Monday March 23
The PM threatens to close bottle shops if people don’t stop panic buying, with predictable results.
Vilya calls in. (Yes, we maintained an appropriate distance.) The stories of despair are getting to her, and the idea that it may be months before she sees her young grandchildren.
I tell her to stop watching the TV news. All those numbers read out in those grave voices. This must be what it was like during the wars. Worse in an age when “news” is updated hourly and readers, watchers and listeners have to be constantly titillated by some new horror.
I miss the Sports Rorts Affair. Such a hoot between our two catastrophes. It seems so long ago.
John G tells me proudly that he managed to find some hand sanitiser in his local supermarket. “But it’s very thick and I have to rinse it off.” I break the news that hand wash is not the same as hand sanitiser.
The Leongatha-based Great Southern Star publishes its last issue until further notice, joining a slew of other regional papers to shut up shop.
Bass Coast Health announces the first case of COVID-19 in Bass Coast.
A late afternoon walk at Harmers with a friend and four dogs. Everyone seems to have the same idea and the beach is unusually crowded. We see six people in the distance. Poor Bondi beach goers. Lucky us.
Wednesday March 25
Liz has stocked up on food, books and wool for the weeks ahead and isn’t worried about the lockdown. “I’ve been lighting the fire at night. I think I’m getting ready to hibernate.”
Vilya and Martin ring a local poultry producer but she has no chooks for sale. There’s been a run on them from city people, plus eggs are in short supply. And vegetable seedlings. People are hunkering down. They give me fresh green beans as I depart.
“All those people who used to ask me why I bothered with a garden when you could buy it all at the supermarket,” John C says. “Now cabbages are $11.” He has radicchio, potatoes, lettuces, tomatoes, swedes, silver beet, apples, pears, lots of different guavas. He gives me an egg carton of ripe figs and two jars of berry jam.
Thursday March 26
As a gardener and rubbish removalist, I’m awash with cash that I can’t spend, Even the tip is demanding a card.
Geoff says: “It’s funny how people have so much sympathy for people who’ve lost their job because of the lockdown but there was so little sympathy for the people who’ve lost their jobs over the past 10 years for a host of other reasons.”
Friday March 27
My young Kiwi friend Sam has lost her job at the RACV resort. She’s not eligible for a benefit and she’s worried sick. She has rent to pay and the car registration is due. Yesterday I put the word around my friends. The response is immediate. Three offers of accommodation, four small jobs, mowing, washing windows and cleaning. Someone leaves an envelope on my verandah marked simply “The Sam Fund”. It really does take a village. Sam is touched and I am proud of our community.
Further from home, the hysteria mounts by the day. The crypto fascists are in their element. “JUST STAY HOME, IDIOT!!!!!’ they Facebook bellow at anyone who questions any aspect of government policy or communications.
A hot day. I head to Cape Paterson late morning. First Surf is fairly busy. At least 10 people swimming and several surfers. The sea is cold and clear. There are new soap dispensers in the changing rooms.
A bonus: on my drive home I score a dozen fresh free range eggs from a stall on Cape Road.
Saturday March 28
“BEACH CLOSED” signs at Cape. Everyone ignores them and heads down for a swim. I read the small print: “If you see a mass gathering ring XXXX.” I see several family groups with four and six kids. Should I report them?
Turns out the signs are not meant for us but for the city hordes who are supposedly on their way down to party on our beaches, having been kicked off St Kilda beach for inappropriate behaviour. There's a STAY HOME sign as you come in to Cape.
A late afternoon walk at Harmers with Cate and her son Lachie and three dogs. It’s warm and windless, breath-takingly beautiful as the sun goes down.
Signs on two fences inform bypassers that the residents are self isolating and no one is to approach. We joke about knocking on the door and asking them if they need anything. Are we still allowed to joke? I can’t remember.
Sunday March 29
Daren calls in with Josh, 5, and Toby, 2. It feels strange not to give them a hug but we give each other a toe tap and sit on the verandah. There is a lot of dog and cat patting in lieu.
The boy next door is peering longingly through the wire gate so Josh goes over to meet him. “You’ve got lovely hair,” he says. They’re soon deep in conversation through the gate. I wish I could eavesdrop.
I have to go to the city. VicRoads has joined in the spirit of the times by posting educational messages on the freeway overhead billboards, The first frame reads: “STOP THE SPREAD. IF YOU CAN STAY HOME”. A pause and then the second: “YOU MUST STAY HOME”.
I’m truly alarmed. How could anyone torture the poor old English language in this way?
In the city there are just a few people on the streets (all the Asians in masks, almost none of the Caucasians). Most shops are closed and the trams almost empty. The skies darken as a thunderstorm rolls in. It feels apocalyptic and I’m anxious to get out.
Monday March 30
Even the dependable old ABC is driving me nuts. Today this on the home page of our national broadcaster: Woman donates soap to neighbours in 'random act of kindness' amid coronavirus outbreak. I can only hope they’re being funny. I see more random acts of kindness in my street on an average Tuesday morning.
I’m driving to the other side of town on essential business (oh all right then, to the bottle shop) when I see a disturbing sight: a couple of middle-aged people are walking along the footpath side by side. No shopping bag, no dog, not walking purposefully, just strolling along as if nothing’s wrong. As I get closer I see they are holding hands! Is that allowed? I can’t remember.
I’m tempted to wind down the window and yell “YOU’RE KILLING ME, IDIOTS!!!”. But he’s pretty big so I leave their re-education to someone else.
A security guard stands at the entrance to Dan Murphy’s to ensure public order. He looks bored. All that training in kung fu and diplomacy and he ends up posted to Wonthaggi. There are two customers inside. I make number three. They have a new sign up listing limits to prevent the hordes from panic buying. You can only buy six bottles of spirits, three slabs of beer, three casks of wine … I forget the rest. That’s per customer per day. Just as well mass gatherings are forbidden. You’d hate to have to share your booze when it’s rationed like that.
Tuesday March 31
The PM announces NZers will be eligible for the Jobkeeper payment. Relief for Sam. She will be able to pay her rent and bills.
Ursula emails: “Read the great news today and thought about Sam ... Still so many challenges ahead, but luckily we live within a kind village, and a multilayered and sound country. Important to remember that ‘People are Good!”
Each day The Age offers a recipe to help us through our confinement. It goes pasta with this, pasta with that, some other kind of pasta with something else, pasta, pasta, bloody pasta … We’re not training for a marathon, you know. More like practising for our last years of imprisonment in a nursing home.
At crazy times – disasters, fires, plagues, etc – I skip the news pages and turn to the sport for a bit of sanity but that’s not much use these days. Today’s back page of The Age has an enormous headshot of some obscure footballer with the heading “ December decider ‘could be a Christmas special’.” Goodness!
Thank god for the puzzles. But I’m warning you: the first crossword clue with the answer COVID-19, I’m cancelling my subscription.
Wednesday April 1
I take a load of green stuff to the tip. I’m out of the ute with my wallet before I see the sign: “DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE AT ANY TIME”.
“Sorry,” I say to Rodney. “So many new rules.”
“No worries, mate,” Rodney says. “A feller from the council was here. They’re gunna stop people coming in.”
“You mean they’re closing the tip?”
“You’re all right, mate,” he says. “You’re in the trade. You’re an essential service.”
Me – an essential service?! Reader, a little bit of me swelled with a little bit of pride.
A man I’ve never seen before now walks his dog down my lane every evening. I imagine him released from drudgery, perhaps of a daily commute to the city. Children call to one another as they play in the bush across the lane. Such happy sounds! Perhaps some good will come out of all this.
The so-called “Aspen set” have become national scapegoats. The Age shamelessly incites the mob by referring to them as “rich Melbourne couple” but appends self-righteously “whom we have chosen not to name at this time”. Victorian MP Tim Smith refers to them as “flogs”. Is this a reference to Australia’s convict past? Letter writers and talkback callers debate the best form of punishment. Perhaps it’s time to revive hanging, drawing and quartering.
Thursday April 2
An update from Bass Coast Health. They’ve tested more than 400 people, of whom two were positive. Neither required hospital treatment. Testing is being carried out at Phillip Island Health Hub and Wonthaggi Hospital. Some people are being referred by their GP while others are coming to be tested of their own accord.
I read Carolyn Landon’s essay on the deadly Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19 and its impact on Wonthaggi (The Deadliest Epidemic). She notes that the first deaths occurred on March 14 with 100 people in care. One week later the deaths had risen to 16 with 130 patients in the hospitals. Over the next fortnight there were eight more deaths. And suddenly the epidemic was over, in time for Wonthaggi to mark the fourth Anzac Day in honour of its returned soldiers. Fingers crossed!
John C brings me some freshly picked Chilean guavas, tiny fragrant berries. His neighbour keeps bailing him up – well within the exclusion zone – to complain about “Chinese” in the supermarkets and “Chinese” coming into the country.
“If they’re coming into the country, they must be Australians,” John points out, but his neighbour will have none of it.
Chinese Australians are not the only ones copping it. The council’s Facebook page is flooded with messages from Phillip Islanders who want to stop outsiders, especially holiday home owners who want to spend their incarceration in more serene surroundings, close to the beach. Who can blame them? But we do.
On the Bass Coast Council Facebook page. Elisa posts: “Can the Bass Coast Council not have police at the Phillip Island Bridge or along the South Gipss HWY to ask people where they are going? Mandatory identification checks?”
Andrea asks: “Is it possible to close the bridge or have police presence at the Wonthaggi turnoff? No ID to show you’re local then no access.”
We are no longer Australians; we are no longer even Victorians. “We” are clean-living country folk and “they” are city slickers who will bring their germs with them and infect us. “They” are now the enemy.
Soon we will no longer even be Bass Coasters but hunker down into our towns and villages. Soon after that we’ll even start mistrusting our neighbours. George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, you warned us this is how it goes!