Monday, June 1
The libraries are open. Only “Click and collect” at this stage, you can’t wander the shelves or sit inside and read the newspaper, but it’s a start.
Tuesday, June 2
I walk with Catherine R and her greyhound Carol at the Mouth of the Powlett. I ask Catherine what she’s been watching. She’s up to episode 30-something of Resurrection: Ertuğrul, a 150-episode historical drama set in the 13th century. She describes it as a Turkish soapie, with lots of amazing costumes “and some over-acting”.
I’m doing my own comparatively modest binge watching, a Scottish series called The Story of Film – 15 hour-long episodes from the birth of cinema to the digital age, from Sweden to India, Iran to Korea, and all places between. I’m limbering up for the re-opening of the cinemas. Can’t wait for that moment when the lights go down and a hush falls.
I run into Maxine just after she’s visited her mother in a local nursing home. She tells me that for nine long weeks, during the lockdown, the family were limited to Skype encounters. The nurses would set it up but her mother, who has dementia, never understood what was going on. She would touch the screen, desperately trying to touch her family. The family are now allowed two 30-minute visits a week but her mother went downhill rapidly in those nine weeks. Maxine says she keeps thinking that isolating her mother to keep her safe wasn’t worth the anguish it caused her. “Family is the only thing that matters to Mum now.”
One of my gardening clients rings and asks me if I can bury her neighbour’s dog. “I was going to ask a man but that would be sexist.” I’m digging the hole as directed, trying to avoid tree roots and past dog burials, when I hit and break a pipe. Thank God it’s the stormwater, not the sewerage.
Friday, June 5
The “Eggs 4 sale” signs are down at all my usual roadside places. The health food shop is expecting a delivery but it hasn’t turned up. I’m in Aldi when the woman on the checkout tells a customer they’ve sold out of eggs. Yikes! Are eggs the new toilet paper or is it just the cold weather?
No shortage of eggs at Vaughans café and deli in Inverloch, and local ones at that. The cafe is doing a roaring trade despite the social distancing rules. Extra tables have been set up outside. The sun is shining, it’s the start of a long weekend and there’s a cheerful hubbub.
Dinner with two very dear friends, Gill and Liz, our first since February. We toast the return of … we’re not sure what to call what we’re celebrating. Liz nails it. “To the return of civilisation.”
Saturday, June 6
My dog Matilda is in week three of her own personal six-week lockdown after injuring her leg. For the first few days she was a model patient. Three weeks in, she’s had enough of lying around. All that energy is bubbling up. First she rolls in shit. I throw her in the shower but she gets her own back later by quietly tearing strips off my doona cover, something she’s never done before.
Sunday, June 7
During the lockdown I gave up two habits and acquired a lovely new one. I stopped reading newspapers and listening to the radio – COVID COVID COVID COVID was sending me nuts – and turned to books, which used to be solely a night-time treat. Now, late in the afternoon, I make a cup of coffee and sit in the last rays of the sun and read a collection of Don Watson’s essays. Bliss!
Hamish and Megan and Sam head for Phillip Island for a walk but turn back when they see the traffic and decide to walk at Kilcunda instead. The car parks are full and the beach is crowded. All that exercise makes them thirsty and they head for the Kilcunda pub. Cars are parked on both sides of the road and the café and pub are packed. At the pub they’re told they can only have a drink if they buy a main meal. They give up and head home and have a quiet ale or two on the verandah.
Monday, June 8
Valerie is just back from the newly reopened nail salon and thrilled with the result. She usually has long red nails but she’s had them cut shorter and painted pink. “Because of the virus,” she says. I nod but I’m confused.
Tuesday, June 9
I call Anne to interview her about her good friend Kay Setches, who’s been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday honours. Anne and Bob are on the Cowes esplanade enjoying the still, sunny morning. We get onto what we learned during the lockdown. Anne says she found the time to make a story from the diaries she’s kept all her life. “I would never have done that without COVID.” Instead of driving round the shire to meetings, she stayed at home and Zoomed. Their spending dropped dramatically. It was a great time for reflection. And one of the most unexpected results: the planes stopped flying overhead to and from Tasmania. “We were so used to the noise we didn’t even notice it but suddenly there was a beautiful silence.”
Wednesday, June 10
Cate is back line dancing at the Wonthaggi RSL two nights a week and loving it. She had a particularly slothful lockdown after Matilda bowled her over on the beach and fractured her foot. She had to wear a moon boot for six weeks. The day she jettisoned it was the day Matilda injured her own leg running on the beach. Karma.
Friday, June 12
Beth tells me her 13-year-old son, who has high-functioning autism, loved remote learning but is struggling back at school. He dislikes crowds and noise and some of the teachers unintentionally frighten him. Last night Beth filled in the State Government’s survey of teachers, parents and students on their experiences of remote learning during the COVID lockdown. She described how much happier her son was over this period. She would love to see remote learning continue for students like him, for whom school is a kind of torture.
I meet a friend at Chill Bill, my first visit since the cafes re-opened. It’s good to see Fiona and Sophie back in this haven they’ve created. There’s limited seating inside and all sorts of rules to follow so we sit on the bench outside with our coffee and watch the world go by. The small ceremonies of our lives have a new savour.
Tuesday, June 16
I walk with Murray, a journalist I met through the Post. He takes me on a tour of his neighbourhood. He and his partner divide their time between Wonthaggi and the city but stayed here during the lockdown. His work was unaffected since the publisher he works for is in Sydney. Not making the weekly trip was an unexpected treat, he says. With a lot more time to read, he’s deeply immersed in Elena Ferrante’s brilliant Neapolitan quartet of novels. He’s reading the final one, The Story of the Lost Child, with that familiar sense of impending loss as he nears the end of a long and absorbing journey with people he has grown to love.
A local rental manager tells me three tenants in four days have cited a relationship breakdown as the reason for breaking a lease. For some couples the lockdown provided a little too much togetherness.
I do the Punchbowl to Kilcunda walk with Catherine R and Howard on a brilliant near-frosty morning. We watch two fishermen on the rocks far below, directly beneath the sign that says “Lives have been lost here”. Catherine and Howard are serious walkers and stride up and down the hills without drawing breath. I’m more of a stroller. Before the half way mark I tell them to go on without me, a little like Captain Oates but without the heroism as I stroll back to my car at Punchbowl. I’ve done this walk many times and never encountered more than four or five people. Today I see at least 40, all but four of them women. Is this the new normal or just a passing phase?
Friday, June 19
My architect friend Sue says she’s never been busier with work than during the lockdown. It seems that people had more time to think and make plans. She’s getting commissions and inquiries from all over Gippsland. It's good, though she's slightly envious of all her friends talking about reading War and Peace, binge-watching Netflix series and finally clearing up the garden.
It’s only four weeks into Matilda’s six-week lockdown but she’s going stir crazy. We all know the feeling now. I give in, she jumps joyfully into the car and we head for Harmers. I tell her to take it easy. She does, too, until a couple of seagulls float past us, irresistibly. Then she runs like the wind.