Not the film I want to see


Like many Victorians at the moment, I have an uneasy feeling about the coronavirus. A few weeks ago, we had a couple of days of zero infections. Within a week those numbers had shot up, and now the risk is that they may get out of control. It’s a reminder of how infectious the virus is.

Last week a group of postcodes were locked down to try to contain the spread. These were the suburbs where hotspots had emerged, thankfully far from where I live (though somewhere I lived a dozen years ago is now locked down). Yesterday, the drastic action was taken to lock down individual buildings – the housing commission towers in the inner north. There were 108 new cases reported yesterday, and 23 were in these towers. They’re crowded, with few lifts and shared facilities, and so somewhere where the virus can easily spread and catch hold (as it did in similar blocks in NYC).

This latest action has attracted raucous opposition and controversy. The inhabitants of those buildings are migrants and people at the bottom end of the socio-economic scale – basically, the disadvantaged. The fact that police have been brought in to maintain what is a strict lockdown has drawn heavy criticism. It’s seen as intimidatory and unnecessary.

The government is in a no-win situation. We’re now at this point because of the mismanagement of quarantined returned travellers. The government must take some responsibility for that. Regardless, whatever they do has someone getting on a soapbox to complain about. Early on, they were criticised for being too strict and urged to relax some of the constraints. The government held firm. Then, when finally, the restrictions were eased, the critics came out blaming the government when cases of infection began to rise. Now that the government is cracking down again, the critics are saying that it’s unfair.

I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure many have the same view. I support the actions of the government to contain the infection because I think it’s necessary – and it’s backed up by medical advice. In circumstances such as these, what’s needed is firm and decisive action. The clock is ticking, and the consequences are catastrophic if you get it wrong. Far better, I think, to err on the side of caution, even if it means severe restrictions. Look around the world. We’ve been lucky, but it takes hard work and strong leadership to stay that lucky.

I’ve been disappointed in much of the rhetoric around the lockdown of the housing commission buildings. Till now, excepting the loonies, much of the commentary and perspective has been even-handed and foundered on medical advice. Now, much of it is being seen and commented on through a political lens, and much of it absurd.

These crackdowns have been given a racial and class slant because the suburbs locked down are more commonly migrant parts of Melbourne and nearer the bottom of the economic ladder. That’s doubly true now that housing commission flats have been added, with many now saying the inhabitants are being victimised because they’re disadvantaged. The use of police has also been slammed, with some pretty ordinary commentary towards them.

The reality is that this is an imperfect situation because we’re dealing with a dynamic and emerging risk to the community at large. The government must react swiftly to contain, and hopefully get ahead, of the infection. It’s not pretty because it’s unpredictable and because it’s better to do something now than wait to do it perfectly. These are extreme times and the political spin given by some verges on the imbecilic in the circumstances.

I’m sure the government will address and do everything it can to ease the fears and make this as easy as possible for the people impacted by this. I would guarantee that community workers and health professionals will be there to support and comfort the vulnerable people living in those towers. The government is good at that. I feel as if some of the criticism has been way premature, and some of it blatant grandstanding – and already there is commentary coming out of the buildings that they’re happy that something is being done to help them.

The fact is, right now, none of us knows where this is heading. All we can do is hope and do what we can to contain it. We could be at the start of something terrible, or these actions may curtail the spread and in a week or two, eliminate it. Because we don’t know we can’t afford to go easy. It’s tough, but it’s necessary, and if it means that the rest of us go into lockdown again, then I would support that.

I don’t know about others, but I look upon this with a mix of dread and fascination. It feels like a bit of a trope, the opening scenes of any number of apocalyptic ar zombie movies, especially now it’s in the towers. We all know how those movies turn out.

Anzac Day in iso


Yesterday was Anzac Day, one of the biggest, most feted days on the Australian calendar. It’s the day we commemorate the memory, and pay tribute to the Diggers who have fought for us over the years. Every year there’s a dawn service all over Australia, in the big cities such as the Shine of Remembrance in Melbourne, and in the little towns and hamlets dotted across our vast expanse. There’re similar services in other parts of the world, in London, in the battlefields of France, and at the place where it all began, Gallipoli (where I attended in 2004).

For a hundred years veterans have marched the streets with their comrades of war, cheered on by crowds grateful for their sacrifice. Many of them are old and frail, wearing their best suits with medals splashed across their breast telling the story of long ago campaigns and feats of courage. Afterwards, many of them will adjourn for a beer and a catch-up, or a round of two-up somewhere, or will even head off to places like the MCG, where another great contest will unfold.

Every year that happens, until this year.

This year the lockdown means we couldn’t congregate and remember. There were dawn services in the cities which no-one could attend, and the streets were empty of marchers. The old diggers didn’t meet up, and there wasn’t even a game of footy to go to.

In its place came what might become a new tradition. We were asked as a community to be out of our bed by sunrise and at the end of our driveway with a lit candle in our hands. To those who were able, it was encouraged they should get out their instrument and play the Last Post as the first rays of sunshine came over the horizon at 6.03am.

I was there. I set the alarm and was up in time and with Rigby stood at the end of the driveway, not knowing what to expect. What happened was slightly eerie, but very moving. Up and down the street, you could see flickering candlelight. To my great surprise, the poignant notes of the Last Post wafted in the air to me, first from one direction, then another. It was cool and solemn.

Across the road from me on the diagonal was a family, parents with children under ten – it was hard to discern in the dim light. I felt so touched to see them. I imagined, as I do, the conversation of the night before and the children excited knowing they would wake to this. I felt so proud of them, the parents telling the story of the occasion and imparting the importance of it, and the kids wide-eyed with wonder. Now they stood with candle in their hand with maturity beyond their years.

It was the same everywhere it seems. The occasion struck a chord, and much of the community responded, including most of my friends on Facebook, it seems. It was a lovely gesture. Standing there yesterday I felt so pleased to be part of it. It was an expression of solidarity and common cause. While we’re there for the Anzacs, what draws us together is the sense of belonging that we all need.

In the past, I joined the march wearing my grandfather’s medals. That was an experience like no other. I was proud to be there with my nephew, proud to represent my grandfather, proud to be part of such a noble movement. And I was astonished at how it felt and to have people applaud as I went by. I felt as if I was part of something momentous, and I had a share in it.

Many times over the years I’ve written of Anzac Day. It’s an important day in my life also. Often I would make my way to the MCG in the aftermath of march and settle in to watch a game of footy with 90,000 others. It was always such a chilling occasion. The crowd would silence. The Last Post would be played once more. The commands of the soldiers attending would ring out in the packed stadium. Then, at the appointed moment, a roar would engulf the place.

There was none of that yesterday, but in times like these, you try to make up for what you don’t have. After a long walk with Cheeseboy in the morning, and jobs around the house, late in the afternoon I settled down to watch a replay of one of the greatest Anzac Day matches of all – the famous 2009 match when Zaharakis kicked the winning goal in the dying seconds of the game.

Times are different now, but yesterday was a good Anzac Day.

The quality of rest


Last night we had our Zoom ‘party’, which perhaps went off better than I expected. There were four of us each sitting in our disparate homes in front of a laptop or iPad or phone, connecting with a glass of wine or beer in our hand. It was pretty much like any occasion you get male friends together. There was plenty of banter and lots of friendly abuse and regular laughter. We made light of the situation, more or less, while each of us explained our situation with work and at home. One is on half-pay, another has been asked to take leave. Only two of us are still working full time and on full pay still.

It was a welcome break from the locked-in routine, though very strange also. One is in walking distance from here. Another a 7 minute drive. One of my friends, usually dapper and handsome, looked like a Portuguese fisherman, as I told him, unshaved all week and wearing an old cap. Cheeseboy hadn’t shaved either and was looking very silver. Me, I’ve actually gone the other way. I figure I’ve got no-one to impress for a while, so I’m letting my hair grow out, and have shaved off the beard and moustache I’ve had for years. I don’t look like Viking anymore, though God knows how I’ll appear in months from now.

We’re catching up again next Friday night. In between times we’ve set ourselves to all watch the same movie and to all comment on it in our next meeting. These are the things you do in times like this.

It’s Saturday, and I have an excuse today to be a bum. I need it. I keep saying it, but I’m so weary. As I figure it, I’ve had only one day without work in the last four weeks – last Sunday. I plan to do none this weekend. I need to recoup my energy. It’s not so much the act of working that has tired me so, though there’ve been many long days. It’s the mental energy I’m depleted of because your mind is always on high alert. You’re always anticipating and wondering and figuring things out in your head and planning next steps, and so on, even when you’re sitting down to watch TV or laying in bed.

I could handle it, except the quality of rest isn’t there. I’ve come to realise that there’s a difference in how we rest. Doing nothing is insufficient. I could spend an hour lying on the couch with a book or watching TV and sometimes my mind and body will relax into the moment and begin to restore; and other times, doing nothing different, I get up as weary as I sat down. I feel I know more about this now and realise that rest is as much a state of mindfulness as it is of the body. Only rarely in the last few weeks have I managed true rest, and so here I am, running on empty.

It’s a good day to do nothing, though there a few alternatives to that these days. It rained all night. It’s blowing outside now, and more rain is in the air. It’s much cooler. I’ll go for a walk soon enough, but I’ll relax my exercise goals today. Normally I would use the footy as an excuse to take it easy. It’s a perfect day to watch it from the warmth of home. I’d look forward to it. But there’s no footy now but old replays. Instead, I plan to lay on the couch and watch a good movie. I might spend another hour reading. I’ll lower myself into a hot tub later. I’ll clear my head and ease my body. I’m not going anywhere.

In the street


It’s a steamy, uncomfortable morning. After a couple of days over 40 degrees, it’s cooler but no more pleasant. There’s thick, low cloud keeping the heat in. It’s around 30 degrees now and tipped to go higher before the rain comes later. Already there are one or two heavy drops. It’ll come as a relief, not just because of the cooler weather. My car is begrimed in red dust blown in from the country far to the north. It needs a wash, and rain is the closest thing to it it’s going to get.

I was out walking earlier on my regular Saturday morning round of the shops. I stop at the supermarket, sometimes the greengrocer, and at one of the bakeries. Sometimes I’ll stop for a coffee on the way back.

On the way there I walked by a series of red flowering gums in the nature strip. They’re in full bloom now, and glorious to behold. The blossoms are a fiery red and are abundant amid lush green foliage. This year the trees are alive with lorikeets nesting and gathering and feeding. The sound of them as you walk by is joyous and, looking up, you’ll see one dangling upside down, it’s beak in a blossom, and another creeping along a branch, and others, seemingly in conversation. I don’t remember it ever being so busy with birds. In past years I never noticed them at all; this year I can’t help but notice. I wonder if this population is surge is due to the fires, or perhaps to the drought?

Later, walking down the street, I came to a T-intersection with the road connecting coming from the sea. Abruptly my nostrils were assailed with the heavy, odoriferous smell of brine. What is this? I wondered. What does this signify? Why does this happen some days and the rest of the time not at all? I had no answers. I bought my bread and returned home.

Coming together


Monday afternoon on the Australia day holiday I caught up with Cheeseboy and off we went to a Bushfires Support event at a bar in Black Rock. It was going off in Black Rock. It was a bright, sunny day, and the clientele had spilled out onto the pavement. The windows had been flung open at the venue, and a live band playing songs from the seventies and eighties had the buoyant crowd bopping. It was very festive.

There was a distinct demographic present. More than 50% of the crowd would’ve been over 60, well to do and friendly. I looked about and rubbed shoulders with them, occasionally stopping to have a short conversation, and I could see my mum there, and my stepfather.

Mum would’ve been in her element. It was her sort of music, and she was never shy of having a dance. Such a friendly, social person would have quickly engaged with others around her and Fred, my stepfather would have been right at her side.

I bumped into an acquaintance there, then friends of Cheeseboy happened by. A woman was going around selling raffle tickets for charity, as well as a ticket to an old fashioned wheel. She insisted we buy our share of tickets then demanded that I spin the wheel – she’d cottoned onto me, while another, more matronly type, took a shining to Cheeseboy.

None of us won anything, but we were happy to sip on our pints of Pale Ale and join in the vibe. It was one of those occasions when you were proud to be an Aussie. Everyone was working for free. Half the profits from the beer went to charity. The prizes had been donated. Even the sausage sizzle went to a good cause.

This is what I remember. For all the fervour around Australia Day, most Australians are very decent, generous people. Maybe it’s a bit more skewed one way than the other down my way, but the spirit of community and pulling together was very strong. All of it was very Australian – bright and optimistic, a smile, a laugh, a clap on the back. Very open.

This is what I remembered. This is the best of Australia, just as the community response towards the disaster has been the best of us.

We can act on the things that need to get done, but let’s not forget the basics in the meantime – with few exceptions, we’re a friendly lot happy to embrace others as a rule, and to put in the hard yards for each other when we must.

Smoke in the city


I woke this morning to a heavy pall of smoke outside, low in the sky and much reducing visibility. It’s different to previous days. Last week it was hazy with smoke and there was a general smoky odour and quality to the air. This is much more distinct. You can almost taste the burnt wood, and the odour is much stronger.
It’s like when you sit around a campfire for a while and the smell of the fire infuses your clothes long after the fire has gone out. There’s the tang of burnt timber, not unpleasant in itself, except when out of context like this. This isn’t a campfire – this is the smoke from huge swathes of forests on fire. And it’s a health hazard. As I said, I can taste it on my tongue and in the back of my throat, and I feel a bit of sinus pressure around my eyes. It’s much worse for asthmatics.
The air quality is rated as poor in the city, and very poor back where I live, and it’s tipped to deteriorate further. It brings home the disaster very effectively. The light is a bit eerie, and the whole environment has a surreal feel to it, like in some dystopian movie.
But at least we’re getting some rain.

Too much civilisation


I live in a suburb where the people are generally well off and decent types. They’re well educated and engaged. For some reason, there’s a fair number of expats here too, and they’re much the same. Walking down the street, you’ll often get a smile and, occasionally, will be wished you a good morning, or somesuch. I’ve always thought that a pre-condition of living here was ownership of a bike and a dog. I have both, though only one of them gets any work.

I’ve been for a walk this morning with Rigby, and along the way, we found other couples – man and dog – out on this sunny Sunday morning. Yesterday, I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee. We sat there as people went by with their dogs tugging them along, occasionally pausing to get acquainted with Bailey, the Cheese’s labradoodle.

As I walked to the supermarket yesterday after coffee, I encountered more than a dozen dogs out for a walk or sitting at the feet of their owners taking in the sun while mum and dad had breakfast. I looked at every dog. Some, as I went by, I made that little sound in my throat that dogs know. A couple of times, I stopped to pat a dog tied up outside a shop waiting for its owner, some patiently, some keening with worry. Each time I felt myself powerfully moved by these dear creatures, which I love with all my heart. And a feel a kinship with their owners, as if we are a part of a brotherhood.

I’ve always loved dogs, but it’s true also that as I get older, I’m becoming more soft-hearted when it comes to animals in general. It troubles me how often they are exploited and abused. There must be a better term for it, but peering into an animal’s eyes, I can sense their innate ‘humanity.’ I can recognise each of them has a life. They have feelings, have fears and affection. That’s the sort of view likely to have you accused of anthropomorphism, which means to see – or treat – animals as human beings.

Let me make it clear. I don’t equate the two – broadly speaking, my feelings towards animals are untainted, whereas I have serious doubts about humankind. In some ways, my affection for animals is little different for what I feel for children. They have an innocence that is worth cherishing, but both are subject to exploitation by the less innocent, and generally are unable to defend themselves against it. To stand by and watch that exploitation seems against nature. It certainly doesn’t fit right with me, and less so every day.

I don’t know if I see things differently now that I’m older, or if it’s just become more exposed. What is clear to me now – a wiser man perhaps than I was before – is that exploitation of this type is an embodiment of hubris.

For centuries, human culture has viewed nature in all its variety as something to serve our appetites and ambition. It is a resource to be consumed, for profit like as not. Animals are expendable as beasts of burden and sustenance, and mother earth despoiled. That’s the chicken that’s finally come home to roost, and I need not expound on that further. It seems a very human thing.

I’m no purist – I like a good steak (though I eat less and less) – but I can’t accept that it’s destiny that makes us the pre-eminent species on earth. We may be the most intelligent of species and possess uniquely – so they say – ‘consciousness’ (I’m a skeptic), but it’s absurd to suggest it means anything more than a fluke of biology. The earth hasn’t been placed here for our benefit, and no amount of misguided destiny justifies abuse and cruelty.

I’m at the stage of life when I want no part of that, and it makes sense to me that we return to nature. It’s about respect. It’s in short supply all round, these days. Respect for each other, and respect for the world around us, too, and every critter a part of it. If there’s anything we need now, it’s humility – but even the well-intentioned seem to lack that.

This is the symptom of my times: I’ve lost faith in humanity. As individuals, as people who share smiles and good wishes and walk our dogs, there is little to complain of. But as a collective, we have become dire.

If there were a vote tomorrow about who should go on, people or dogs, then I’d vote dogs because they are by far the more pure being. That’s where I’m at.

Faux summer days


It feels like summer, not because it’s especially warm – it’d be about 16 degrees outside – but the sky is blue and the sun shining and, as I sit here, I can hear one neighbour going about his mowing while another has the whipper-snipper out. Sure signs. All I need now is the waft of some barbecue aromas (and maybe the cricket on in the background), and I’ve got pure summer cliche, just like so many others in the past. Some things never change.

In reality, this is the dead time before summer. It’s not winter and, despite all signs, not summer either. I think they call this spring. It’s a bit of everything and I don’t mind that, especially as the days grow longer, and you can see things coming into bud. You get a bit of a skip in your step this time of year because winter is over. Finally, enough is enough, though enough is just right too – I like winter, but steady, boy.

For someone who views the calendar through a sporting lens, then this is a bit of a dead time. Footy’s over, cricket hasn’t begun proper. The A-League re-commenced last night, but it’ll take me a while to get back into that. Likewise the NBL, which I’ll keep an eye on without ever getting too excited. There’s motorsport, but, nah; and the horse racing season heats up now – I’ll get into that in a couple of weeks.

It’s a convenient opportunity for me to catch up on things then without distraction. I did a solid shift working from home yesterday, but still managed to take down a few boxes to the local Salvos. There’s a bit more of that sort of stuff to do, as well as the well-timed spring cleaning I rarely get to in any season of any year. And there’s my writing.

A couple of weeks ago I exclaimed to some close confidantes that I’d be finishing my book that weekend. But then I got crook and by then had lost the plot anyway. I did some more work on it last weekend. This weekend I’m a chance to finish, but don’t hold your breath.

I’ve got plenty of time now without distraction and if it’s not this weekend then almost certainly it’ll be next weekend. That’ll be a moment, though it’s only a first draft and I already know so many things about it I want to change. That’s why it’s a first draft.

Once it’s done, I’ll stick it in the bottom drawer and take from there the MS I prepared earlier – the first book, ripe for a final re-write and polish. That’s how it goes.

In the meantime, might fire up the barbie.

Horses in the dark


It was a clear and mild last night, and I was in the city after an early dinner and heading towards a freebie play at the Malthouse.

We caught a train down St Kilda Road and got off at the Police Memorial. We walked down the street and travelling parallel with us on the road were a couple of mounted police on their horses. They clip-clopped along at a steady and reassuring pace, unbothered by all. I continued my conversation but had half an ear on the horses.

I was filled with affection. What wonderful beasts, I thought. There was something unperturbed and totally relaxed about the horses as they ambled along as if they had done this a hundred times before and were content with the life they had been gifted. It was a dream for their riders, too, I thought, imagining that this was something they had always wanted to do.

They were heading back towards the stables, I figured, which were nearby. I imagined what happened then – saddles removed and harness, given a brush down before a feed. Then the night ahead in their spacious cubicles, the odd clip of a hoof on the floor as a horse shifted, the sighs and gentle whinnies, and the quiet, companionable conversations between them in the dark.

They veered away as we went on. I looked in their direction feeling a quiet glow. That was something good.

The older I get, the more I come to love animals, and I’ve always loved them – and horses are one of my favourites.