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Home / Victoria News / Where are they now? Revisiting Melburnians in lockdown 2.0

Where are they now? Revisiting Melburnians in lockdown 2.0

What in March and April seemed a curious phenomenon — people quarantined within the walls of their homes — is now the stark reality for most Victorians, six weeks deep into a second lockdown, with more weeks ahead.

Since The Age first spoke to 18 people locked down and out of work, we have gone into and come out of a dark winter. Time seems to have warped, and while many days feel the same, our society has changed fundamentally.

Australia is in a recession for the first time since the early ’90s. The AFL grand final will be played in Queensland. Our city is unrecognisably quiet.

But on a micro level, hidden in our houses, life continues. Many people have gone the best part of half a year without seeing newborn babies or relatives before they passed away.

We caught up with eight of those we spoke to at the start of Victoria’s first wave to find out where they are five months on, and found that amid the depression, there are small wellsprings of hope.

Jane Marshall, 50
Footscray
Since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January , Jane Marshall has endured two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiotherapy — all in the midst of the pandemic.

Since The Age spoke to her in May, Jane has lost her hair and her job. Although she has years of hormone therapy ahead of her to keep the cancer at bay, it’s the economic uncertainty wrought by COVID-19 that weighs on her the most.

“I’m partly concerned for myself, but also everybody as well … You can just feel it in the air in Melbourne, can’t you? The concern that people have for their long-term job security. Where’s the plan?” she wonders.

“I’m not worried about the cancer, I’m not gonna die tomorrow. They caught my cancer early … right now, I just want to know how are we getting the economy going again.”

Living alone during a pandemic is an altogether different challenge when you’re dealing with cancer.

“For a week after each round of chemo, I would be in bed being sick, not able to eat much and it would take a week to get back to normal,” she said. “Life is much better now that the food [grocery] delivery services have improved. It’s awful to feel dependent on other people.”

Jane calls her bulldogs, Maggie and Morgaine, her “lifeline”; the only face-to-face contact she receives each day is with other dog walkers in the park. She’s buoyed by the promise of “COVID-safe” picnics in the park in summertime.

Despite her predicament, Jane still radiates calm and equanimity.

“What I’ve done in response to not being able to go out in the world is I’ve kind of gone inside to my inner world,” she says.

“You realise that your inner life is really rich and vast and that’s when I started writing a book and starting a new business. I decided creating something was a good way of focusing my attention, rather than sitting around being miserable.

“It gives you a sense of control and power. It’s powerlessness that people are struggling with and I feel stronger as a consequence of all this.

“When you can’t rely on other people physically, I think it makes you realise how strong you actually are.”

'There are ways to deal with being stuck in a small area': Bart Willoughby and Lucy.

‘There are ways to deal with being stuck in a small area’: Bart Willoughby and Lucy.Credit:Justin McManus

Bart Willoughby, 60
Altona North

Aboriginal musician Bart Willoughby has just received a brand new Fender Stratocaster guitar through the mail, a gift to himself for his 60th birthday. After a long locked-down winter with no gigs, the new guitar brightens his day. He practises some jazz chords and a new song he has written as we talk.

“It’s been a creative time, I’m going to put down about eight new songs and redo a couple of old ones. I have been writing things that have been hopeful because that will give us the strength to live through this frustrating and chaotic lockdown. People who don’t have that music and art to relieve their pain, it’s really frustrating for them.”

One of his new songs, Spring is in the Air, is about springtime in the Australian bush. Bart says that during this tough time, writing it has allowed him “to run away into the bush … and then come back to reality. There are ways to deal with being stuck in a small area, which is to go [inside one’s mind] and you can go in just as far in as you can [get] out, and if you do that it gives you the strength and hope to face it again.”

Bart is just getting by with JobKeeper and has done a number of online gigs, his most recent being “Music on the Porch”, where he performed Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and Spring is in the Air with his faithful fox terrier, Lucy, reclined in the window as his audience.

Tom works an orderly at The Alfred hospital as well as studying for a Bachelor of Commerce at Melbourne University.

Tom works an orderly at The Alfred hospital as well as studying for a Bachelor of Commerce at Melbourne University.Credit:Justin McManus

Tom Davis, 21
Fitzroy

When The Age last spoke to Tom, it was through the steel bars of his parents’ home in Melbourne’s inner north.

In early April, the 21-year-old was one of the thousands of Australians who had made a dash home from overseas, leaving behind a lost year of plans. The virus that had snatched away Tom’s holiday in Whistler, Canada, has now become an invisible enemy to contend with at his work.

On top of his studies, Tom is an orderly at The Alfred hospital: transferring patients around wards to get scans or X-rays, carefully moving those fighting for life in intensive care. After his two-week quarantine stint playing PlayStation in his room, Tom was ready to roll up his sleeves.

“I was more excited to just go to work because that’s one of the only places I could see people,” he said.

Close friend and neighbour Olivia McLeod regularly visited Tom's window during his quarantine period in Victoria's first COVID-19 wave.

Close friend and neighbour Olivia McLeod regularly visited Tom’s window during his quarantine period in Victoria’s first COVID-19 wave.Credit:Justin McManus

Tom has since moved into a sharehouse in Carlton with four school friends, something he said has been a “saving grace” during Victoria’s lockdowns.

“I’ve been locked inside with my friends, so I’ve been quite lucky,” he said.

It does come with a certain level of anxiety: Tom has to be extremely diligent with hygiene as an essential healthcare worker.

“I’ve been washing my uniform every time I come home for the sake of the household, I don’t want to bring [the virus] into the house.”

And does Tom ever see himself back skiing at Whistler?

“I’m not sure if I’ll go back. It’s always nice to have the idea open if I want to.”

Antoinette says the second lockdown has really hit home how much she loved her old life. "Creating an opera character is like taking a holiday, or a break from yourself and everyday life."

Antoinette says the second lockdown has really hit home how much she loved her old life. “Creating an opera character is like taking a holiday, or a break from yourself and everyday life.”Credit:Justin McManus

Antoinette Halloran
Yarraville

“I suppose I put my coping hat on, I’m not as Pollyanna as I was,” says Melbourne opera singer Antoinette Halloran, reflecting on how her second lockdown compares to the first.

With the prospect of performing on stage indoors in Melbourne still feeling very distant, Antoinette says teaching over a dozen university students via Zoom has kept her afloat financially and mentally.

“I feel really proud of them because it’s such a strange new world to be learning in,” she says.

While she has been able to doctor audio on video-conferencing software to accommodate booming singing voices, Antoinette says nothing replaces being in a room with her students: “It’s just not the same as that gorgeous feeling of hearing an unamplified voice live.”

While she’s coping with the loss of performing somewhat better, she is still heartsick for her old life.

“I want to get back and step into someone else’s shoes soon,” she laughs. “I’m sick of my own shoes … they’re Ugg boots!”

Something else has stirred inside her since The Age spoke to Antoinette last — she has begun to write witty pieces about the coronavirus itself, including a vicious ode to the other states for making fun of Victoria’s COVID-19 crisis called Don’t wag your finger at me Gladys Berejiklian.

“I have found a voice I didn’t know I had,” she says. “They pour out of me so easily.”

While she holds out hope that she will be able to travel interstate to perform soon — “footballers are able to travel around, so we should be able to” — lockdown has brought Antoinette the realisation that performing is what she was born to do.

“All I want is my life back,” she says. “It’s life-affirming in that I haven’t wasted my time pursuing singing.”

You kind of have to detach yourself for self-preservation, says Natasha Pawlak.

You kind of have to detach yourself for self-preservation, says Natasha Pawlak.Credit:Justin McManus

Natasha Pawlak, 44
Maddingley

In March, Virgin airlines cabin manager Natasha Pawlak posed for The Age in her iconic uniform: a neat grey blazer, the whisp of a purple kerchief tied around her neck.

Virgin flight attendant Natasha Pawlak.

Virgin flight attendant Natasha Pawlak.Credit:Justin McManus

At the time, Natasha spoke about her two decades of aviation work as “running in her blood”.

Six months on from being stood down by the airline, living under stage three restrictions, she’s had to re-imagine herself without her beloved work as she comes to terms with the possibility that the aviation industry may never be the same again.

“You kind of have to detach yourself for self-preservation,” she says.

“I’m maybe coming to the acceptance that this could be the end of my career and I’m going to have to move on — that’s pretty daunting.”

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Natasha hasn’t lost her warmth and cheer, traits that made her exceptional at her old job.

“To keep myself busy I’ve been cooking a lot and put on 5 kilos,” she laughs. “So if I went to put on my uniform, I don’t think the zipper would go up.”

She’s found a new sense of purpose as a union delegate, constantly updating her colleagues dealing with redundancies and uncertain futures.

“The fact that I’m able to preview information to crew and check up on them is good,” she says.

“If you have the ability to brighten someone else’s day, that’s a good thing, right? That’s why we’re in the industry we’re in.”

Raghav Srivastava was a commis chef at the Pullman Albert Park hotel before being laid off.

Raghav Srivastava was a commis chef at the Pullman Albert Park hotel before being laid off. Credit:Justin McManus

Raghav Srivastava, 23
Glen Huntly

Young commis chef Raghav Srivastava is still holding onto his dream of trying to land permanent residency in Australia, despite wave after wave of bad news.

Raghav is still eating only two meals a day to save money, a practice he started in March when he was laid off from the Pullman hotel chain.

He is determined not to let the five years of work and study he has put into his life in Australia go to waste by returning to India despite not being eligible for any government assistance after being stood down.

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“Whatever you can imagine, I have applied for but no one is hiring temporary visa holders,” he says.

With no other options, Raghav traded his chef’s whites for a delivery heat bag, driving for a food delivery service for about $10 an hour.

He’s pulling in between $300 and $350 a week but after two months of rent relief next month, he’s back to paying $350 a week for accommodation.

Raghav has even applied for jobs interstate but was recently turned down for a gig in the Northern Territory with his company.

“I was told that if I get another job ‘please take it, as we’ll be starting redundancies in September’.”

Raghav and his fellow visa holders are petitioning the federal government to extend visas to allow them to accumulate the required months of work to be eligible for permanent residency.

“My current visa expires in November 2021 and I’ve only been able to work for two months [because of COVID-19], I need another 16 months of work,” he said.

“Mentally … I can’t tell you what I think most of the time. If my visa doesn’t get extended, it’s not worth it.

“All the hard work we have put in … it’s just for nothing.”

Lena has missed the funerals of two cousins since Melbourne went into lockdown.

Lena has missed the funerals of two cousins since Melbourne went into lockdown.Credit:Justin McManus

Lena Iaquinto, 86
Pascoe Vale

Grandmother and widow Lena Iaquinto was struggling when The Age first interviewed her in May — alone in a big family home with no visitors, no church on Sundays and grieving the death of her husband.

Since then, her pain has become more acute. With three children and nine grandchildren, she feels the loss of every family get-together cancelled because of the virus.

She has now missed a grandson’s engagement, birthdays, holidays and heartbreakingly, the death of two cousins who were as close as siblings — both grew up with Lena back in Italy before they all migrated to Australia.

“I lost two cousins in a matter of two weeks. One was 90, another was 88. We were very close,” she says. “I didn’t get to see them at all, I couldn’t even go and see their family, I could just send a card.”

Lena Iaquinto eats dinner at home alone during Melbourne's lockdown.

Lena Iaquinto eats dinner at home alone during Melbourne’s lockdown.Credit:Justin McManus

As the months roll on, more occasions pass: Mother’s Day, her birthday. She talks about the outfit she had ready for a granddaughter’s wedding, now postponed.

“These are very important for me now because I don’t know if I’ll be here next year,” she says.

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Lena rattles off a list of people she has known who have died of COVID-19: a friend who lost a parent at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged, another friend’s father, her granddaughter’s boyfriend’s father, her son’s friend’s parents.

“All I can do for them is give them a call to say sorry. I would love to see them, to go to their place and console them,” she says.

Calls every day from family and visits twice a week from in-home Italian carers who clean and help her with shopping are keeping her afloat: “At the moment, I need company, that’s all.”

Sundays without her husband of 62 years and her church are the worst.

“Every Sunday, we would get up, get dressed nice, take the tram to St Joseph’s in Hope Street and then go to the city, have lunch, go to the movies and go shopping and come home about 4 o’clock nice and satisfied,” she remembers, smiling.

“My son says Sunday is just the same as other days,” she said. “For me, it isn’t. The weekends were ours.”

Conductor Ben Northey says the time spent with his children during lockdown has been "a revelation".

Conductor Ben Northey says the time spent with his children during lockdown has been “a revelation”.Credit:Justin McManus

Benjamin Northey, 49
Coburg

Principal conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Ben Northey says the second lockdown has felt like “being in a cocoon and waiting to see what the world looks like on the other side”.

While lockdown has been extremely difficult, even traumatising for many, Ben says there have been some “real positives” for his family.

Before the pandemic robbed Ben of his job, he was on the road travelling across the country and the world seven months of the year. Being home full-time has made him aware of the impact his transient life had on his children.

“Now I’m now seeing myself defined as a father rather than by my work,” he says. “I’m giving my kids more of a childhood that I had in the ’70s.”

“I don’t want to be overly positive because I realise this is a really serious situation … but we’ve got a lot out of the time together because we didn’t have that before.”

Ben’s voice swells with pride talking about his children, who he says have blossomed during lockdown and remote learning.

“Our youngest has gone from not reading at the start of the year to being fluent.”

Ben is optimistic — even excited — about what the arts sector will look like re-imagined for a post-lockdown world.

He hopes to see music and orchestras brought into the community, citing an example in New York where the Philharmonic Orchestra has been travelling into neighbourhoods on the back of trucks to perform in a COVID-safe way.

“That’s the kind of thing we should look at,” he says.

“And hopefully that will allow us as artists to work our magic in healing people and bringing them together.”

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