from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Waiting for the Second Wave – and a journey North.

The Australian. August 14.

August 14. More and more it feels as if South Australia is on the edge of the second wave of Covid-19. All states in Australia are trying to protect themselves from one another. The virus has well and truly escaped into the communities of our neighbouring state of Victoria. Each day, we anxiously watch an update from an increasingly harassed Premier Daniel Andrews as he announces the numbers of people newly infected and the numbers dead. The breakout started in late May and reached a daily maximum of well over 700 new infections.  On 3 August, Andrews announced ‘a state of disaster’. A Stage 4 lockdown applies to greater Melbourne, Stage 3 throughout the state. There is a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am in Melbourne and people are limited to essential travel. Police monitor intersections day and night.

The streets are empty. Yet it is taking time for the numbers to reflect the severe shut down – the latest news is 372 new cases. And of course, the death toll will increase before it drops. Daily we watch the NUMBERS: Victoria has 7,877 active cases; 289 have died; 1.9 million tested. The population of Melbourne is 4.936 million and Victoria 6.359 million. NSW authorities are frantically trying to control isolated outbreaks in Sydney.

Our South Australian / Victorian border is shut and it is being carefully monitored. Fewer and fewer exemptions are being allowed – only essential and specialist workers; students in year 11 and 12 whose properties are bisected by the border, will be allowed to cross. Within South Australia, our state government is reversing previous relaxations. For example, licensed cafes, gyms and places of worship will have to have a ‘Covid Marshall’ in place to enforce social distancing and hygiene practices.

From the South Australian point of view, our borders to the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and West Australia (WA) are open but not the ACT (Canberra). BUT Tasmania requires us to quarantine for 14 days and WA will not let South Australians in. Effectively, we can travel to the NT (by road or air) and Queensland (by air only). I hope I have this right! It’s complicated and can change overnight.

Victorian aged care facilities have experienced distressing outbreaks (1 in 4 homes infected) and most of the state’s deaths relate to these facilities. As a result, South Australia authorities now require all staff in our residential homes to wear personal protective equipment when within 1.5 m of patients. And most important, their staff will not be allowed to work across multiple facilities. This appears to have been a factor in the outbreaks in Victoria.

Overnight a 20-year-old died in Melbourne. I listened on the radio to a specialist in the UK who recounted his concern about the side-effects of COVID-19. He said that we are underestimating the virus’s long-term effects. He called it the ‘long’ COVID. More and more reports are being documented. It is a mistake to consider COVID-19 a disease that only threatens those of us deemed ‘aged’.

In South Australia, we have had very few cases in the last weeks. Overnight, one case was recorded: an Australian citizen returning from India. He or she was in quarantine. Each day I wonder if we will still manage to keep to these low numbers. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, they have developed a serious cluster in Auckland. (Just when they were feeling rather pleased with their achievements with 100 virus free days.) They are now struggling to find the source and we hear that it is a ‘new’ strain. Prime Minister Jacinta Arden has put in place a Level 3 shut down. She has said they must ‘go in early and go in hard’ (once more) to stop the spread.

Whereas a few weeks ago, there was a discussion about the possibility of having a travel ‘bubble’ with New Zealand, now that is a remote possibility. Our Australian tourist sector remains severely impacted.

Some good news! Travel within South Australia is picking up. Our friends are making short trips across to the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas or down to the Southeast. We are also able to travel to the Northern Territory. From August 30, South Australians can take a trip on the famous Ghan railway up to Darwin.

Western side of the ancient Flinders Ranges

We ourselves are preparing for a trip to the Flinders Ranges. A great deal of organisation has gone into this trip and a lot of excitement is evident. Beyond normal. There will be about 20 in this group from our local field geology club. The idea is to visit some remote stations in the Flinders Ranges. Before we go, we have to complete a health statement.

I anticipate cold, dry weather. One of the stations we are visiting, 625 kms north of us, is Witchelina. They have received 11 mils of rain recently – not even half an inch. A virtual flood! It is the most they have received in the last year. The station is 4,200 square kms in size (one fifth the size of Wales) and is managed by the Nature Foundation.

https://www.environment.gov.au/land/nrs/case-studies/sa/witchelina#:~:text=At%20just%20over%204%2C200%20square,by%20the%20Nature%20Foundation%20SA%20.

We will pass through a deserted town called Farina. Farina was established in 1878 during a period of greater rainfall, when a railway expansion took place. Some colonialists had a belief that “the rain followed the plough”. Instead, what followed was seven years of drought and all the farmers and residents gave up. It is now a ghost town and a tourist attraction for the few that travel this far into the Outback. And it’s a warning for all those who are over optimistic about South Australia’s rainfall.

from SA State Library: a camel train near Farina, South Australia

https://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/farina.htm

Farina is being partly restored as a tourist attraction. There is an ANZAC memorial in the town to the 33 men, born in Farina, who volunteered in the First World War. (Most Aussie towns have an ANZAC memorial).

I fear that we will be seeing Farina in the kind of state it was when the first residents gave up hope of their continued survival. But … we are still excited, drought or no drought, virus or no virus.

From David Maughan Brown in York: A tale of two delusions

3rd June

I’m beginning to think that I am destined to live much of my life under the shadow of irredeemably deluded governments.  

The first half of my life was ruled over by South Africa’s apartheid government, which deluded itself on the basis of an assumption of racial superiority that it could, in perpetuity, brutally ‘dominate’ – to use a Trumpism – the vastly more numerous black population of the country.  They were happy to go it alone in this inevitably futile endeavour in the face of almost universal hostility from the rest of the world, partly because they had managed to develop a Theology that helped them to believe that their God was entirely supportive of their project.   Even when they managed to decipher the writing on the wall, they embarked on the negotiations to end apartheid under the delusion that their racial superiority would ensure that they could run rings around the African National Congress representatives during those negotiations and would end up still effectively in charge.  Wrong again.

Our current ‘UK’ government, exclusively populated as it is by English nationalist Brexiteers, is equally deluded, and many of the signs of that delusion are not at all unlike the symptoms presented by the apartheid government.  Instead of straight racial superiority, this lot appear to be informed by an overweening sense of national superiority.  Any multilateral or bilateral trade agreement for which they are not exclusively responsible, and over which they do not have exclusive jurisdiction, is seen as a potential threat to a mythical ‘sovereignty’, elevated so high that it appears to have become the equivalent of the Afrikaners’ deity.  Our English cabinet’s sense of superiority over the Scots the Welsh and the Irish makes a mockery of a ‘United’ Kingdom as they go it alone with their lethally inept response to the present pandemic.

Much of that response demonstrates all too clearly just how badly a sense of national superiority gets in the way of rational government.  The UK had weeks in which to watch other countries responding to the spread of Covid-19, to learn the lessons and to make suitable preparations.   But when you are the best in the world at everything there isn’t anything anyone can teach you, and following the good example set by any other country might be seen to undermine the sacred ‘sovereignty’ of your independence.  So why bother to notice that New Zealand, which has handled the pandemic better than almost anyone, imposed its entry restrictions and quarantine as soon as the pandemic struck, not three months later once tens of thousands of people had already been allowed to die?  

Boris claiming to be proud of his government’s handling of Covid-19, and boasting that his risible testing and tracking system is ‘world beating’, is on a par with a six-year old child, who hasn’t even learnt how to brush his hair yet, jumping up and down on a tub in the playground chanting “I’m the king of the castle, and you’re the dirty rascal!” at the rest of the world.  Part of Boris’s problem is, of course, that much of the rest of the world is not as impressed by kings as it once was, and is no longer prepared to accept being relegated to inferior status.  

From David Maughan Brown in York: Back to school?

1st June

How on earth could it have come to this? Today is the day, much-heralded by the tabloids, for the return to school after the ten long weeks of lockdown and home-schooling.  But only for some classes and only in England, and it is being left entirely up to parents, living through the worst health emergency this country has experienced for a hundred years, to take the potential life-or-death decision whether or not to risk sending their children back to school if they happen to be in the eligible classes.

On what possible basis are they supposed to make that choice?  Because the government of England, which we used to think was the government of the United Kingdom, says it is now time (and safe) to do so?  But the June 1stdate was decided weeks ago on the basis of no evidence whatsoever that it would be safe by today and, given that 8,000 people are still being infected by the virus every day, it is still, all too clearly, not without risk.  And not just risk to the children.  Although the evidence shows that children are the age group least badly affected by Covid-19, the extent to which asymptomatic children can carry the virus back into their homes to infect the rest of their families is still a lot less certain.

So are parents supposed to base their decision on our government’s track-record where the virus is concerned?  That is something of an ask considering that the UK is widely considered to have been one of the four worst countries in the world when it comes to its handling of the pandemic, unfair as that is to the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and North Ireland.   Thanks to a decade of austerity, and a linked determination to be deaf to all warnings, we were hopelessly illprepared and under-equipped for the outbreak of a widely predicted global pandemic.   We stopped testing and tracking just when we should have been ‘ramping’ it up.  We allowed two major sporting events to go ahead, bringing thousands of spectators into this country from the epicentre of the disease in Europe, at a time when the rest of Europe was busy locking everything down.   We didn’t close our airports when we should have, and our government now bizarrely thinks that it is a good idea to do so three months too late.   So our government’s track-record isn’t going to inspire in parents a lot of confidence that it knows what it is talking about when it says it is safe for schools to reopen.

To complicate their decision even further, parents are having conflicting advice and concerns dinned into them from all sides.  The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) thinks it is OK for schools to reopen, but at least four members of that group have come out independently to say it is too soon.  And in any case that group lost credibility to such an extent when it became clear that Dominic Cummings was sitting in on SAGE meetings, and might be influencing its decisions, that an independent group scientific advisory group felt obliged to set itself up.  Teachers unions think it is too soon.  The vastly more credible devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and North Ireland, which don’t consist of English Nationalists, think it is too soon.   But educational experts and children’s mental health experts are consistently pointing to the need to get children back to school as soon as it is safe to do so.  And almost all parents who aren’t teachers are likely to be only too ready to acknowledge that the home schooling they are trying to supervise won’t be as educationally sound as the lessons their children enjoy (or otherwise) in their classrooms.

What more basic reason could there ever be for having any government at all than to have a competent and authoritative body that can ensure that children will be safe in its schools?  One only has to look to New Zealand to know that, even in a global pandemic such as the one we are trying to live through now, that is not an unrealizable ambition.  But pity the unfortunate parents in England who have been left high and dry by our parody of a government to make the choice themselves as to whether to expose their children and their families today to the unquestionable, if one hopes relatively minor, risk of being infected by Covid-19.  It is a huge relief for me personally that none of my grandchildren is in one of the guinea-pig classes.  Not that I imagine for one moment that my children would think it a good idea to send their children back to school in present circumstances, even if they were eligible.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: it’s the environment, stupid …

Adelaide: from the hills to the sea

May 18. What has been noticeable in our community over the last 2 months is the emphasis people place on our environment – on the pleasure of walking and the freedom to get outside without restriction. In South Australia we have been allowed to walk: walk with a partner, walk the dog, throughout our severest lockdown, even when, at first, no one quite knew what was in store for us. On social media these activities featured prominently. People commented on the things they noticed and photographed: the sunsets; the animals and plants; the teddy bears they found perched in trees, hanging on front gates or looking out of windows.

People went to the beach, maintained social distancing, and spoke about how special it was to go there. Suddenly, the normal became appreciated. Did we miss going shopping? Not really. Did we miss travelling? Maybe – but what we missed was family more than the act of seeing new places.

Walking, or getting out of our houses, the freedom to move around became the number one thing we wanted to do – we took pictures, posted on Instagram and told others about it. Walking is therapeutic, no question. At 3 in the morning you can feel anxious about the way forward … but once you walk out into the forest, the bush, the park, those thoughts are blunted. This effect is not rocket science.

What we should now realise is that we must preserve our parks and wilder places in our cities and our urban fringe. Whenever I flew into Los Angeles, our Air New Zealand flight circling to land, I was amazed by how little green space there was visible in the city. Where were the great parks? The city appeared to be a crosshatching of buildings under a mist of pollution. Contrast Los Angeles with my Adelaide. (Not fair really: 18 million residents in greater LA compared to 1 million in Adelaide.)

downtown Los Angeles from Griffiths Observatory
Harbor12 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Adelaide is a small city, a young city in European terms. It was planned with great foresight by Colonel William Light in 1837. The main city grid is based on a Roman ‘castrum’ with a central public open space, 4 smaller ones in each quarter sector and the whole square surrounded by a 500-metre wide band of parkland. Town Planners love it, study it. This city works and the plan has stood the test of time. The encircling public parkland is a joy to residents and fiercely defended when various state governments have tried to invade it with what they regard as essential, ‘progressive’ development.

1839. Plan of the City of Adelaide, Australia by Colonel William Light

Add to our environment a slow meandering river, the River Torrens, which runs west out of our Hills, right through the city to the sea. It is flanked by a 30 km ribbon of parks and bike ways. The Torrens is a thin, seasonal river lined with ancient River Red Gums. And when you reach the sea, there is a 70km coastal park path along the seafront from North Haven to Sellicks Beach. Indeed, this is a city that is a happy place for bike riders.

People are wondering how Covid-19 will change our societies. Could we perhaps build a better world? Or is that pie in the sky? It is apparent that, for some time, there won’t be funds in our government’s budget to be generous with such plans. But on a small scale we could start thinking of things to do.

Could there be a change of emphasis driven by the community, a community now more aware of the precious nature of our public spaces?

New Zealand, led by their PM, Jacinda Ardern, plans to do things differently with a ‘Well Being Budget’. This is like a breath of fresh air.

“Finance Minister Grant Robertson outlined the plan to the country’s parliament – with billions released for mental health services, child poverty and measures to tackle family violence.

“Success is about making New Zealand both a great place to make a living, and a great place to make a life,” he said.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/new-zealand-is-publishing-its-first-well-being-budget/

Could we not lobby our councils to: offer maps for walking and bike riding; provide a listing of street trees; grant conservation protection for older stands of trees; proactively advise residents on trees to plant; halt building plans that cover the full block? Our council already offers cheap sessions of yoga and exercise for older people. They could also offer supervised walks by environmentalists to educate about the bushland that we have within the council area. Get inventive.

Schoolkids could get involved in planting trees along waterways and cleaning them regularly – perhaps to ‘own’ a section of the river. We could lobby to reduce the speed levels on urban roads and add more dedicated bike path ways. More people will be working from home. Make the home area more community friendly.

We don’t have enough community gardens. In Seattle people seldom have front fences and use their sidewalks as planting space for herbs and vegetables. We don’t do that in Adelaide and our tree filled urban back yards are disappearing under the onslaught of huge double homes on old single blocks.

What other ideas are out there?