Lockdown in Greater Sydney

Wentworth Emporium

Sydney, or more correctly “Greater Sydney” is in lockdown again. Greater Sydney includes the commutable urbanised areas that fringe the sprawling metropolis of Sydney. Not extending as far as Newcastle, but encompassing Wollongong, and Shellharbour to the south, the Central Coast to the north and the Blue Mountain,  westward.  

The Greater Sydney area is home to 5/8th of the population of New South Wales and nearly a fifth of the total population of Australia. The lockdown came into effect on the first Saturday of the winter school holidays. Once again plans of going anywhere went out the window for many families. It was due to end on the last Friday of the holidays but it has been extended until the 16th July. Watching the numbers, we all know it will go well beyond that. 

The lockdown has been extended until at least 16 July, but given the numbers it will be well beyond that.
Source: ABC News

Like Melbourne before us.

Melbourne has had a number of stints in solo lockdown. At the time, I wondered what they were doing that was so different to the rest of the country. Was it their good public transport? Did the fact that more people were on  public transport rather than travelling solo in cars make a difference? Was it because it was colder down there and more people were indoors? 

After the last few weeks in “soft lockdown” I think I have more of an idea.  We are ignoring the stay at home orders. When the whole world was in lockdown last year it was new and scary and we all took it very seriously. But a single city tucked up in its own borders does not have the same scary overtones.  People are still way too out and about. My exercise walk route takes in Wollongong Harbour. Last weekend at around 11 AM it was business as usual! Lockdown? What lockdown? People were sitting around in the sunshine eating their takeaway gelato and sipping their take away coffee cheek by jowl with most of the population of Wollongong. No one exercising here! Stay at home orders mustn’t count on sunny days. Wollongong had not had any cases (yet) so we must be immune??

Is the soft lockdown too soft?

Soft lockdown means that many shops are still open. Pubs, restaurants, and cafes are closed for anything other than take away. Places like cinemas etc are closed, Hairdressers, and beauticians are closed. Supermarkets are open. But strangely,  the handbag shop in the mall is still open. The clothes shops are open. The vape shop. You can’t tell me these shops are essential. 

There are movement and gathering restrictions in place which have progressively tightened over the week as case numbers have continued to rise. Now only 2 people are allowed to exercise together, except those from the same household. Only one person is allowed to go shopping and only once a day. (Make that list!!)

Masks are mandatory for all people over twelve in indoor areas. And now we have moved to remote learning for students in the Greater Sydney area. This came as no real surprise. Teachers by and large have been preparing for a “just in case” scenario since last year. Many teachers have kept their online classrooms running. They have shifted their resources to accessible drives in the clouds. Learning from home was do-able.  but then…..

Queue suspenseful music: Dun-dun-der!

Learning from home becomes complicated!

About an hour after Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the Learning from Home orders for the Greater Sydney area, the NSW Department of Education was hit by a massive cyber attack. All those resources we had squirrelled away in the safe places linked to our portal were inaccessible! We were paralyised to get lessons ready. Email was down. Links to our corporate accounts for Zoom, MS Teams, the Google Suite, Microsoft365 were down. Everything we used our department user name for was turned off, as the tech bods tried to fix the damage. 

It took until Sunday to get most things working. Let’s put that in perspective. Those people worked hard! The NSW Department of Education is one of the BIGGEST educational systems in the WORLD. With over 2000 schools, more than 50,000 teachers and in excess of 800,000 students all managed by the one system, that’s a big job and I take my hat off to them for getting it up and running so quickly!

Time to get hard?

The numbers were unexpectedly a bit lower today (only 89 new cases compared to 112 on Monday), but still high enough. The Police will be more visible telling people to go home. But still the soft option persists. Come on Gladys, we don’t need handbags in a lockdown. Let’s close the other non-essential shops. Go hard! Keep people at home!

Stay home, stay safe. 

PS: Gladys must have read my post! On Saturday, 17th she announced further restrictions in place until 30/7/21. The non-essential shops are now closed. Non-urgent construction has also been shut down.

Well done Gladys!

Stories from the Great Southern Road Trip Part 3: A minor inconvenience.

The Great Southern Road Trip had the guts pulled out of it after the Victorian Government’s snap 5 day lock down on 12 February. While the lazy amble down the NSW Coastline happened, the sharp right turn  into Victoria and the mosey on over to Melbourne, didn’t. The lock down necessitated a quick and blunt reconfiguarion of the itinerary. 

I decided to go back to Eden, a NSW border town, and spend a few days there. Staying out of Victoria altogether until the day I was due to sail to Tasmania seemed like a sensible idea. COVID being what it is, I was not sure if I would be able to get into Tasmania without the need to quarantine if I re-entered Victoria. This meant staying in NSW,  essentially going around in circles. 

The anticipated spike in Victorian COVID numbers did not happen and the Tasmania Government reclassified most of Victoria as low risk. With the benefit of hindsight, I could have gone to Victoria after all. I could have stayed in Victoria. The question that plays out in my mind is when do you draw the line? (On changing and rearranging) How many times do you pivot?

Plan B was a solid plan. Accomodation in Southern NSW was getting very tight as people spilled out of Victoria. In the end, I visited friends in Berridale, then Batemans Bay, finally retracing my steps back to Culburra Beach to catch up with family. Culburra beach was the first stop I made on Day 1 of the road trip. I was nearly back to where I started. Sigh.

Right now I am sitting on Deck 7 of the Spirit of Tasmania to start the southernmost part of my Great Southern Road Trip. Tomorrow morning I’ll be in Devonport and then I’ll join the walking tour I’ve booked from Launceston. Things are back on schedule! My spreadsheets are reconciled!

The view out the salt encrusted windows shows the sea is turning black as the sun sets. The waves are small and calm, the fabled swell of Bass Strait is still a few hours away. 

In contrast, my gratitude swells. How lucky am I? I might be sitting here with a mask on  and I may have been inconvenienced by a government taking a strong response to a serious problem, but I am on a ship and I am healthy. The people around me are healthy. I am travelling. (Technically overseas!!)

In comparison, my friends in the Northern Hemisphere are stuck at home, both by the weather and the virus. Living on a big island 12,000 km from anywhere is a burden when you have to fly 22 hours to get “somewhere”. But right now, my island home, with it’s slightly nanny-state stance, is a god send. There’s plenty to do and see right here!

I’ll stop whinging now. 

Longer tales from the Road – Menindee

This post is the first of what I hope will be a continuing series – Longer Tales from the Road. Episode 1 is about Menindee.

For those who have been reading my posts for a while, you’ll know I am a strong starter but often trail off so who knows how long it will last! Examples in point are my series on Wollongong, and then Eco hacks. Come to think about it I never wrote the last two posts about coffee either

With my Great Southern Road Trip on the horizon, I thought it was a good time to start this occasional series. These stories will not be about the travel per se, but longer tales from the road of the places I have visited and the interactions I have had while road tripping around this big island.

I usually travel solo but on this road trip to Broken Hill in June 2020, I had a travelling companion, Michele, my work buddy. 

Enough of the chit chat let’s get started.

Dirt road and blue sky
On the road to Menindee

Episode 1 – A day trip to Menindee

Today’s travel itinerary includes a day trip across to Menindee from Broken Hill. It’s a little over an hours drive on a sealed road. 

The township springs up out of the dirt necessitating a rapid deceleration from 110 kph to 50.  The town is dusty, brown and straggly. The streets as dotted with small houses with tin rooves, and fibro sheeting. There are some with rebellious green gardens while others stopped fighting nature long ago, and have let the heat win. The brown yards are adorned with an interesting array of various statues, rocks or junk.

COVID Testing?

As we slow down we see a couple of people sitting on plastic storage boxes at a table by the side of the road. They looked bored, one is on the phone,  the other tossing a water bottle in the air.  There is a blue sign declaring FREE COVID TESTING. These bored people are with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and they’re providing a vital service to remote communities and travellers.

Once we parked the car, Michele and I crossed the road to offer to buy them a coffee, after a warm thank you, they declined. We were not the first to offer and they had had their fill of caffeine for the day. Anita and Helen are Flight Nurses with the RFDS and for the past 4 months, their normal duties have been replaced with a mobile COVID testing service. Each day they move from tiny town to tiny town testing townsfolk and people driving through. They average 4 – 6 tests a day with the results returned by SMS to the client in 24 – 48 hours. Results for Aboriginal people are rushed through because of their higher vulnerability. 

I have to admit I felt a bit choked up about this and had a real “I love Australia” feeling flood through me.  Free rapid testing, 500 km away from the nearest big city with less than a day’s turnaround?!  Now that’s a wonderful thing! Thank goodness for Medicare!

(US citizens take note: Over a certain income level all Australian citizens pay a 1.5% levy to pay for free or subsidised health care for ALL.)

Anita and Helen

Anita is based in Broken Hill, but Helen, a Queenslander, had been stuck in NSW for 4 months. The original six-week secondment had been extended because the Queensland border was closed. She’d been separated from her family for all that time but was grateful she had her two dogs with her.

We stood and chatted about their experience and commitment to public health. Helen was hoping to source a Gate Code to get through the Dog Fence from someone, somehow so she could get back home.

Thank you, Anita and Helen!

Now here’s a bit of Australiana I knew nothing about? A dog fence? I’ve heard of the rabbit-proof fence but never the dog fence.   As it turns out in this northwestern corner, where the New South Wales, South Australian and Queensland borders merge there is a dog fence. The aim is to keep dingoes north and away from the sheep and cattle. 

Apparently, it is more successful in keeping the people and kangaroos in. The fence is usually just shut with a series of gates, but because of COVID and border closures, the gates are now locked tight with digital padlocks and you need a code to open them. If Helen did get a code she would have to contend with flooded roads because while 2020 brought the virus it has also brought welcome heavy rain. 

After 15 minutes or so we crossed the road and got some lunch. 

Why would you go to Menindee?

Menindee has a sign posted population of 750.   There is certainly enough to keep you busy for a day or two and now is the time to do it! As international travel becomes a fading memory, we can at least enjoy a home grown road trip!

You’ll find a pub,  a caravan park,  a school and a corner store/cafe.   The Redsands Takeaway sells food, limited groceries and odds and ends including fishing gear. I chatted with the owner while she made my cup of tea and sandwich. She told me apart from the meals for tourists and truckies, she also prepares fifty lunches and dinners each week for the local (sic) Meals on Wheels in Ivanhoe, a mere 200 km east. They also double up as the school’s tuck shop (canteen) and stick rigidly to the healthy schools’ canteen policy.  This allows the 90 children and 18 staff a bit of variety.  By the way, they also do a pretty good cheese and tomato toastie! 

The Redsands Cafe

Menindee Lakes

A little way out of town you’ll find the Menindee Lakes a series of freshwater lakes that supply Broken Hill with drinking water. They are also popular recreational areas where the folks around this way come to water ski, fish and swim. The lakes started as natural depressions along the Darling River which filled only during floods. In the period from 1949 to 1968 the lakes where dammed and weirs and regulators installed to control the flow. 

The lakes are also very popular with photographers. The flooding of the lakes has left lots of dead trees in the water and there are often spectacular sunsets. I took this image on my first visit to Menindee back in  2013.

Kinchega National Park

Apart from the Menindee Lakes, you’ll also be able to visit Kinchega National Park. You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to drive on the sand and gravel roads.  Even though the road was in good condition there are a few spots where a regular car would bottom-out and get stuck.

The Park has the remains of an old homestead and a wool shed. You’ll find some nice picnic spots along the slow-flowing muddy Darling. It’s amazing to think that people settled here in the mid-1800s. Their lifestyle must have been tough compared to our pampered existence now.

Menindee Grapes

There are significant table grape plantings in the area,  but this industry is in doubt because of a lack of water security. I won’t go down that rabbit hole in this post, but there is a great deal of controversy about water rights along the Darling River. The river system has a total length of over 3,000 km with its origins in Queensland. It feeds into the Murray before flowing through Victoria and then onto South Australia. After every state takes their bit there is not much left draining out to the sea. Original settlers used steamboats to move cargo from Queensland down to South Australia, but the variable and unreliable water supply lead to many disasters. The variable and unreliable natural flows have been exacerbated by over-allocated water licenses. 

Menindee Caravan Park

As I write this another 4 months down the track, with COVID almost done, in Australia at least, I wonder how Helen went. Did she get a code? Did Helen and her dogs get home to their family? As it turned out we met Anita again two days later when she was in Wilcania.

This time she did accept our offer of a coffee.

A little off road photography dress-ups.