Monday July 6
For a moment my heart lifts when I read “For our coronavirus pandemic-free coverage” in The Age. Then I read the sentence more closely: “For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.” Not if you paid me, buddy. I already know more than I want to.
Tuesday, July 7
Premier announces we’re going back into lockdown for six weeks. Not us exactly, Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, but the lockdown extends to Lang Lang and it's coming down the Bass Highway towards us.
Even daggy old Wonthaggi is suspiciously busy for the middle of winter. Lots of people out riding bikes and striding the streets purposefully, which the locals don't do.
If we’re going back into lockdown, I’d better organise my affairs. First stop is the bottle shop and then a haircut. Lynne tells me the salon had a lot of cancellations last week when the COVID numbers started to climb in the city but, surprisingly, almost none after yesterday’s announcement. We talk about what we’re going to panic buy this time. Lynne hid two packs of toilet paper in the hall cupboard after the last lockdown. “ And I’m not buying any rice or pasta. I’ve still got plenty from the first one.” I’ve still got two packets of flour, since I don’t know how to bake, and enough dried beans to power the Hindenburg. What on earth was I planning to do with them?
A message from my teacher friend Hlengiwe in Zimbabwe. She’s back in the village where she grew up until schools re-open. I asked her how she was spending her time. “We use borehole water for cooking and washing. Its 1km from my home sometimes we have to roll some drums full of water or carry it on our heads. There is another borehole 100m from my home but it’s not good for drinking. It has lots of lime and it rots your teeth.” It amazes me that despite the hardship of her daily life, we can converse by email.
Thursday, July 9
9News reports traffic piling up on the approach to Phillip Island, as the city people seek somewhere more salubrious to spend their lockdown. I can’t blame them, though plenty do. Local Facebook pages are full of angry rants about germ-ridden illegals threatening our lives. The dob-in line is running hot again.
A meeting for Save the Holden Bushlands. It’s my first Zoom meeting and I’m chairing it so Tim kindly guides me through a practice run beforehand and offers to do the technical stuff. Zooming is tiring! You can’t drift off and doodle. Some of the members have to sign off to join another Zoom meeting. I sign off and head to Harmers with Matilda to clear my head. It is perfect, still, the sun sinking through the clouds and an extraordinary sunset. We head back to the car about 5pm and there are more cars arriving even as darkness falls. Are these the city escapees they warned us about?
Message from Beth. I was going to drive her tomorrow to see her husband Jeffter who’s in a hospital in Cheltenham, but the trip’s off. Visitors are forbidden, at least for the next few days.
Friday, July 10
I head to the island to visit friends in Cowes. On the radio news I hear that a couple from Docklands who tried to visit their holiday house on Phillip Island at 1.30am this morning were turned away at one vehicle checkpoint and given a warning, and then stopped at another checkpoint after trying a different route. They’ve both been fined. Ouch! Will there be queues and hostile signs warning visitors away at the bridge? Will I have to show a passport? In fact the traffic is lighter than an ordinary Friday morning and Cowes is surprisingly empty.
Several friends report their adult children are returning, complete with partners and pets. I can’t blame them, but some of the parents are struggling to cope with extended family life after years of glorious peace. One friend messages: “There’s every chance I’ll have the Melbourne contingent here for the duration as they can’t really stay in a flat in Melbourne with the dog.” She and her dogs plan to escape to an East Gippsland caravan park for a weekend retreat.
Saturday July 11
Woollies is surprisingly quiet for a Saturday morning. It seems odd without the smell of sausages and fried onions. And the shelves are full of toilet paper, paper towels, rice and pasta. Even the thrill of stockpiling is gone since everyone still has what they stockpiled last time.
Herald Sun headline: Coast locals urged to dob in lingering Melbourne holiday home owners to police. Love the “lingering”. Is it a play on “malingering”?
Liz and Gill are coming for dinner. I thought we'd better get together before we can't. I’ve ordered Indian takeaways, because it's about time I supported the local businesses. Oh, and I’m lazy and not a good cook. Then Gill phones to say she’s got a slight headache and she sneezed twice. Nothing to worry about but … she thinks it best if she cancels.
Sunday July 12
An early morning call from Gill. “Catherine, I’m perfectly well!” Fastest recovery from COVID yet. Unfortunately I’ve already distributed the Indian takeaways.
I had told Hlengiwe my friends were coming for dinner. She writes: “How was the day with your friends i hope you laughed as much and enjoyed each others company. Here we stay around the fire after dinner and enjoy some gossips. Usually neighbours keep us company and we drink lots and lots of tea. Today we had tea and pumpkins. It was delicious. Stay safe always. Hlengiwe”
Murray and Geoff call in. Murray’s parents are in aged care in Ivanhoe. One of the staff members has tested positive so the home is back in isolation. His mother can’t really handle phone calls. Murray finds it distressing.
Channel 7 reports that a Ferntree Gully woman has been fined for travelling 13kms to feed her horse Lily during the lockdown. Predictable outrage.
Tuesday July 14
A walk in the secret grass tree forest (I can’t tell you where) with Gill and Liz. After the walk, Liz is heading off to get a phone from the Wonthaggi Post Office. It’s a very special phone without a camera or email or a GPS. She’s going to wear a mask in Wonthaggi for the first time but is worried they won’t be able to understand what she’s saying. She shows us two lovely floral masks she’s bought from the chemist.
Sam calls in. She started back at the RACV Resort restaurant, they were open for two weeks and they’ve been put off again for six weeks. The first break was good but now she's struggling to fill in her days so she’s come to take Matilda for a walk. Matilda is just home from a long walk but she’s already forgotten it and wags her tail with delight when Sam picks up the lead.
Channel 7 reports that police can find no record of a fine for the woman who travelled to feed her horse.
Wednesday July 15
Chris visits a Wonthaggi pharmacy and is asked whether he’s been to Inverloch or Cowes. Since he hasn’t, he doesn’t discover what the consequences are. Would they have refused to serve him?
John drops in with a tamarillo tree and 30 long, healthy raspberry canes for planting. His garden is doing spring-like things months ahead of time and his neighbour recently saw some baby birds. The birds are as confused as we are. John says he’s busy in his garden and content with his own lot, but acutely aware of the distress of so many people whose lives have been turned upside down. We discuss the alternatives and agree that we would hate to be making the decisions.
Thursday July 16
Two people have tested positive in Bass Coast and another two in South Gippsland. The threat is getting closer. Bass Coast Health suspends visits to patients in Wonthaggi Hospital, except in special circumstances, ie. end of life. CEO Jan Child appeals to residents for calm and an end to the blaming of visitors.
Harry’s doing his creative writing class via Zoom. He presses the Mute button and calls to Maddy “Where are you, darling?” “I’m getting dressed,” she calls back. And the whole class laughs. It’s only then that Harry realises the Mute button hasn’t worked. He says it was especially topical as they were learning how to build suspense in their novels.
Liz reports that when she put on her new mask it fogged up her glasses. “I could either see or I could wear a mask. You’re not supposed to touch your face but you have to keep wiping your glasses. I don’t know – I think I’m going to get one of those plastic visors that cover your whole face.” In reality she‘s preparing to go back into hibernation and rather looking forward to it.
Friday July 17
Drive-through testing is introduced at Wonthaggi Hospital but the CEO warns that because of the numbers being tested state wide it will be up to five days before results are available. During that time you must self-isolate at home. It’s hard to see what the point is. We might as well assume we’re all contagious and act accordingly. With 428 new COVID cases recorded in the state, Daniel Andrew asks us all to wear a mask when we’re in public, even outside the city. It’s not an order, he says, it’s a request. In the afternoon I drive along Wonthaggi’s main street – for the first time most people are masked. Just like 1919.