An Empty Harbour – Sydney.

Yesterday, my husband and I went down to Kirribilli for lunch after the first appointment I’ve had with one of my medical specialists since Covid started ravaging our world. I usually go on an outing after these appointments as a much needed pick-me-up, and often end up at Kirribilli by the harbour, where I might catch a ferry into the city (and by city I mean Sydney and yes I’m coming to you from Australia). The other place I end up is Surry Hills, which is also characterised by the terrace house, but is more inner city than harbour if that makes any sense.

There’s a lot to dazzle you in Kirribilli. Obviously, you need to go no further than the Sydney Harbour Bridge whose Northern arch is parked right in its front yard. Across the harbour, the Sydney Opera House is smack bang in your face. You can’t miss it. Although I’m Sydney born and bred, I never tire of these monumental architectural feats. Yet, there’s still the beauty of the harbour itself, which is usually a hive of activity.

Selfie.

So, I was rather taken aback when I was down there yesterday, and the harbour looked “empty”. There was water without boats. No cruise ships were parked across at the International Terminal. Of course not! Could you imagine the huge public outcry??!!! Yet, only twelve months ago these cruise ships were simply part of the scenery. Of course, I photographed them whenever I was in town, because they’re still a novelty to me and they’re absolutely massive, and almost unbelievably big, glamorous and totally dominated the waterfront. However, they’re now gone, and I wonder if these super-spreaders of disease will ever be back, or at least in quite the same way.

However, this emptiness isn’t just confined to the water either. The harbour foreshore is also conspicuously empty. There are no armies of tourist ants marching around the usual suspects. Indeed, in hindsight, it sinks in that we were alone and didn’t see anyone else posing in front of anything. The SLRs, phones and selfie sticks were all gone along with all the people. Not that Sydney’s become a ghost town yet, but she’s not what she was.

How you feel about that, probably depends on your perspective. Less humans is always a good thing for the environment. We are a destructive breed. However, the economics must be tough. I don’t know to be really honest. We live in a protective bubble both thanks to me needing to social distance and my husband needing to work from home to protect me, but also because he has a good job, and he managed to survive the extensive staff cut backs at the university.

There’s been much to lament about covid, but environmentally speaking, it has eased the pressure a little, and perhaps also reminded us of what we’re doing to the planet. That maybe we don’t need to go, go, go quite so much and that we cause pause, slow down and connect more with each other, and it’s not the end of the world.

Geoff in shadow and a glimpse of Kirribilli. This is the chopped off version of the covid beard.

Obviously, our lessons here are quite different to places overseas where so many lives have been lost, and there is so much grief. It’s hard for some of us to grapple with that, but we also struggle with the effects of isolation, or being jammed in together with no escape. I think for many travel offers something to truly look forward to, and also allows many to keep in touch with close family and friends. So, the very tight travel restrictions are really being felt. Last year, our son was booked to go on a six week history tour of Europe, and instead he ended up in lock down with Mum, Dad and his sister and doing school at home. Not only that. We were also living in sheer terror of seeing another human being in case they might secretly, unknowingly have the virus, and particularly that I of reduced immunity and shitty lungs would die. The fact that storm has seemingly passed, doesn’t negate what it was like to live through it, and that until we are vaccinated, the risk, however minute, is still there.

Florist window in Kirribilli.

We wait.

Well, some of us wait.

Others are invincible. We’ve had over a month since there’s been any community transmission here in NSW. It’s very tempting to throw caution to the wind, and get out there and party.

However, our defences at this point are not infallible. One slip up in hotel quarantine, and it’s out. Moreover, we won’t know where it is until someone symptomatic is infected. Yet, does this justify such caution? So many restrictions?

Here we were late last year trying glasses on over our masks.

Given our current status, it’s not something to lose sleep over, but I’m still largely social distancing, trying to remember to wear my mask in high thoroughfare areas, washing my hands more than I’ve done in the last ten years, and won’t set foot on a train. If I’m in a small group, I’ll give my friends a hug, but I don’t shake hands. I think of it as insurance. Moreover, I don’t blow the sacrifices I’ve made through the last year, by not seeing this through to the end.

Meanwhile, close friends of mine have barely made any changes. Life’s gone on. However, we respect each other’s decisions. Well, most of the time. I do like to see people comply with the government’s restrictions, particularly as organizations. Do the right thing. After all, to use a phrase borrowed from World War I, we need to do “our bit”. Moreover, for those of us who are more susceptible, we need to go the extra mile which might seem unnecessary, but for us it might not matter. For us, the risks are still too high.

Loved being able to have lunch in a cafe in Kirribilli, and that the table was cleaned when we arrived and great precautions were maintained.

Meanwhile, Geoff and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch in Kirribilli and soaking up those magnificent harbour views on a perfect, sunny Sydney day.

How is covid impacting you where you live? What are you going through? I would love to hear your stories and hope you and yours are keeping well and safe.

Love,

Rowena

PS The vaccine roll out has been slow here in Australia. Given the low incidence rates, there understandably wasn’t the urgency and it was good to wait and see how it went overseas first. However, now that I’m hearing about friends with my auto-immune disease being vaccinated overseas and responding, I’m keen to line up.

Vaccination began on the 22nd February, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the first category, which includes frontline medical and nursing home staff. he urgency wasn’t here and they’re just starting to vaccinate health workers and frontline staff. These people fall into category 1a, where I’m in category 1b. Although the TV is looking promising, it could well be more than a month before I get my first jab. Again, I’ve got to talk myself through the anxiety and be thankful the vaccine has been developed so quickly or at all. I’m not really suffering or doing it tough, but who isn’t hoping the mass vaccination is going to help restore some real sense of normality. Who wants to live in covidland, even our covidland of very low incidence for any longer than we have to? No! Of course not. We all long to escape. Go back and just enjoy walking down the street, stopping off at a cafe or browsing through a shop without thinking, logging in, wearing a mask and being able to shake hands with a mate.

8 thoughts on “An Empty Harbour – Sydney.

  1. TanGental

    as you will have read we have had many surges and peaks and lockdowns, with the worst per capita deaths in the world by the reckoning we use. Our government’s decision making was poor and at times misguided. It’s impossible for us to close our borders since a significant proportion of our food and vital services arrive via ships and the channel tunnel, leaving aside our European hub airports. So isolation so far as we can manage it has been the order of the day but that has been bodged. We weren’t ready, no one in Europe was, and we were slow early on and paid a price. Now, we seem to be in the front of the vaccine success – needs must, you could well argue – and there’s a real prospect that everyone over 18 will have had their first does by June – that’s 60 million shots, near enough. The evidence grows that dose one gives 90 plus people safety from hospitalization and death and up to 80% immunity. Hence leaving a gap and getting as many first doses in as many arms as possible.
    The current timetables have schools re-opening en masse on Monday, some mixing (up to 6 across two families) by mid April, foreign travel for us (not necessarily inwards) from mid May and all legal controls gone by June. But that still depends on case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths dropping form where they are today, so that effective test and trace can be run alongside a vaccinated population.
    And meanwhile we all worry about variants. Had we not designed our very own Kent variant in the latter part of last year which completely railroaded things when they were turning in the right direction in October we wouldn’t stand out quite so starkly. It is what it is. Even if we open up internally this summer we will remain a nervous cautious mask wearing reluctant nation. We are scarred and a lot will eschew crowded spaces, even if vaccinated for some time. Part of me images a day at Lords, watching the cricket. Another part of me finds the idea abhorrent. I will be on edge for a large part of it, when I go.
    PS I’ve had my first jab, a week ago. So I am feeling a little more comfortable that in a fortnight I will have some antibodies and can face the world with a greater degree of confidence. Will I, though?

  2. Rowena Post author

    Hi Geoff,
    I really feel your frustration, pain, confusion, anger, fear, anxiety along with a dash of hope, especially provided by the vaccine. I am a descendant of multiple Irish famine survivors and for the life of me don’t know how they made it through. We have obviously fared well here but it hasn’t just been due to geographical isolation. We’ve been very stringent with our restrictions.
    Hence, our lies here are very different. A lot of people here aren’t worried about catching the virus at all. We’ve had 42days of no community transmission and as I was walking round the hospital the other day, I saw a lot of people without masks. That really surprised me as you could argue in favour of wearing a mask in there at the best of times.
    One of the noticeable areas where restrictions are still tight is in Churches where singing by the congregation is only allowed under the 4 square metre rule and may also require masks. Some people at our Church have never worn masks although they don’t have exemptions and they were hopeless at social distancing. I understand this as we’re all pretty close and see each other as family, but that’s not how the government has defined family so it is awkward. We’re an hour out of Sydney and there’s only ever been a couple of cases around here, but we still need to stick to the rules. That said, most people don’t have the same incentive as me. Yet, young healthy people have died from covid so the usual Aussie thing of “she’ll be right mate” does need a re-think.
    At the same time, now this has been going on for a year and the vaccine is probably a month or so away, I’m becoming more impatient. I want my old life back. I saw it so clearly when I went down to Sydney Harbour on Thursday that I could almost reach out and grab it. Take it back.
    Yet, as we all know, the vaccine doesn’t provide a magic bullet, but if there is no virus and we have been vaccinated, are we safe? I’ll still wear a mask in crowded areas but I think it will be worth the risk.
    It’s harder in your situation but you’re getting the vaccine faster and efficiently. The varients are a real concern. I think in countries like the UK and the USA, they need to have a very cautious, staged come back to protect against further outbreaks and variants. The cat got well and truly out of the bag and it’s going to be harder to get it back in.
    It’s interesting the things we imagine when we think of returning to a “normal” world. I think a lot of people are thinking of being able to travel again, especially to see family. I think travel gives people something to look forward to. A reason to work hard and put some money aside to play.
    I’ve noticed that my anxiety levels have been through the roof lately. Much of that relates to what the kids are, and aren’t up to but covid has added this extra layer of stress to everything for everyone and then a bonus dose to people like myself who are more vulnerable. I get these burning sensation on the skin on my arms when I get really, really stressed and in the past that was only when I was initially diagnosed and admitted for my auto-immune disease and when Geoff was made redundant during the GFC. Now, it’s happening multiple times a week. It’s been obvious I need to chill out. So, I made a conscious decision on Wednesday to chill and do little. I was woken up with my daughter’s school principal on the phone saying she’d had a reaction to MSC and they had the epipen at the ready and could I come down with the antihistamine. I think being zapped by a cattle prod might have been more relaxing. After that, our trip to Kirribilli was bliss. I came across a random pair of boots beside the road and wrote this which reminds me of the posts we used to write for Voice for Compassion: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2021/03/06/boots-under-the-bridge/
    I’ll pop round shortly and catch up on your writing.
    before I go, I wanted to put you onto a blog a friend put me onto. It’s a long term real life friend and he’s her husband’s best mate: https://robfysh.wordpress.com/2021/02/27/public-truth-private-thoughts/
    Love and best wishes,
    Ro

  3. TanGental

    Thanks Ro. Thoughtful as ever. You’re so right about cats and bags. It will be an absolute age, maybe never before we reach a situation of no community transmission now but with vaccines we should see hospitalisation and deaths diminish and the track, trace and isolate can work properly. Recently we’ve had examples of the South African and Brazilian here but surge testing means they’ve been caught and capped in the low figures. We have or so I read one of the best, if not the best genomic testing of the virus so we can spot and capture these variants both quicker and more reliably than other places which gives us some hopes that we can manage this and when we com out of lock down over the next few months we won’t have to go back into it. We shall see.

  4. Rowena Post author

    I watched a great show about Covid with Dr Michael Moseley the other night. While it was out of date, it still provided some interesting medical insights. There were a few things which particularly struck me. Firstly, covid lives in the upper respiratory tract and your throat, which is why singing is a super spreader. Also that you are most infectious in the 12-14 days before you become symptomatic. That’s particularly nasty in communities which now feel they’re home and hosed. We’re not taking close precautions and it if there is a case, it could spread like wildfire. We still have active cases in quarantine, and as Victoria keeps proving, escape is possible. Thirdly, I think the hope is that children catch it but don’t become really sick and that generation builds up herd immunity over time.
    Meanwhile, here in Australia you’d be excused for thinking we have a pandemic to fight. We had a political intern go public about being raped by a colleague after hours at Parliament House, after they’d been drinking heavily at a local hotel. I watched the full interview, and I guess I’m much more careful as a 51 year old, and I’ve almost always been a very modest drinker, athough that’s not to say is wasn’t yours truly who was drinking tequila on her balcony as a uni student and threw up. I was also known to mix port and coke at parties to make it more palatable. After all, it wasn’t the top shelf stuff and rather under ripe. However, while we need to enforce women’s rights and throw the book at rapists, education and prevention seem key to me. I saw a very good video out of the UK which compares consent to offering people tea and finishes up by saying that unconscious people do not want tea. Make sure they are safe etc.
    Another case of alleged rape involves our Attorney-General and dates back to when he was 17 and the girl was 16. She recently suicided which adds another awful aspect tot he case. Out AG firmly denies it. Police have closed the case due to lack of evidence. Trial by media continues. Meanwhile, a 24 year old who attended one of the posher private girls in Sydney, posted on her Intagram page to her friends that she was sexually assaulted as a 13 year old and asked if her friends had had similar experiences. Streams of replies came through and local boys’ schools copped a beating. So that’s another area where the proverbial has hit the fan.
    It’s interesting, alarming, the repeated theme of being drunk comes up. A known male seen as safe, and then taking advantage.
    It seems like that’s all that’s on our news atm, but I don’t tune in every night. It’s all so highly charged and things are stressful enough dealing with covid, two teenagers and our entourage of friends. One of my son’s friends who is 19 recently came off his motorbike and was airlifted to Sydney, fortunately with only a broken leg.
    Meanwhile, the kids have each celebratd another birthday and are 17 and 15. Time flies and unfortunately as they become more mature, they take me with them, which isn’t quite so exciting!
    Love and best wishes,
    Ro

  5. Rowena Post author

    Thanks so much, Monika. I’ve spent a few New Year’s Eves watching the fireworks from behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge so things are back to front. I’ll have to post some photos of that angle soon.

  6. TanGental

    Life, eh! Glad your kids are growing and however much of a pain they become, rest assured they will stay a pain, of many different hues as they age! And many more delights, too. We’re drowning under royal stuff right now. Will the institution survive? Of course it will, should it? Personally I’ve thought for the last 30 years since the Diana story spun out of control that that institution is like the bizarrest form of house arrest, like Hotel California. What do you expect of a group who, because of who their parents are have no choice about life and career? Of course they’ll go bonkers and to marry into it is the weirdest sort of self abuse imaginable. Do I think they’re racist? Not in any sort of egregious I hate anyone of colour sort of way, no, but could they make comments that, in many ways could be seen as such. Sure. What if they’d ask about the colour of Archie’s hair? Will he be a ginger like his dad? That wouldn’t of course be anything other than a rather silly query. I’m officially fed up with it, though it has had one beneficial side effect and that is that Piers Morgan (if you don’t know who he is, lucky you and don’t taint your history by looking him up) has resigned from Morning TV.
    As for Covid, well the numbers continue to drop, schools went back and the vaccine numbers climb quickly. The psychological damage has been immense, alongside the physical and I don’t know how it will affect our collective psyche. Time will tell.

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