As the cloud lifts (…in Australia)
Growing up in the first part of the 21st century meant having whatever was available on five channels to be interrupted by news of awful attacks.
As a twelve-year-old I remember how unsettled people were after 9/11 and even more acutely the anxiety that followed the Bali Bombings. These were polarising times which sadly all gave way to racism, fear-mongering and dog whistling in the community.
What stood out was a fear of terrorism’s sheer unpredictability. That voice which said “what happens if it’s me or my family?”
It’s 18 years since the Bali Bombings and for the last two months, that same voice has had a megaphone across the Australian community. Looking back to late March and early April, Australians had seen what had played out in Italy and Spain – and they were petrified.
Here was an indiscriminate killer with the capacity to take away on an unimaginable scale.
This fear really stood out in producing a radio piece in Footscray on the virus. Speaking with young and old on the day that lockdown was announced in earnest on 22 March, the words of Alfred, a 60-something (with no less than 11 shopping bags) left an impact as he told me, “the more we isolate ourselves the better, it’s for every one of us, but… the most important thing you should do is pray to god”.
Alfred was worried about his own health, his parents’ health and his children’s’ future, who had all moved back home fearing the worst.
I remember walking through the CBD the next week and that fear had translated into distress. All of a sudden, a city that is famous for being vibrant and bubbly had been mothballed. Workers were counting the days until they would be laid off, joking about returning to stacking shelves and generally on edge as huge lines flowed from Centrelink Offices.
In a few days, much of Australia will move to further ease restrictions that have stopped our worst health fears in their tracks. The changes are already palpable in Melbourne. The tram bells now compete with the chatter of shoppers, teenagers push the limits by eating indoors at McDonalds, and people with money (and presumably a job) flaunt high-end retail.
What comes next is anyone’s guess but I hope that Australia does not fall victim to the polarisation that is running rife in the UK or USA. There the virus has not only stoked community fears but pitted members against one another.
Instead, in Australia we have the pleasure of being able to appreciate the beauty of groups of people waiting for a tram, queuing for sushi and families who have created special memories that would have never been possible without ‘lockdown’.
The coronavirus has meant that Australians have looked into a dark and incredibly scary reality. And for many facing economic insecurity, this remains the current lens. But as the cloud lifts, the fear of this period doesn’t have to be a negative. As rhythms change, busyness increases and old stresses return, I really hope the legacy of the early stages of 2020 is a greater appreciation of kindness and our capacity to support our community and the people we love. It’s a real chance to change the world view of a twelve-year-old out there.
(Melbourne – 22 May 2020)