Sunday, September 6
Peter says he burst into tears when he heard Dan Andrew’s roadmap to normal life. “Just frustration,” he says. “I was sure things would ease off in the regions.” He lives alone in Korumburra and knows hardly anyone. His family are all in Melbourne. He was counting on the gyms re-opening. His local gym isn’t just his exercise, it’s his social life. He has the grace to add, “But I’m no virologist.”
Monday, September 7
A hot day. Tank Hill is unrecognisable. The sounds of children all day long. Our first joggers. Our first mountain bikers. And today our first monkey bike riders, riding their tiny, noisy machines up and down the sand tracks. Two boys about 14 or 15. I finally manage to catch the eye of one. I explain that it’s a conservation reserve and the birds are nesting, or trying to. I wait for the customary explosion but he says. “Thank you for explaining. We didn’t know. We’ve only just come to Wonthaggi.” Goodness! I point out where I think they are allowed to ride their bikes.
John calls in late afternoon for coffee. We sit on the verandah and our talk is punctuated by the squealing of the black cockatoos in Tank Hill. Such funny birds – big, cumbersome, noisy and playful. John says he’s distracted from the bleakness of the COVID situation by the joys of spring. His plum grafts – apricots on the plum rootstock – appear to have taken. He’s preparing the ground for the beans. He has lemon verbena plants to give away.
I’m a bit worried about Peter’s aloneness so I visit him in Korumburra. I can’t remember whether I’m permitted to travel 30km to visit a friend but tradies are still allowed to travel. so I take the ute and my gardening things, just in case. Though, given that all the local cops are out of town manning road blocks to stop the city slickers escaping, our chances of being stopped and interrogated are remote.
Dick has been in the city to pick up a load of stuff for his winery. Until now he’s been waved through at Lang Lang by cops or soldiers but this time the cop demands to know where he’s been and what he was doing. He clearly missed the lesson on customer relations at the police academy. When Dick tells him he was picking up gear for his business (he has a ute load of stuff), the cop tells him he needs a work authority from his boss. Dick says “Well, I’d have to write it myself.”
A global drug survey reveals that two in five people are drinking more alcohol during lockdown, while the same proportion are drinking less. “Twice as many drinkers reported drinking alone with friends who were connected through video/audio calls or 'watch parties', compared to the 12 months before COVID-19.” I love that phrase “drinking alone with friends”. Did people do this before COVID?
Wednesday, September 9
Dick’s planting a wildlife corridor at The Gurdies Winery and I’m going to help. I load the car with water bottle, sunscreen, hat, trowel, spade, dog … and the bloody car won’t start. I transfer everything to the ute. Matilda refuses to leave the car because she thinks I’m tricking her out of her car ride. I finally drag her out and she’s ecstatic when she finds we’re travelling in the ute.
A beautiful afternoon in the hills above the bay planting manna gums, messmates, hop goodenias, black wattles … this is the second planting. A big mob of kangaroos hangs out here and they wrecked the first planting, ate the tips of the trees and flattened them during their afternoon naps. This one has to be roo-proof. It takes a while to find our rhythm. Drive in a timber stake, plant the tube, drive in a bamboo stake, heavy-duty plastic mesh then the final bamboo stake. Dick shows me where he saw a two-metre tree goanna. He’s seen it three times, or perhaps he’s seen three goannas once. Driving home, I feel that contentment that comes with planting trees. It’s partly the physical work in beautiful surroundings and partly the knowledge – or hope – that in 20 years this will be a forest, home to echidnas, goannas, wombats, bandicoots … who knows.
Thursday, September 10
The RACV sends a young man to get my car started. He says they’re getting a lot of calls for flat batteries because people are travelling so little. “Turn it on and let it idle for half an hour,” he instructs as he leaves.
An email from Kevin, who moved from The Gurdies to the city a couple of years ago. I ask how he’s coping, and he replies: “I write a lot more. Obviously … spend time on my guitars, (broken down old rocker!!) Watch DVD’s (Full set of Minder ‘wif Arfur Daley and ‘Tal’. Love anything Rob Stitch and the Working Dog mob do. Walk more than I used to and oh have grandpa naps when I can’t think of anything else. I’ve reversed the old saying … I put off today what I can do tomorrow. Why? Cos when I get up tomorrow I’ve got something to do.”
Someone is walking slowly up and down McBride Avenue with a hand written sign that says DODGY. What can it mean?
Big news - I have 7 asparagus spears, although I knocked the tops off two weeding before I noticed them. Spring is here.
Saturday, September 12
An email from John G, a former workmate and cricket friend. He had surgery a month ago to remove a cancerous lump and has just found another. “A pleasing aspect is that I appear to have done my mental prep the first time around. So, it’s like this: there are two poles (go on / pull stumps) on the axis and the task is to bring them slowly together so that they overlay, merge, become one. The same. Indivisible. Nothing, which is where it began, and ends. My birthday’s just over a week away, and 76 is a bloody big number. It’s a miracle just to be born, but to survive that long with a cloven hoof ... I write all this knowing I love meting out embarrassment to myself. Maybe it’s an ingrown wart.
“PS: I won’t even mention that our seats at the G this year have been allocated to Bertie Covid and his 19 stupid family & friends.”
Sunday, September 13
I ask Linda and Terry over for coffee. Linda texts back: “We need a walk and to talk to someone who is not us.” She’s had the test! She was feeling flu-ey and since she was about to see her grand-daughter thought she’d better do the right thing. Second in the queue on Monday morning, several cars behind her. The nurse who did the test mentioned that several people had complained of flu-like symptoms so despite our obsessive hygiene we are still passing it around.
I give them my own health report My teeth hurt, my eyes are weeping and my face is covered in spots. I keep checking against the COVID chart but the symptoms don’t match. I seem to have reached a tipping point in my physical decline.
Vilya and Martin go to Pakenham South to pick up their new chooks. The transaction is as precise as a drug deal. They’ve prepaid. They have an appointment time. They drive through. The five chooks are transferred to their box and they’re on their way within a couple of minutes. Vilya has prepared her spiel in case they’re stopped at Lang Lang (“It was essential for my mental health, officer.”) but they’re waved straight through.
Monday, September 14
RATES TO RISE 25 PER CENT BECAUSE OF THE COST OF THE PANDEMIC. Relax! That was the situation facing Wonthaggi Borough ratepayers exactly 100 years ago, according to a report in the Herald newspaper of Friday evening, July 9, 1920 that Maxine sends me. “Normally the rate is 2/- but it was increased to 2/6 this year to meet the liability. The revenue of the Borough of Wonthaggi last year was £4840 and £3551 was paid out on account of the influenza epidemic. [Spanish flu]. As there is still £1200 owing, practically the whole of last year’s revenue was absorbed by the epidemic.”
It puts our current council’s COVID response ($2.8 million in economic stimulus and fee relief in an $85 million budget) into perspective.
In the evening, I attend my first Zoom birthday party. Half of us are in Wonthaggi and the other half, including the birthday girl, in the city. Evie’s turning five. As the candles are lit, we launch into the song. Evie’s clearly flagging after a big day of excitement but manages a last gasp and blows out her five candles. Then we watch her eat a slice of her very beautiful birthday cake, a swan cake with white chocolate feathers. It's actually rather cheering to be in company. I half expect a knock on the door with a Deliveroo driver delivering my slice from the city but he must have got lost in the dark.
When Evie is very old, will her great-grandchildren listen in wonder to stories of her very strange fifth birthday party, or will that just be the way of things?
Tuesday, September 15
Chris recently moved back to the city but his heart is still in San Remo. He emails: “We're doing ok, at least now allowed 2 hours per day walking … everyone in San Remo knew us for all the walking we did every day, good way of getting to know locals. … Just need to escape Melbourne plus hopefully see our grandkids more than on the phone. Maybe park get together in another 2 weeks.”
Email from Maxine, whose mother is in Grossard Court on the island. They can only wave at her through the window and communicate on screen. “Mum is going okay, but really missing the contact. We went over for our window visit last Thursday it was mum’s 86th birthday. Her excitement at seeing us is very moving, we sang happy birthday, all presents were left at front door. Her carers are lovely and are doing their best at offering comfort. It's very hard not to be able to give hugs and kisses. I feel for all the residents especially the dementia patients who don't understand what's happening, and why their families are not visiting. But good news numbers are going down and fingers crossed maybe one day soon our hugs and kisses will be real contact. “
Wednesday, September 16
You know the ads that target your “interests”? This just popped up on my screen, unbidden. “Don’t apply Moisturiser to Crepey Skin.” Bugger off Google!
I visit Martin and Vilya. No sign of life. Then a call of “Down here!” I find them sitting in their chook yard, gazing at their five new girls with rapt attention. Martin says they’ve been trying to train them to use the new automatic, rat-proof feeder. The chook stands on a metal bar to raise the lid, or that’s the theory. No joy so far. Later a text from Vilya: “Clipping wings tmoro without fail. Too old to be climbing trees.”
Thursday, September 17
Free at last. Thank God almighty. We no longer have to have a reason to go out. Laura says she’s looking forward to a long walk “for no purpose”. I stroll aimlessly through town to survey the reawakening regional economy. Wonthaggi Club: “YES WE ARE OPEN, TAKEAWAY ONLY.” A few people in cafes. But no question about which business has been missed most. The nail salon is going gangbusters.
Sam and her friend call in to pick up Matilda and take her for a walk. Sam’s been off work for six months since the RACV Resort closed down, apart from a few weeks between lockdowns. Her manager rang her a few weeks ago to check that she’d be returning when they reopen. Yes, she said. She can’t wait! Who would ever have thought that work would be so welcome.
Friday, September 18
A trickle of visitors. Our world is reopening. Peter drops by. He's come to Wonthaggi to go op shopping. Tomorrow he’s headed to Wallan to visit his sister. He’s blooming!
I’m planning a small gathering on my verandah tomorrow to celebrate coming out of hibernation. I’ll sweep the floor and clean the toilet but as usual the guests will have to bring the cake. I read the regulations again and try to concentrate. Okay ... so up to 10 people can meet outdoors. And my household (the cat, the dog and me) can create a household bubble with one nominated household. Up to five people from that nominated household can then visit me at home. People under one don't count. But if another household chooses me to be in their bubble, I can't choose a different household to be in my bubble …
See. It's simple.