SCOTT Morrison says it would be prudent for all of us to prepare for two weeks in isolation.
I make a mental list of things I couldn’t live without: gin, wine, tobacco, coffee, tea, proper bread, yoghurt. Dog and cat food. Fortunately the first three seem secure and I’m not worried about toilet paper. Sooner or later even the preppers and hoarders will reach peak toilet paper.
I visit my friends Linda and Terry and we swap fruit and stories. They tell me their sons are worried that Terry is vulnerable because he deals with the public. We’re amused by their concern. It’s the old and frail who are at risk from COVID-19, not us. Then we realise: “But we are the old!”
It reminds me of a joke our local GP Nola Maxfield tells: “What’s the definition of an alcoholic? Someone who drinks more than you do.” Old people are older than you.
I go shopping at Woolies and stare at the empty shelves in disbelief. Oh! I thought people were exaggerating. This is what happens to Syrians and Zimbabweans and Russians, even Greeks – their governments are so chaotic. But not us!
There is no shortage of supplies, we’ve been told and most of us believe, but we can see the shortage with our own eyes. So it’s complicated.
There’s no ordinary long-life milk left but plenty of almond milk, rice milk, soy milk and goat milk, and six tins of full-cream milk powder. If there was a mother beside me with two young children I would cede to her. But what if I leave it and one of those smug preppers snaps it up? I take a tin.
I give up on Woollies and cross the road to Ritchies, where I find an unexpected treasure trove: sugar, brown rice, spaghetti. There is no wheat flour but plenty of rice flour, chickpea flour, arrowroot flour, tapioca flour. The man beside me takes a packet of cake and biscuit flour. “I’ll make some scones,” he says. We smile at each other companionably.
My neighbour Joan went to “pensioners hour” at Woolies. She says you could hardly move and the shelves were empty. Most shocking of all – there were police in the store to keep order. I ask if anyone misbehaved. “No. But there was a chap going on about how he shouldn’t have to wait in the queue because he was a regular shopper. He had 12 two-litres cartons of milk. I just ignored him.”
Disaster! The libraries are to close at the end of the day. Just when people might finally have time to read. The new Waterline Library in Grantville closes just two days after it opened.
The council closes the Wonthaggi Union Theatre until further notice. No more films, concerts or plays for the duration.
The cancellations come thick and fast: concerts, talks, meetings, forums, exhibitions. Civilisation is unravelling day by day. Almost everyone I meet says the same thing: “It’s so interesting.”
Frank tells me his neighbour Desmond (not his real name) went to Aldi’s in Wonthaggi and got his ration of toilet paper, put it in the ute, went back and got another ration, put it in the ute, went back and got another ration … and the guy at the checkout refused to serve him. Desmond wouldn’t leave without his toilet rolls so the manager called the police, who asked him to put Desmond on the line. The cop told Desmond to leave the store or he would come and arrest him. Desmond told Frank this story in an aggrieved tone as if he was the victim. He is a single man.
Lauren says she’s heard a report that busloads of city people are going round country towns buying up supplies. They’d been through Koo Wee Rup, Leongatha and got as far as Lakes Entrance. Are they desperate or profiteers?
My neighbour Raymond went to pensioner’s hour and managed to get some meat and a couple of other things to take to family in Cowes. The Cowes supermarkets are even emptier than Wonthaggi’s. They were cleaned out over the weekend, whether by holiday home owners or the city mobsters no one is sure.
I call into Woolies in my reporting capacity. There are actually a few packs of toilet paper but no potatoes and very little pet food. The meat shelves are empty except for a few processed hams. There are lots of tins of sliced mushrooms.
Liz emails to say she was in the city and you can only buy coffee in takeaway cups. They won’t even let you use your own keep cup. “I'm rather hoping that this is Earth's vengeance and climate heating will slow as fewer planes fly, and people have to stay home,” she writes.
An email from Amara: “I’ve done inventory on our pantry and discovered that I’ve stockpiled, unknowingly over the past 3 years, about 18 half packs of pasta. I’m considering weighing it up and selling it by the gram to the folks at Doveton.”
I had the opposite experience, having cleared my cupboards of all the unopened, outdated packets of lentils, beans and pasta just a week or two earlier. Damn!
A low-tide walk at the Mouth of the Powlett with two good friends and two dogs. The weather was meant to be sunny and still; instead it is dark, windy, hot and slightly ominous. We turn left towards Williamsons and wallow in the rock baths that are only visible at low tide. The dogs are ecstatic. It’s a nice break from the madness.
The rumour file: COVID-19 is a biological agent released by the Chinese government in revenge for all 300 years of western domination. My friend was told this by her “health professional”. We discuss the theory and identify the flaw. With the west shut down, who’s going to buy all the cheap Chinese crap?
Darren is in Coles at Cowes when the shelf stackers start filling the toilet paper shelves – with Easter eggs! They explain they need the space for an excess of eggs.
Wendy tells me her daughter went shopping for nappies and returned empty handed. She said there was an eerie calm in Coles. With almost nothing left on the shelves the place was almost deserted.
The supermarkets have no meat but Wendy went to a butcher’s and bought mince and gravy beef. Clearly we are suffering from supermarket addiction.
The rumour file: A pupil at Newhaven Primary School has tested positive. I can find no evidence of this.
At the monthly council meeting in the Wonthaggi Civic Centre, there are just three chairs in the gallery carefully placed two metres apart. The councillors vote to record audio of the meeting and make it available online.
Australia closes its borders to foreigners.
I type Gumtree into Google and “Gumtree toilet paper” appears in prescriptive text. Most of the ads are spoofs but there is what looks like a genuine one advertising toilet paper for $5 a roll. Also lots of ads for bidets.
Amid the cancellations, the would-be hermits are in seventh heaven. “To tell you the truth,” says Michael, “I’m enjoying not having to go to things.”
In my local cafe, Chill Bill. Fiona says that as one of their occasional customers left the café yesterday, he told them he wouldn’t be in for a few weeks, wished them well and put $20 in the tip jar.
Karin, who grew up in post-war England, says it reminds her of rationing. “You had to queue up to get your two eggs and your two rashers of bacon.”
Jessie says there was a fracas in Woolies as a woman began transferring goods from another shopper’s trolley into her own. Caught in the act, she said she thought it was a shelf stackers’ trolley.
At the Harmers Haven rock pools, a young woman tells me she’s just returned from university. “I’ve always been a country girl – but I made the big move and it was all for nothing.” The university is going to run her course online but she’s still paying rent on a place in the city.
Valerie says one of the members of her drama group rang to say she wouldn’t be coming “while this is going on”. Valerie was shocked. “There are only eight of us and it’s a big house.” She says it’s a particular shame because they are studying Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which is all about mass hysteria.
Sam says the RACV resort in Inverloch, where she has worked for 18 months, advised her to start looking for other work. “They’re looking for staff at Coles,” her manager told her.
A man at the bottle shop with his bottle of whisky and dry ginger ale. “Panic buying,” he says to the woman behind him in the queue. She laughs like anything.
Matt and Liane have just been told their volunteer posting in Cambodia has been cancelled, but they have plenty of other things on their mind. Liane is trying to keep the ArtSpace gallery open because she figures people will need things to do. Ditto with Matt at Radio 3MFM. He says it will be difficult because many of the local businesses that sponsor the station will struggle to stay afloat over the next few months.
They have to go to the city next week for a medical appointment and have decided to stay the night. They have booked for dinner at Attica, which is usually booked six months ahead. “I feel a bit like Nero fiddling while Rome burns,” Liane says.
Frank’s plumber mate went to do a home job in Wonthaggi and saw an entire wall of a garage stacked with toilet rolls. I wonder whether the owners were ashamed at being sprung. Frank says they would consider they were being prudent. “They’ve been done over by the power companies, the banks, Centrelink. This time they’re going to make sure they look after themselves.”
Like most sensible people, I’m a little nervous of what I might be capable of, should times really get tough but our PM has no such fears. Hoarding, he says, is “unAustralian”. “That is not who we are as a people.” That’s a relief then. It’s just the foreigners we have to worry about, not ourselves. Hang on! I am a foreigner.
Go bravely and watch your shopping trolley.