Perhaps that’s why, more than most news analysis I’ve come across, it manages to reveal the reality of life in Australia in this moment so vividly. Often fiction allows the reader to feel things more deeply than, say, a dry history of certain events. Of course, the contact tracer’s story is not fiction; it is just a bare and honest accounting of reality. I wanted my friends and family outside Australia to read it, in order to understand what things are like here. To really feel how different our reality is from that of those living in Europe or Asia or the U.S.
On Thursday, Melbourne entered its 200th cumulative day of lockdown. Another article, in The Age, does a good job of explaining what those 200 days have done to us as a city and community. It spells out exactly what “lockdown” here means — all the closed playgrounds and schools and days in which we have not been allowed to go more than five kilometers from our homes. The authors, Nick Miller and Maeve McGregor, write:
Our 200 days at home is longer than the Battle of Britain, shorter than the Blitz. At the speed of light, it would get you an eighth of the way to the nearest star. At average walking speed, it would take about 200 days (without sleep) to pace the entire coastline of Australia.
Not that you would have been allowed to.
I can tell friends and family overseas what it’s like to be asked not to leave your home, to go for months without seeing siblings who live only blocks away, to not be allowed to go grocery shopping with your spouse — but the words feel empty. Can anyone truly explain the sense of claustrophobia and anxiety induced by closed borders, by living in a country we are not allowed to leave? Of the utter bizarreness of closed state borders, resulting in mini-migrant camps along the river that divides Victoria and New South Wales, full of people who are not allowed to go home?
I don’t say any of this to complain. In fact, part of what I think might be so revealing about the contact tracer’s story is just how far we here in Australia are going to keep people safe. My American friends could only dream of a world in which the government tries to figure out exactly where each and every Covid case originated, and to warn those who have crossed paths with those people to isolate and get tested. (And Australians could only dream of a world in which you could saunter into your local pharmacy and get vaccinated, picking your choice of vaccine from a menu, or hop on a plane for a holiday in Europe.)
For better and worse, our experience here is vastly different from the rest of the world. I feel separated from my overseas loved ones just as significantly in this way as I do in the literal sense. I expect that’s true for many in Australia, a country with huge immigrant and expat communities. I feel almost as separated as I did when I left here all those years ago.
Here are this week’s stories: