After 110 gruelling days, Melbourne is ready to emerge from one of the world's strictest and longest-ever lockdowns.
Melbourne breathed a collective sigh of relief yesterday as Premier Daniel Andrews announced measures to lift the city's long lockdown. Beginning in the chill of winter, when the nights were long and dark, Melbourne's marathon second lockdown is now mere hours from being lifted. Sunny days await, both literally and figuratively.
As the city prepares to take its first tentative steps toward a new 'COVID-normal' after 110 long days (an effort which has seen Melbourne touted as a world leader in disease suppression) we asked our Melbourne-based writers how they felt now that the ordeal is seemingly all over.
By Joshua Martin
Melbourne has been in lockdown so long that this is the third time I've been paid to write about how depressing it was. I finished the last year of my university degree a week ago, without a public celebration to validate my personal victory – only an intensely existential neighbourhood walk.
But after nearly eight months of dwelling in the unreality of home and the digital world, it's funny how instantly alive Monday's announcement made me feel. As soon as Daniel Andrews declared that "now is the time to open", the dry political rhetoric almost made me cry. I tried to call the local – Town Hall Pub North Melbourne – and in my hurry accidentally spoke to the City of Melbourne council. In two days I was going to just pop in to a bookstore to pass the time; go to K-Mart to buy a shoddy rice cooker; meet friends from multiple households at the same time.
A worse jolt back to life came seconds later. My Twitter feed was a mix of jokes about getting on the beers, and sheer anguish at the state government's cynical move to fell the Djab Wurrung "directions tree" to make way for a highway duplication between Buangor and Ararat – simultaneously with the Andrews press conference. The tree was sacred to the Djab Wurrung people, coming from a time when each child's placenta would be mixed with the seed of one of those trees each. For years, activists had fought to save many of these trees – indeed, many thought they had been saved – and the Indigenous peoples of Naarm (Melbourne) were robbed of the same afternoon joy that the rest of us felt.
There's a passage in Albert Camus' The Plague – the 1947 (fictional) novel about the Algerian town of Oran's year-long struggle against an outbreak of the black death – that came to mind. It's about the selfishness of people who desperately wish to let their loved ones out from isolation: "The more they think about getting them out, the less they think about the person to be got out...And when it comes down to it, you realize that no one is really capable of thinking of anyone else, even in the worst misfortune". The new COVID Normal suddenly felt a lot like the old normal; thoughtless colonial injustice.
get on the beers
By David Allegretti
It finally happened. Yesterday, Daniel Andrews said we could finally get on the beers. And so the memes started, and the tweets, the Insta stories. I called a couple of mates, made plans for the weekend to drink an actual beer, from an actual dirty pint glass, from an actual shitty Melbourne rooftop bar. It was really on, we were finally getting on the beers.
The prospect of proper beers obviously leads to unparalleled excitement, the extent of which only another Melburnian could fully comprehend. But with the announcement came an odd melancholy; I'm not even sure if that is the right way to phrase the feeling, but it's close enough.
I feel conflicted writing this, but I enjoyed the lockdown in a weird way – and before I go any further, I want to acknowledge the privilege I have to even be able to say such a thing. I'm one of the very lucky ones, and I wake up grateful every day that I've had the opportunity to continue to earn a living, working from home, doing something I absolutely love, when so many people have been thrust into insecurity and uncertainty.
These last eight months have been the calmest, most wholesome months for me on a personal level, and I feel guilty for feeling that way. Not getting absolutely wrecked every weekend has allowed me the time to grow in so many ways. I'm the fittest and strongest I've ever been – given there's not much else to do besides yoga, push ups, and running around my 5km radius. I've never eaten so well, or felt as generally healthy as I do now. I drink far fewer beers, smoke far fewer cigarettes – at times going days without the latter and weeks without the former.
I've adopted a husky, who has become my best friend and ever-enthusiastic running partner. I've rediscovered video games that aren't FIFA, after a decade-long hiatus; my PlayStation now getting an almost daily workout. I've started reading actual books again, something I just "didn't have time for" before all this.
And yet, I miss my friends, and my family I haven't been able to see, all of whom I'm looking forward to seeing as soon as possible. I miss my city, I miss the trams, the sounds and smells of the city, I even miss the slow walkers.
But most of all, I'm filled with so much pride to be a Melburnian. We endured the toughest lockdown in the world. And we did it together. This really is the best city in the world, filled with a strange and wonderful mosaic of the best people, and all I wanna do is hug every last one of us (once it's safe).
So proud of you Melbourne. Now let's get on the beers.
By Reena Gupta
Hey, Melbourne. Hey. Look at us. Two days of zero cases, and the announcement our city is finally reopening from tonight. Who would've thought? Not me.
Yep, I genuinely wasn't sure this day would come, but now it has, I'm experiencing a weird mix of relief and dread. Yes it's a huge accomplishment, but I'm wary of seeing it as some decisive victory. The last time we ended up way too smug about our flattened curve was in July 2020, only for the mad bitch (yes, COVID-19 is a woman) to hit faster and harder than before.
My fear is that we'll open up, sink into the warmer weather and let our guards down; only for you-know-who to burst onto the scene yet again. I just hope we're smarter this time 'round.
Also, does anyone know what I'm supposed to do with all this newfound freedom? It's stressing me the hell out. Over the weekend, I indulged in our new 25km travel radius by – get this – catching a tram (!), and it was full of other people! Can you imagine? Being surrounded by potential virus hosts (I mean, uh, my fellow brave Melburnians) filled me with anxiety; I was only able to fully unclench once safely back home.
What's lockdown done to me? Last year I casually wandered off to North America, and now I'm too scared to cross the river. Don't get me wrong; I'm very relieved to be out of lockdown. But all these places? The people? The stuff? I'll have to take it slow.
Main Image Credit: Daniel Pockett, Getty Images