Melbourne’s lockdowns finally ending: No gratitude, no pride, no relief … just quiet seething

Melbourne’s lockdowns finally ending: No gratitude, no pride, no relief … just quiet seething. By Gideon Haigh.

For the past 18 months, I have been taking the same walk through the same Melbourne ­suburban streets …

I’d note the emptying shopfronts, the increasingly bedraggled gardens, the looks of fellow pedestrians …

“It must be unbearable in Melbourne,” friends from interstate would say. No, I’d tell them. It was, just, bearable. You could get by, providing you expected nothing good to happen, everything to take twice as long as it should, and no useful end to be served.

Like a body adapting to starvation, you rationed expectation, postponed pleasure, concentrated on the little you could control in your unkempt lethargy, and thought sympathetically of the worse-off, if in an abstract sense.

For best not to think too much about the businesses being ruined, the proudly independent people being reduced to mendicants, and the volunteers battling on, with nothing to see for their efforts.

Best not to brood on the educations being undermined, the married couples buckling, the elderly dying alone, the debts being accumulated for future generations to pay for.

Best not even to enquire too deeply into how others were faring, lest you touch on a sore spot or pick a disagreeable theme. …

Oh the language:

I grew hypervigilant around language, especially the technocratic bullshit of measures (always broad), steps (always targeted), exposure sites (always that place you had just been to) and community transmission (people living).

Remember when they were suburbs rather than LGAs? Remember when we had not “road maps” but just plans? Alas, the self-inflating propensities of bureaucratic language now preclude anything so simple.

Milestones? Always grim. Deaths of nonagenarians? Always tragic. “The science”? Always guiding. Except for the weird ­anthropomorphism of the virus, variously “cunning”, “clever”, “wicked”, “evil” etc. And who could forget crowd pleasers like “creeping assumptions” and ­Unified Security? …

Leader Dan, who presided over easily the worst-managed state in Australia … yet did nothing wrong, he says. How unlucky!

Premier Dan Andrews … conducted the same press conference 200 times, replete with abundances of caution, people working incredibly closely together, and instructions so full of qualifications, exceptions and caveats that one ended up feeling capable of nothing. Did anyone else try the government’s Covid helpline? I’m still on hold. But, of course, this was not the point. The standard Andrews press conference was not a public health message but a political message. Dan good. Dan strong. Dan win.

And it worked. If largely for their own partisan reasons, people bought the idea of one masterstroke after another. There would follow the ritual hoisting of the #DanYay pennant to the top of the Twitter mast for the choreographed mass salute, the denunciation of “traitors”. …

Life in lockdowns that went too long:

Let’s just say that these past two years in Victoria haven’t been a vintage period for empathy. But perhaps that goes to Covid’s harshest sting, which has been reversing the standard dynamic of crisis — an instant, by convention, for rushing to one another’s aid, for arms round shoulders, for the sharing of time and belongings.

Instead, the Newspeak of working together by staying apart, unification in isolation, anathematising every visible gathering, however innocent, however necessary. Thus possibly the nadir of lockdown, August’s playground ban, imposed under the guise of protecting children, but later justified by chief medical officer Brett Sutton as because attending adults might “hold de facto meetings” — ie, talk.

Playground equipment was wrapped in crime-scene tape as police patrolled nearby — try explaining to your children that this was in anyone’s best interests, that their very swings and slides were a source of community endangerment. …

This, sealed up in our homes, suffered in private, is lockdown’s ugly secret: how disciplines around screen use collapsed; how dependence on social media deepened; how kids further absorbed the message of the world being a dangerous, frightening place; how kids already anxious about body image were exposed to it daily on their Zoom screens.

These were the hardest, most exhausted conversations of lockdown, with parents of children reaching the end of Grade 1 having hardly been at school, with parents of screen-deadened teenagers now about to be whirled into VCE exams. …

Even the vaunted “end” of lockdown is more of a tentative first step: basically involving not much more than a few restaurant seats inside, the chance of a haircut, the repeal of a pointless curfew. More dreary days of screen-based busywork await my 11-year-old until school resumes full-time. I still can’t see my mother, in regional Victoria, or my partner, in another state. It also means suffering Andrews’ pivot from tedious admonition to old-fashioned political oiliness. He’s so proud, so thankful, so grateful, so sickening.

Seriously, what’s he got to be grateful for? We did as we were told, to avoid draconian fines for non-compliance. You might as well thank us for obeying the law of gravity.

He sure nails that bureaucratic language our new ruling class loves to use. The propaganda is so strained.