A little over two months ago, my friend Josh and I were camping on the banks of the Murray River just outside of Euston. We left Melbourne with the intention of being on the road for three weeks – both of us feeling misguidedly hopeful about the second COVID-19 wave being kept under control.
On our second morning, it was announced the border was closing in a couple of days. We were glad to have made it over the river. On the third morning, Melbourne was returning to Stage 3 restrictions. Just like that, we were cast in a parallel universe.
At first there was a real sense of celebration that we had our freedom. If we had set off a few days later than planned, it would have been a very different Winter. Instead, those three weeks were spent in pubs, meeting fascinating people, camping and exploring towns that were only just emerging form the covid cloud that had covered most of Australia.
Somewhere over this time, that joy was challenged by a real sense of guilt. For friends and family back in Melbourne, it’s been a really tough time. From a distance, the second wave has had an uncanny ability to exacerbate underlying challenges and dilemmas. It’s led to a lot of strained decisions and sadness. There was a definite voice that said “this could and should have been me”.
As those initial three weeks stretched on, I had to adjust to two realities. The first was that if I didn’t want to be in ‘lockdown’ then I would have to stay on the road. The second was that to be on the road I would need to get over the sense of guilt that goes with having that freedom.
After spending the last month by myself, the chance to find a good healthy rhythm and absorb the tropics has been a great way to feel very grounded.
Right now, I’m in Lismore and it’s been an excellent way to appreciate what can happen once the COVID-19 cloud lifts. Compared to my Bellingen bubble, Lismore is a very real place. It’s a confluence for folk from all walks of life. It has a mixture of regional conservatism, Northern Rivers hippies, uni students and long stretching suburbs.
Everywhere you look, the town has essentially returned to normal. Live music is starting, there are stand-up comedy events and trivia is being played in full pubs. The buzz that goes with this is excellent. It gives me hope about the ability for Victorian cities and towns to recover (and other COVID affected locations) and that community fabric can be restored.
Being in Lismore and Bellingen has also been a reminder of how we all need a strong sense of connection in our world. That we’re all social animals desiring physical contact, warmth and love. Seeing people enjoying the farmers’ markets here, sharing a coffee or beer with friends, playing music with one another or cooking meals for friends is a reminder of what can happen with a bit of luck and a lot of good management in a pandemic.
Everyone wants to feel part of their community in one way or another – even if that means sitting up the back of the café and being on the periphery.
Right now, I traverse a parallel universe, a world where there are possibilities to connect and people can look forward to their next hug. With the ability to see what has been taken away from my fellow Melburnians, I’m incredibly moved by the inner strength that everyone has had to find to keep going in the absence of a normal physical community.
So instead of guilt, I feel lucky that I’ve been able to get back to something resembling a more natural state a little earlier and I’m looking forward to sharing that with some incredibly resilient people when our worlds converge.
(Photo: Coffs Harbour, August 2020)