honest. Normally, when I make it, I give most of it away, and the diminished social groups makes this hard to do.
What else are we all doing now? A lot of home hair colouring. A few home hair cuts, with very mixed results. Me, I’m letting my hair get very long. I live alone and do not trust myself one jot in the cutting of own hair.
There is a big upsurge in sales of face masks which is apparently matched by a downturn in lipstick sales. And jigsaw puzzles, a huge upsurge in the sales thereof and also a lot of people handing their finished puzzles on to friends. “I have ten puzzles I really don’t want any more,” someone said in a comment on a local newsgroup.
Lego has always been popular here, and it has its own fans who will travel fifty or a hundred or even a thousand miles to attend a convention. Given there is a Lego TV show right now, Lego sales (and jokes about standing on Lego and damaging feet) have risen, but that, to me, is more of a normal spike due to the TV show, than a spike due to COVID-19. I have no evidence to back this feeling – it is only a feeling.
Because gyms are closed, more Australians are walking. Not so much the under 45, but more Australians. Me, I walk at home (often watching TV, singing to myself or, daringly, nutting out writing problems), because of other restrictions, but most Australians walk in the streets, in the parks, up and down mountains, along the beach. This means that every morning and evening my local online news group gets photos from the serious photographers who are also walkers. They’re all from near home and they are usually of sunset or sunrise. They are spectacular. Outside is fictional to me because almost all I see of it is through windows and in these pictures.
Where I live has no COVID-19 cases currently. This is the calm before the storm, however, according to the experts. We’re very lucky to have it, but it means we know we’re not through yet. We are, however, still on lockdown. We are still almost all and almost all the time confined to home.
Some newspeople were waiting for a bitter outpouring because the virus is currently under control and so are we, but the biggest complaint this week has been that the Federal government wants to pay private schools to send pupils back to school. Since the Federal government isn’t offering more money to state schools, that’s one issue. The second is that the vast majority of education decisions happen at state government level and most states have decided on another term without schools bringing people together to spread the virus.
Oh, and we have a by-election. The Coalition would have more stable power if they won it but that’s not what the fascination of that by-election is. It is in one of the most bellwether of all bellwether seats… except that last election it went to everyone’s favourite candidate and his party missed out on government.
Mike Kelly is retiring because of illness. He pushed his body too far when he was in military service and has had an impossible number of operations to make things function. This means there are big emotions involved. The big parties have reacted so differently to the various crises, and most of Eden-Monaro (the electorate involved) is in a bad way because of the drought and the bushfires. It’s a normally-wealthy mostly-rural and tourist town electorate.
Australia has compulsory voting. This one small election might get funky.