An empty Southern Cross Station during peak hour earlier this year. (photo: Jeremy Gan)
The longest peacetime curfew in Australian history ended Sunday night. It shuffled off into the annals of history at 5am. It left us amidst a peaceful chorus of relieved sighs by the Victorian Metropolitan Police. Officers attempted to retain an air of dignified mourning but couldn’t help hoping they might finally get a decent night’s sleep because of its demise.
The curfew distinguishes Melbourne in the age of COVID-19. While Sydney and Brisbane have bickered over their border closures, we have sipped our takeaway doppio oat milk macchiato’s in wan silence and kept a stiff upper lip. The blows to Victorian state pride rained down. We kept calm and carried on.
In any other age, the loss of the Grand Final to Brisbane (Brisbane!!!) would have been viewed as a sign of a forthcoming apocalypse. We fixed our bespoke face masks firm and went for our daily hour of exercise stoically. We knew only Richmond and Geelong had any real shot at the finals and poor old Carlton weren’t holding the wooden spoon for once. We had suffered worse AFL seasons and would again.
From Toorak to Tarneit we watched as our legendary cultural scene shuttered and did not despair. Even as Adelaide and Perth suddenly felt secure enough about their clubs and restaurants to brag about them on Insta and Snapchat, we knew it was a passing fancy.
Our singer-songwriters, comedians, artists and playwrights all surged their angsty way across every digital medium. Their posts reassured us post-vaccine Melbourne’s decadent nightlife would make Weimar Berlin look like Dubbo RSL on nursing home day.
With the curfew newly in the ground, thoughts will naturally turn to just what the “Dictator Dan” crowd will sook about next. The ever-regrettable bunch could have been a jolly reminder of the old English comedy trope of zealous union shop stewards sermonising about diabolical infringement of liberties. Alas it was not to be.
It’s true, none of the ranks of the “Australians who wish this was America” club met a negligent death in prison, were raped then stigmatised and ignored, lost their job as a result of their lifestyle choices or were forced into conversion therapy. But wearing a mask and being told you can’t go late night shopping in Chadstone on a Thursday is tough too.
If there is one thing we have all learned from the Australian “right” over the years, there are only two places where it’s okay for an Australian government to restrain people’s movements: Manus and Nauru.
The remaining political crisis is the assignment of blame for the curfew-causing second wave of COVID infections and deaths. Though private enterprise hastily recruited, poorly trained and then woefully under equipped the hotel quarantine security teams, it will be concluded lumbering government bureaucracy was to blame. All Melbournians agreed immediately this was right and proper in a capitalist society.
We were all in this together in Melbourne. The curfew served as an equalising experience, crossing generations and socio-economic lines with impunity. Mortal enemies emerged at 5:01am on Monday, September 28 with a shared social experience for the first time in many a living memory.
Millennials and Boomers, eastern suburbs and western suburbs, rich and poor, Essendon Bombers and Collingwood Magpies will eye each other less warily now this is behind us. We all have a higher understanding now. We worked hard, together, to see the darkest days of this pandemic through.
As infection rates seemed impossible to overcome, as the death toll spread its pall over our beautiful city, we all did our bit. Together we suffered the indignities of ruptured sleeping patterns, home schooling and exercising somewhere that wasn’t a gym. We survived together. Every Zoom, Facetime, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Telegram and TikTok formed a magic, digital chorus spelling out in ones and zeroes: we shall overcome.
From the elders of the first people of the historic Kulin nation, to the newest arrivals of our city’s brethren, be they from Eritrea, South Korea, Scotland or Peru; we survived the curfew together. We will survive the pandemic together. We will queue up for the vaccine next year, together. We will continue to build this amazing place we call home, together.
As we push on past the memory of our recent and not so dearly departed curfew towards “COVID normal” and the vaccine beyond, Melbournians can be proud. We got this and we got each other’s backs. We can take the energy of all our old, internal rivalries and put it where it belongs: reminding Sydney that we will always be a better city than they are.
Curfew over. Melbourne out. Mic drop.