As Australia says good riddance to 2020, the inhabitants of Sydney are preparing themselves to fight the good fight against the insidious virus that has ruled all our lives for most of the past 12 months.
As the new year dawns, Australians are not collectively heaving a sigh of relief. Rather, we are cautiously releasing the breath we have been holding throughout the final weeks of the old year.
There has been much written about interstate rivalry in the tackling of the COVID-19 problem – a kind of reverse leaderboard of case numbers – including some unedifying examples of schadenfreude when Melbourne’s major sporting events either toppled over or were relocated.
Sydney residents were urged to stay home on New Year’s Eve.Credit:Wolter Peeters
As a sports-blind Melburnian, I was untouched by that particular tragedy. But I shared the pain of 168 days of lockdown with the other 5 million inhabitants of Greater Melbourne, and it was real.
On November 23 – the day the NSW border was opened – my two youngest children and I were on the first flight out of Melbourne, bound for the NSW home of my firstborn and his young family.
I had last held my new grandson nine months earlier when he was just six weeks old; my daughter had never met her nephew. It was always going to be a joyous reunion, but there was another unexpected dimension to our time up north that made it even more memorable: the kindness shown to us by our northern neighbours on hearing where we were from.
Caring strangers treated us like survivors of the trenches, congratulating us for our fortitude and our "sacrifice" for the common good. Emotion bubbled just below the surface whenever I recounted the conditions imposed on us: I was overcome as much by the genuine concern shown by my compatriots north of the border as by the memories of hard times.
An encounter in a Glebe greengrocer's stands out in my memory. I asked the cashier if she preferred cash or card, explaining that I was from Melbourne where we had used only cards for the past six months. Nearby shoppers and staff approached me with words of encouragement and support, and I basked in their warm glow.
As some NSW suburbs greet the new year in lockdown I feel a sense of camaraderie, knowing well the privations their inhabitants will have to endure in order to wrest back a sense of control over their lives. Schadenfreude has no place in this transaction. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of communities supporting each other to work towards a common good.
And – if you’re a Melburnian – you well know the disproportionate impact of even the smallest act of kindness.
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