“It’s not particularly comfortable with two people on a ladder and somebody else standing on a bunch of rocks, trying to talk over a massive Colorbond fence,” said Ms Russo, a hospital project manager.
“I had been saying to my husband, surely if we get something clear … we’ll be able to at least see each other.
“He wasn’t overly interested in it and then I was like, right, we’re going to Bunnings.”
About five weeks ago, Mr Nicholson, who works at Centrelink and Mr Coyte, an artist, removed some panels from their shared steel fence and replaced them with transparent poly-carbonate, creating an area about 1.5 metres wide that they can now see each other through.
Soon their children were dancing and singing from either side of the fence, jumping on their trampolines at the same time and even setting up tandem activities, such as painting.
Meanwhile, the adults are enjoying evening drinks and sharing meals together, once passing over portions of a rhubarb and apple pie in exchange for custard to go on top.
They have taken it in turns to light bonfires on either side.
“It’s important, because we were hanging out a lot before this all happened,” Mr Nicholson said.
“It was becoming a ritual for us to … have dinner or a drink or something and then when social distancing came in, it was like, well, how do we get to keep doing this without having to rely on social media.”
Ms Banyard, an artist and university lecturer, said she thought Ms Russo was joking when she was sent a photo of the clear, corrugated panel from Bunnings.
“And then before I knew it, she was texting back saying, ‘OK, I’ve got it, let’s do it’,” she said.
“It’s great, it’s good to see more people, actual people and not just on the screen, even though it kind of feels like a screen because we’re looking through a sheet of plastic.”
It’s not just the Bendigo households who have found creative ways to socialise during restrictions.
St Kilda West neighbours have been enjoying afternoon “street parties” where they each stand at the edge of their properties and have a drink and chat together at a distance.
Meanwhile, people in Richmond have put a twist on Italy’s balcony singing, with balcony dance parties.
“It’s a really good thing for neighbourhoods and communities to be strengthened by everyone being forced to be isolated,” Ms Russo said.
“So there are some benefits to come out of all this.”
Looking for some good news?
We could all do with some good news right about now. That’s why we have launched The Good News Group, a Facebook group where we’ll share uplifting, inspiring and positive stories and invite members to do the same. Join the group here.
Chloe Booker is a reporter at The Age.