I tie the shoelaces on my walking boots as my father taught to me. He said it was his way in the Second WW: when you were in a ‘tight spot’ you did not want to find your boot laces suddenly flapping around. My father was an officer of the King’s African Rifles (KAR) facing Mussolini’s Italians in the remote highlands of Somalia.
You have to double the last loop of the bow into itself so you have a tight double knot. No flapping.
A tennis partner once showed me an alternative way, even more complex. She was from Eastern European and said her method was used by the Russian army. After you have done the normal bow, you thread the two loose ends and the bow loops back under the tight cross hatching of the shoe lace. Takes time to do this, but it’s firm: no tripping on the battlefield.
Today, in mild sunny weather, we went walking in Belair National Park in advance of the arrival of a cold front. There were no Italians stalking us, nor Russians gathering in the eucalypt forest. (However, we do hear that the Chinese are busy attacking our strategic assets). I wanted a first glimpse of spring flowering and native orchids. How glad I am to live in these times: a peace for us built on the wars of the 20th Century.
Belair National Park is South Australia’s first National Park – dedicated in 1891. It’s big: over 8 square kms and is only 25 minutes from our little city. The history of the park is the story of our state: an early demand for the rearing of stock, the harvesting of hay, the hewing of wood before the realisation that the remaining native forest should be conserved.
The State Flora nursery is located within its boundaries and we regularly buy native plant stock for our property from them. Today we purchased 10 tube stock of Eucalyptus porosa, the native gum tree that is found on our property and is a popular food source for koalas. My husband had read an article saying that the koala is threatened, perhaps even ‘critically endangered’.
Our response is to plant 10 more trees for them. There is no shortage of koalas on our property but the trees are looking thin.
We came home to find a small koala sleeping in the large gum, not three metres from the edge of our terrace. It was a good day: I remembered my father’s advice and the koalas will be happy at our home.
And on that note, to amuse you about the strange bush ways of us Australians, and to brighten your day, please enjoy: “Give me a home among the gum trees,” sung by the original singer / co-writer of the song, Bob Brown.
‘That is no country for old men. The young In one another’s arms, birds in the trees, —Those dying generations—at their song*,
I have aged beyond the normal passage of time during these last 4 months. Way beyond. No question in my mind. I did not preface that statement with, ‘I feel I have aged …’. I find it hard to work out exactly why this is so. After all, living in South Australia we have been extremely fortunate. Our busy lives have been curtailed, but not drastically. There was an early panic evident in the rush to hoard food supplies and we learnt the Australians were particularly active in stocking up their larders. During those early days, the dread for me related to the fact that we did not know how bad the virus would be for us, what nature it would take. Stories abounded. The collapse in our stock market in February emphasised the approaching storm: health and wealth threatened!
But the issue has more to do with the nature of our lives as retired people. Maybe before 2020 we were living in a fool’s paradise, ignoring old age and the waning of our abilities. But now we are labelled as a group as vulnerable, many with ‘comorbidities‘ The percentages are widely discussed – an ultra-high death rate is assured for our age group. A retired friend was told by his doctor son that he must be serious about isolation because if he ended up in hospital it was unlikely that a ventilator would be assigned to him. Triage would be in operation.
So, the story is out: we are at the end of our lives and nothing new, nothing amazing, nothing significant remains for us. Together, my husband and I had planned travel to Indonesia – an interesting bird-watching trip through remote islands and I had organised a visit to Seattle to see our daughter and to travel with her to Yellowstone National Park. We have always been travellers and being able to pursue our hobbies of birding and photography in new places has enriched our lives. In December 2019, we felt that we still had the energy and enthusiasm to do this. I am not so sure anymore.
But my premature aging cannot be just this! It has more to do with optimism, or the lack thereof. I looked up the synonyms for ‘optimism’. They are: hope, confidence, sanguinity, buoyancy, cheerfulness. And those words hit home. I don’t think they describe my world at the moment. It’s closing down. Being so in touch with the persistent bad news, watching the numbers, does not make me happier. Maybe the way forward is to deliberately NOT immerse myself in the news. Ignore it all.
‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ as Dylan Thomas wrote.
That’s a bit dramatic for me and my angst.
I came across this article from the HBR. ‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.’
Is this the word for this sense? Grief? Perhaps that is closer to my aging idea. Grief – looking backwards at my life and at the confusion of our present times. And maybe I just have to deal with this. I have never been a person with depressive tendencies. If you survive boarding school you develop a certain resilience! And I can look to my father’s example, how he conducted himself in his old age: never sorry for himself, never without kindness, always interested in the world, always generous.
When he died, my father left a letter for my brother and me; it contained this poem. An ancient Sanskrit poem.
‘Look to this day for it is life the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the realities and truths of existence: the joy of growth the splendour of action the glory of power. For yesterday is but a memory And tomorrow is only a vision. But today well lived makes every yesterday a memory of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day.’
My mother and I had a special hobby in Zanzibar during the 8 years that I lived there: we collected cowries. My mother would select the days and times of the low spring tides and we would venture onto the exposed coral reefs in search of the cowries under the rocks. We tried to be conservative in our collecting. We left shells that were on eggs; only collected ones that we did not have and always turned the rocks back over so that the myriad creatures thereunder were protected. I learnt all the Latin names of these Indian Ocean cowries. When I was back in boarding school, my mother would write and tell me of her special finds. The rare tiny golden Cypraea globulus was one of these: it is found in coral clumps on the reef edge.
While in Zanzibar, my father had a shell cabinet made for us. I arranged the shells by size and name, mimicking some museum presentation. I still have that cabinet: for 60 odd years it has travelled with me, from Zanzibar to Durban to Sydney, to Melbourne and to Adelaide. The cabinet is not particularly beautiful and the shells no longer shine as once they did. Their scientific labels are in disarray: I plan to resort the shells during this lockdown.
One of the commonest shells on Zanzibar reefs was the money cowry, Cypraea moneta, a thumb-sized creamy-yellow shell with a slight hump. Nowadays, it has no specific value but this shell is famous, or maybe I should say, infamous.
I only discovered the fascinating background to the international trade in the money cowry when I met Marion Johnson in Windhoek, Namibia. It’s a long story, but the short version is that Marion and her colleague, Jan Hogendorn, became interested in the role of this specific cowry played in West Africa as the regular market currency. Their determined research led to them writing a book: The Shell Money of the Slave Trade. (African Studies Series 49. 1986). Marion said what had intrigued her first was her find of isolated cowries in the old middens of the Bushmen people of Namibia. How had these shells come there – thousands of kms from the coral reefs ringing the islands of the Maldives?
Cowries do not inhabit the reefs along Africa’s west coast. These beautiful china-like shells travelled from the Indian Ocean to West Africa with Arab traders through the Sahara long before the arrival of the Portuguese.
Then came the European rush to find a way around Africa to purchase the spices of the ‘Indies’. In the process, Portuguese sailors ‘discovered’ West Africa. The old wooden sailing ships needed ballast and one thing led to another. Starting in 1515 these ships were filling their hulls with vats of shells – money cowries. Traders had discovered the value placed on the money cowry in the lands soon called the ‘Gold’ or ‘Slave’ coast. They discovered how easy it was to trade a ‘head’ of cowries for the ‘head’ of a captive man or woman.
Due to the prevailing winds along the West African coast, the ships from the Maldives sailed via the western Atlantic Ocean to returned to Europe with their spice cargoes and ballast of shells. The shells were washed and cleaned – the word is ‘garbled’ and auctioned in great trading halls to the merchants on their way to deal in slaves. The volumes grew to a peak in the 1800s. The trading halls of Amsterdam (the VoC) and London became the centres of this business. The British soon gained ascendancy.
The numbers are staggering. From 1800 to 1825 the annual average of British cowry exports to West Africa was 123 tonnes or 271,163 lbs. Astounding! Almost all were used for purchasing slaves to ship to the West Indies. Bear in mind how little a single shell weighs!
As time went on, more and more shells were needed to buy a ‘head’. Inflation had set in, and it became inconvenient to manage such volumes. Other currencies began to be used: copper and gold. What happened to the vast quantities of shells in the community – now virtually valueless.? Many were simply buried in heaps, but some found their way into ornaments and clothing. If you examine West Africa tribal art you will often see money cowries incorporated into the fabric.
Let me turn to Zanzibar. The money cowry is found there as well as the similar ring cowry, Cypraea annulus. Merchants tried to export these shells to West Africa but the Zanzibari shells were unpopular as they were too big. The Maldives cowries had grown smaller over centuries due to dwarfism or the ‘island rule’. Smaller cowries weigh less and if you are carrying thousands around, that is an issue to consider.
But what the mainland of Africa close to Zanzibar did provide was slaves and copious ivory from the once extensive elephant herds. And so, Zanzibar has the infamous history of being the centre of the East African slave trade. The slave trade was finally outlawed in 1876 with an agreement between the British and the Sultan of Zanzibar – although owning a slave was not illegal until 1897.
When the slave market was closed, the Anglican Christian Mission was given the site by a local Hindu. A cathedral was built. Sultan Barghash donated the tower’s clock. There is more symbolism in that the cathedral’s altar is the reputed site of the slave whipping post and the wooden crucifix in the nave is made from the tree under which David Livingstone’s heart was buried in Zambia.
Nowadays, there is a statue outside the Cathedral, a memorial to those thousands of slaves that were traded through Zanzibar. You will be asked, when you arrive, to pay a few US dollars to a guide and he will explain the horrors of slavery. Such tourism is providing many jobs for locals. The stories have become a drawcard to add extra spice to one’s visit to Zanzibar. What the guides do not tell you is the involvement of the Americans in the East African Slave trade, nor the approx. 12.5 million Africans shipped from West Africa by the European slave trade.
When I lived in Zanzibar, before the 1964 revolution, we attended this Anglican Cathedral. I understood little of the symbolism surrounding me, nor did I realise how the dungeon-like basement floor of our old Arab house was once used. I should have used a little imagination: large iron rings remained there, imbedded in the coralline walls.
The question of slavery and culpability led, in part, to that 1964 revolution and genocide. The Zanzibari African party (ASP) narrowly lost the 1963 elections, organised by the British Colonial government, to the Zanzibari Arab party. It’s hard to designate one as ‘Arab’ and the other as ‘African’ as there was much intermarriage on the island and there were other ethnic groups and religions. However, the island people were 99% Muslim. Slavery had been one of the arguments the ASP had used during the campaign and they repeated horrific stories of abuse.
Nothing is simple in history, but when the revolution occurred, a month after independence, a deranged man called John Okello took charge. Using the radio, he incited mobs to attack Zanzibaris Arabs and anyone who got in the way. Thousands were killed and dumped in mass graves. And even now, 56 years after the revolution, historic slavery is used to explain, to justify, the overthrow of that legitimate government and the years of despotic rule that ensued.
Slavery is not forgotten with the passage of time. It was and is a blight on our world.
June 15. Routines help us. We don’t have to agonise over the pros and cons of each action, each day. Its set. Our cairn terrier, Roy, understands the routine right from 6.45am when he knows it’s time for my husband to get up and feed the flock of wild red-browed finches – and make me tea. It’s barely light at 7am as we approach the winter solstice – only 6 days away.
After breakfast, Roy knows its time for THE FIRST WALK. This is often a short walk to our gate – half a km away. Since Roy is now 11 and a half (around 77 in dog years) this walk is taken slowly to check on the smells on the way. We have both feral cats and foxes that roam our property and he has a fierce antipathy to these animals. Roy’s’ eyesight is going – due to cataracts, but for dogs, it’s the nose that counts. A dog is a nose with a couple of eyes. And Roy has a superb sense of smell. He knows the cats are in our valley without sight of them.
After the walk, there is a period of rest for Roy while we can attend to other matters. Some time around 3.30pm he raises his head and will let us know its time for THE SECOND WALK. This is usually the best and longest walk. Since I realise he is older and a creature of routine and habit, I most often take him to Kensington Gardens Reserve where dogs can go off-leash: there are three ovals, lots of other dogs and even a river to swim in. Even in the park there is a regular path that I follow – slowly. The route is about 40 minutes at Roy’s pace. Along the way he lifts his leg countless times to let others know of his passage. When we are on the second oval, I usually meet a family of Australia Magpies.
These friendly black-and white birds come to share Roy’s treats. The Australian Magpie has a very interesting social life and a beautiful song. Their Latin name Cracticus tibicen (flautist) is a reminder of their singing ability. They are extremely territorial and will recognise human faces – I know they know me, as before I even call these birds, they arrive. Their wonderful range of singing is actually a bonding mechanism in the family. Their offspring stay with the group and help raise the next year’s siblings. The magpie is the iconic resident of Australia’s ovals but their numbers are declining and people wonder if this is due to pesticides, feral cats, habit destruction – or just too many people.
Roy and I head back to the car at an even slower rate – if that is possible. He knows where the car is and a certain stubbornness is his method of prolonging the enjoyment of the outdoors. Roy has a Scottish winter coat so does not feel the cold.
And then we go home to another of Roy’s day’s highlights: the prospect of dinner before the 6pm news. Unlike us, Roy does not have to deal with the sadness of most of the news. That is our routine during these times.
June 11. Our winter tennis competition started today, almost two months late. Its a more casual affair than our summer grass-court competition and is played in my local park about 3 kms from our home. We play 3 sets, first to 9. Surrounding the courts is a veritable forest of old eucalypts – most of them being the enormous and long-living River Red gums or Eucalyptus camaldulensis. A winter-rain river runs through the park and a new wetland is being planned in order to slow the river and clean its waters before they reach the Gulf of St Vincent.
Everyone was excited to start our tennis once more. Maybe even more so on a glorious sunny day with the temperature at 16o C. I stripped down to a tee-shirt. There is a greater sense that we are getting back to normal. What remains to be done is to open the state borders. West and South Australia, the NT and Queensland are reluctant as a few new virus cases are popping up in the most populous states of Victoria and NSW (7 overnight). Some of the cases are people in quarantine, newly arrived from overseas. Once our state borders are open, New Zealand’s government is considering a travel ‘bubble’ with Australia. Australians love travel and the snow fields around Queenstown in South Island, New Zealand are popular. They have real mountains there.
On the way to tennis I encountered a koala on the move. They seldom walk in the daytime. These are their hours of relaxation in a fork of a tree. This one was loping up the driveway in that strangely uncomfortable gait they have. The back legs look almost malformed and they have a grey patch of fur on their behinds. But once the animal reached a tree trunk it leapt up in bounds and I realised why HE was on the move. A female koala was perched on the next tree. The males smell the tree trunks to check on local ladies and this chap was hot on her trail. At night, we often hear the males proclaiming their territories. The sound is similar to a donkey braying. Not pretty.
We can start making plans once more: for lunches at local restaurants; for trips with my husband’s geology club to the Flinders Ranges in August; for our walking group to plan excursions and for more bridge sessions. What we are not planning is to apply for the 2,000 tickets for this weekend’s footy clash, or ‘Showdown’ of our two AFL clubs: the Crows and the Port Adelaide Footy Club. Even if we wanted to go, the tickets are in extremely short supply. Only 2,200 socially-distancing people will attend at the Adelaide Oval which seats 53,000+. But the show is starting….
Today, across Australia, there were protest gatherings in all major cities. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest of the USA have caught on here. Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia has been an issue for many decades. In 1988 the Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in Custody recognised the ‘underlying social, cultural and legal issues behind the death(s)’. At that stage there were 99 deaths in custody that were examined.
Since 1991 there have been 432 Aboriginal deaths in custody. (note the definition of custody is specific). Indigenous people are overrepresented in prison by a factor of 10. This is a shameful situation and one that the government says they have tried to find ways to improve. The crowds today did not agree with them.
When these protest gatherings were organised in our various states, the Prime Minister took action. Scott Morrison asked people not to go. ‘Our message is very clear that the health risks of gathering in such large numbers and into close proximity are real. Let’s find a better way and another way to express these sentiments.’
The medical advice across the country was the same: don’t go, don’t breach Covid-19 public health orders. Then came the NSW’s Supreme Court decision, in response to a police application, to ban the Sydney event. The NSW Health officer, Dr Cherry Chant, said the event would increase the change of community transmission. NSW protest organisers said they would go ahead anyway. Shortly before the now-illegal gathering, an appeal overturned the Supreme Court ban.
In South Australia the Premier, Steven Marshall, reached a different decision – he did not ban the planned gathering and march through the city centre, but asked those involved to wear masks and practice social distancing.
The protests have taken place and, I am pleased to say that, so far, they were all peaceful. 30,000 people gathered in Musgrave Park in Brisbane … (this park is an historic Aboriginal gathering place). Thousands gathered at the City Hall in central Sydney and marched down George Street waving banners. One read, ‘They say justice, we say murder!’ It was obvious that ‘social distancing’ was not and could not be observed. Some people wore masks; some police handed out masks and sanitizers. There were black tee-shirts bearing the large number 432 (for the number of deaths in custody since 1991). One organiser said, ‘we are marching in pain, anger and solidarity’.
It appeared to me that the crowd consisted mostly of young people. Many of the placards carried the now famous appeal, ‘I can’t breathe’.
Its moving to see the determination of these protestors, but for us it’s also a worry. By now, we all know how virulent Covid-19 is. One person can infect many. There is community spread – although low – in both NSW and Victoria. Also, on the news tonight was the story about a fruit-picker who flew on two flights from Sydney to Bundaberg and has been found to be positive for the virus. Contact tracing is now activated.
There would have been over 70,000 people protesting today in our bigger cities. Surely, this will result in a significant increase in infections.
Indeed, the right to protest is a basic right – BUT many rights have been held back, or deferred recently. We have not been able to go to funerals, weddings, visit our families sick in hospital or visit our grandchildren – all this was the price to pay to stop the virus and to protect the vulnerable.
A protester was asked, ‘Don’t you worry about the virus? And in the excitement of the moment, he replied, ‘BLM is too important, even if there are 100 deaths from the virus…’
We are told time and time again not to underestimate Covid-19. It is a horrible virus, attacking your lungs and reducing your ability to get oxygen to fuel your organs. Many have died on ventilators, gasping, struggling for breath.
That word ‘breath’. Those images of George Floyd, casually held down by the kneeling, hand in his pocket, policeman, will go down in history. George Floyd could not breathe, nor can people dying from Covid-19.
How many more will die as a result of these BLM gatherings in Australia today? Is that OK? Is that just life? Is this the price to pay for the right to protest at this time in history? It appears that the answer is – Yes!
Suddenly, the shops are open and the lights are on in the pubs and restaurants. This evening, my husband and I met another couple for dinner. It was quite special although the ambience was not quite there as we were the only guests in a large room with 3 other distant tables. Our waitress was excited as well and we received a lot of attention.
The retail shops are busier and the traffic is stacked up at school pick-up zones once more.
However, the other news brings this week into perspective. Flights from Singapore airlines will be arriving into Adelaide next week. I assume this is to bring back overseas students to our financially strapped universities. Others will come to join their families. I doubt there will be many tourists on these flights.
Sure as anything, these full flights will bring in the virus. All the discussion in the press seems to indicate that it is hard to put in place systems to prevent the spread of this virulent virus inside an aeroplane. So, I fear, once flights start arriving, we must retreat back to the safety of our homes and get back onto the delivery services once more.
May 31. I don’t like Sunday nights. Maybe this stems from my years at boarding school, when Sunday nights were the pits. Maybe it was the long weeks remaining of term time, or the sad girls coming back from exeat, or struggling over an evening meal of brown vegetable soup, or the sound of weeping after lights out.
And this Sunday night, the last night of May 2020, it seems the world is not getting better on many levels. I planned to write a blog about how we all hoped for an improved quality of life emerging after Covid-19. I would amass the feel-good stories of people being kind and resourceful and imagine how this might carry forward.
Instead, tonight the TV news was about the USA cities on fire with protests as the country is saddled with a president who fails on every count of decency, honesty and moral leadership. Next came the news about the virus: we have reached over 6 million cases and 370,000 deaths of Covid-19 world wide and that is surely a significant under-assessment of the real numbers. These numbers are rubbery, certainly not overstated. The virus spread continues – without much check in densely populated countries.
My husband and I are in the cohort of the elderly in need of ‘shielding’ (as the Guardian suggests). The over 70’s. As my friend, James, said, it’s a bit like being back at boarding school. There are certain similarities: that feeling of nothing to look forward to, an awareness that you are being controlled by the system. This sense that tomorrow is like today.
But hold on! We have so much more we can do. We baby boomers have, in general, lived a charmed life in the West. Better education, better health that ever before. So, we have lived longer than the generations before us. We are a bridge between the old world and the new one of our grandchildren and we are in a position to remember the lives of our parents and the stories that came down through them of our grandparent’s lives. We might have snippets, or long stories; we might have old black photos albums or diaries. But I am sure we have something – and that something is of value.
My father was born in 1911, my mother in 1920. They were strong people and valued their backgrounds. I learnt of my grandparents and their birthdates go back to the 1880’s. I have stories of the Boer war, of the Kimberley’s diamond mines, of a great uncle dying in the Gaza desert in the 1st WW; of an uncle shot down in the Dieppe Raid, of my father fighting the Italians in the mountains of Somaliland in the 2nd WW and of my mother driving an African man mauled by a leopard to a hospital in Tanganyika. And so it goes.
The thing is, our kids are too busy, our grandchildren are too ignorant – at the moment to ask, to remember, to value this. We have a debt to pay, to record what we know of the past: to keep our family stories alive for the future – whatever form that takes. We are the shaky bridge between the past and the strange post Covid-19 future.
It’s not a repeat of a boarding school exercise, but it is a serious project to take on board during Covid-19. No exams to fear, no pass or fail, just a challenge to record your past as a gift for your future generations.
South Australians have been rather pleased with their daily Covid-19 report. ZERO new cases today. In the last month we have had 2 cases. However, the last case on 26 May has caused a minor media storm.
Apparently, a woman arrived from the UK into Melbourne and went into quarantine – as all arrivals have to. However, after 7 days she was allowed to fly to South Australia. The story was that she was given exemption for ‘compelling family reasons’ and made an emergency dash to be at the bedside of her dying parent. When she arrived into Adelaide she was tested and found to be positive for Covid-19. Now all the woman’s contacts on the plane etc have to isolate.
At first our Chief Public Health Officer, Nicola Spurrier, said she had not been told the details of the woman’s arrival by the Victorian authorities (blaming them). A short time later Spurrier had to apologise saying that they had received the email but had not read it!
‘We really need to review our processes.’ She said that it was ‘easy to overlook an email’ and that such failures were not only a problem in our state but were a ‘national issue’.
‘I’m running a response to a pandemic. I don’t have time to feel embarrassed,’ Spurrier added. I liked that neat comment but after all, this failure might result in deaths.
This comes against the background that there is a developing irritation between states in Australia as to who has kept their borders closed and why. Victoria State has the most new cases (10 overnight) and no one wants to bring in more community spread – little as it is.
It appears that a failure to read emails and check on critical procedures is a common failing at the moment and causing considerable harm. The cruise ship, the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock in Sydney Harbour on 19 March. Somehow checks between the ship, NSW health and harbour authorities failed to make certain that the ship was free of infection. 2,700 passengers disembarked without being checked and they spread the virus around: 22 died, 100’s were infected. There is now a criminal investigation into the matter.
This story of failure continues. In West Australia (WA) a live-export ship, the Al Kuwait, from the UAE was allowed to dock at Fremantle with the intention of taking on board 56,000 live sheep destined for the Middle East. This is a terrible trade and has resulted in sheep dying in large numbers due to heat stress and conditions in these floating hell holes. Furthermore, the humane treatment of the sheep on arrival in the Middle East is not easy to manage (understatement).
Now they have found that 6 crew members are infected with Covid-19 on the Al Kuwait. The WA Premier went into attack mode, arguing with the Federal Minister of Agriculture as to who was told what, when.
The issue gets more complicated, as these livestock carriers are not legally allowed to leave Australia after May 31. This is because the ship would arrive in the Middle East during the summer and previous cases have resulted in distressing images of sheep dying from heat stress being shown in Australia. And it takes really ghastly images for any change in this business to take place.
So – money talks – our Federal minister of Agriculture, David Littleproud, (lovely name that!) has said that an exemption might be granted by the ‘independent’ regulator so that the ship can sail with a June departure date. Littleproud also said the shipment – all that meat – is worth 12 million AUD. So, for money, the sheep with suffer the heat. Meat is important after all.
May 23. In South Australia we are opening up: restaurants and pubs are once more open for business – but only for seated customers and with a limit of 10 people inside and 10 outside. What these businesses appear to be doing is limiting your stay to an hour so they can serve more customers. At first our state government said restaurants could open – but not serve alcohol. There was a backlash and mockery about this ‘no alcohol’ idea so it was quickly scrapped. NO ALCOHOL – how ridiculous to suggest this!
Australians love their alcohol and the authorities apparently felt that patrons might ‘forget’ about social distancing. One is aware that these venues need to be viable and the profit made on alcoholic drinks is significant compared to a cuppachino.
As the shutdown got underway 2 months ago, the jokes about alcohol proliferated across social media. Basically, the theme was: we are all drinking more than normal and that’s OK because life is tough and we NEED our alcohol to survive.
No question a glass or two of Barossa Shiraz is a pleasure with a good home cooked meal. It’s a question of excess and the behaviour that goes with it.
In South Africa they closed the bottle shops – not deemed the source of ‘essential’ purchases during the shutdown. Some bottle shops were attacked and looted by mobs. Online purchases went ahead. I think the ban was in part an attempt to reduce domestic violence. All violence. Car accidents, stabbings and shootings declined. Trauma cases presented at hospital declined by two thirds.
‘It’s not all been bad. One of the benefits of the alcohol ban has been that the reduction in drinking probably led to a quarter, or 9,000, fewer trauma cases in hospital wards every week, according to Charles Parry, a researcher at the South Africa Medical Research Council.’
Think of that! 9,000 fewer trauma cases in South African hospitals!
Coming back to South Australia, what has been startling on the local evening news is the number of horrific road accidents involving drivers who are found to be way over the regulation .05 blood alcohol level. One woman was 7 times over the limit and had 2 young children in the back of her vehicle. I am surprised she could even crawl to her car. And all this is at a time when there are far fewer cars on the road.
Our police have not been road testing for alcohol or drugs due to the fear of covid-19 transmission. Our absolute number of road deaths is relatively low, but so many of the dead and injured are younger people. It’s not so much us retired people, locked down at home, who are out driving under the influence.
From our government fact sheet on ALCOHOL AND DRUGS IN ROAD CRASHES IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA. June 2019. ‘Overall, 36% of drivers and motorcycles riders killed test positive to either drugs or alcohol or a combination of both for the 5 year period 2014-2018. This means over a third of vehicle operators killed each year are driving with an illegal BAC and/or drugs in their system.’
Alcohol is such a strong theme for Australians when they want to express that they are having fun. It’s often portrayed as a ‘blockey’ thing – those beers (‘stubbies’ or ‘frosties) at the ‘barbie’ on Saturday ‘arvo’. Mateship stems from such times.
I was thinking of this theme of our indulgence in alcohol when we collected the papers this morning. The local Advertiser is a typical tabloid with catchy headlines and little worth reading. It did not disappoint!