from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Confusion and the Border Wars

12  January, 2021

It has been going on for so long.

At first, in March 2020, all Australians took careful note of the dos and don’ts, the rules and regulations – as a nation. There was a unity between the states.

And then there wasn’t.

On April 3rd last year, Premier Mark McGowan closed the West Australian border to the eastern states for the first time in Australian history. And suddenly, Premiers found their higher calling. Each one could now command their state like a mini-nation and this would only increase their popularity. Just too tempting.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was not slow to realise this. Her Labor government faced an election in October. In August 2020, with the LNP, the Opposition party, gathering strength and with Victoria still in lockdown, the Queensland premier closed the border. Labor won the election with an increased majority. They are calling it the ‘border wars’.

Each state premier is mirroring Palaszczuk’s statement: ‘And today is the day that we say we are putting Queenslanders first.’

The thing is the borders of the mainland states are not sharply defined, particularly between Victoria, NSW and Queensland and to a lesser extent, South Australia. The border towns are now beset with problems of access to services: to schools and hospitals. Farms extend across borders.

At no stage have the number of infected people reached the percentages of Europe or the USA but we all realise that the virus is so infectious that it does not take much relaxation in the rules for it to become uncontrollable.

So now we have 7 sets of rules and specific use of language from the 7 states and territories to be considered. And more specifically: your own state’s rules, which change regularly with the ebb and flow of outbreaks, and the rules for states where you plan to travel or where your family are.

It’s plain confusing.

South Australia: as of January 12, all travellers coming to South Australia are required to complete a Cross Border Travel Registration. Our authorities have declared areas to be ‘High’ and ‘Low Community Transmission Zones’. Rules apply to each of these if you desire to enter South Australia. There are special rules for border areas – a ‘Cross Border Community Travel Zone’. Applications are required.

Rules are changed so often and are so confusing that often the police and border officials get it wrong. And this is quite apart from mask-wearing rules.

Other government COVID-19 website travel information

Victoria has just come up with a brilliant new idea: coloured zones! They have green, orange and red zones. Like a traffic light. Which means everyone entering Victoria must apply for a permit – even from WA or South Australia. We have had no community spread cases since mid-November last year.

‘These are the rules as per the Victorian government. If you have been in:

  • a green zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and enter Victoria. Once in Victoria you should watch for symptoms and get tested should you feel unwell. ​
  • an orange zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and will have to take a coronavirus (COVID-19) test within 3 days of your arrival in Victoria and isolate until you receive a negative test result.
  • a red zone, you will only be able to apply for a permit as a permitted worker, or to transit through Victoria to another state or territory. You may also apply for an exemption. Exemptions are only granted in special cases. If you try to enter Victoria by road without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be turned away. If you attempt to enter via an airport or seaport without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be fined $4957. Victorians will be required to quarantine at home, and others will be sent back.
  • a NSW-Victorian cross-border community. If you are a resident, you will be able to enter Victoria without a permit, but you must carry photo ID and proof of your address. ​’

The Australian newspaper makes the comment today: ‘The extreme approaches of Victoria and WA are out of all proportion with Australia’s COVID-19 caseload. The nation had four new cases of community transmission on Monday, all of them in NSW. Nobody is in intensive care. The maze of confusing, costly, job-destroying over-regulation by some states is now intolerable…. But … the commonwealth (government) lacks the constitutional power to force states to open borders or abandon their ludicrous red tape.’

We were hoping to holiday on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria at the end of February. It’s not looking very promising. Point one: can we get through the border? Point two. When we are there, will South Australian stop us coming back home or make us go into quarantine?

To travel or not to travel, the decision awaits us.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Oops! Sorry, it wasn’t a pizza box!

Our Premier, Steven Marshall looking for explanations

November 22. Well that was a mistake. Our severe lockdown lasted a mere three days. It was announced on Wednesday and by Friday there was a major backtrack.

This weekend the newspapers are full of analysis, recriminations and quite a lot of finger-pointing. What went wrong?

On Monday, our creative writing group had returned from the Flinders Ranges to hear about the ominous virus ooutbreak in our northern suburbs called the ‘Parafield’ cluster. It all seem to be under control until Wednesday when with little notice we were put into severe lockdown.

We were told that this was definitely a more virulent strain of the virus. The only hope for our state was to shutdown at short notice. There was a sense of panic in the community: hour long queues developed outside supermarkets. There was a flurry of emails cancelling appointments, weddings, funerals, travel plans; closing clubs, restaurants etc … think ALL activity outside your home. Borders were closed and incoming flights diverted.

Only one person from each household was to be allowed out once a day to shop. Dogs were not allowed to be exercised.However, people were quite innovative. I noticed walkers with backpacks on the way to shops, sometimes with a large dog in tow which they tied up outside. (For the first time I wore a mask to the supermarket. I found it mildly unpleasant.)

Then on Friday the news came out that the lockdown was unnecessary. There had been a mistake. What went wrong? I suppose we are all in a learning curve and the state government and medical authorities are as well.

Authorities believed that the virus was being transferred into the community on pizza boxes! It seems silly to say this now. But do you remember all that discussion months ago about how the virus could survive on different surfaces?

Contact tracers had interviewed an infected man who said that he had bought a pizza and from a pizza take-away business where another infected person was working. That’s how he had caught the infection. Our authorities jumped to the conclusion that this young man had been infected by merely handling a takeaway pizza. If this was true, then all the people who had collected pizzas during this period needed to be quarantined. Authorities went into overdrive contacting everyone who had been to that pizza parlour. Over 4,000 people were put into quarantine. (I wonder if they all bought pizzas – if so that was one very popular pizza restaurant!)

However, after checking they found out that this individual had lied. He was in fact working shifts at the pizza parlour and had been infected by a colleague working there. Apparently, this makes all the difference. No infected pizza boxes. No hundreds of customers potentially infected.

Our premier Steven Marshall reacted quickly. On Friday he announced the error and declared that on Saturday night the severe lockdown would end. People were allowed out to exercise and take their dogs out walking once more. We are still under restrictions but bearable. We ourselves are going out to lunch at friends shortly – 10 people are allowed to gather. We will be only 8. Outings next week are back on the calendar.

Now people are looking for someone to blame. Why did the authorities not double check when the concept of pizza box transmission seemed a little unlikely?

Why did the young teenager lie? Was he in fact paid cash over-the-counter? That’s avoiding tax. Was he a temporary resident? Perhaps a student struggling? Whatever the story, the poor youngster is in trouble. Apparently, he is being interviewed by the police but it appears there is no real sanction for lie telling. Even the current US president gets away with it daily – on a mighty scale. Why shouldn’t the teenager occasionally protect himself? And perhaps he was frightened and did not realise the enormity of his lie.

Either way, our state has had a shock, emotionally and financially, but we are on the better side of the event: no rampant community transmission.

And most critical, we have no Donald Trump look-alike spinning nonsense to undermine our democracy.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: 6 day ‘Circuit Breaker’ from midnight tonight.

November 18.

Just when we were rather pleased with ourselves in South Australia, we are brought up short.

From midnight tonight, South Australia will be locked down: the most severe lockdown we have had since the beginning of this pandemic. Basically, you cannot leave your house except to buy food or for emergencies – a long list of instructions has been published of what you can and cannot do.

The news spread fast and the response by the public was instantaneous. It was as if there would be a lockdown on the supermarkets as well. The parking lots were full within minutes. There were queues to get into the supermarkets and every trolley that came out was heavily laden. Once more, the toilet rolls were targeted; the meat shelves were emptied and there was not a loaf of bread left in sight. Madness.

We are not even allowed to order takeaways during this time. I felt sorry for all those restaurants and fast-food outlets that had perishable stocks. They had no warning.

If you are travelling within South Australia, you had 12 hours to make a choice. Either you decided to stay where you were for the next six days or you had to rush home before midnight tonight. I have some friends who had just arrived in the Flinders Ranges, over 500 km north of us. They have spent one night there of the three planned. If they had not heard from anyone of these events, they will have a challenge trying to get home in time. Large parts of the Flinders Ranges are out of telephone range.

There are not many cases in our state, but apparently this particular strain of the virus is spreading very rapidly and has a short incubation period of 24 hours, with many people showing minimal symptoms. The virus escaped from one of the quarantine hotels in the centre of Adelaide. The source was a returning traveller from the UK. A cleaner working in the hotel apparently got infected from a surface. But that idea is disputed. She managed to infect her mother: a woman of 80 years old. And that older woman ended up in hospital and was diagnosed. Meanwhile, her large family, over the few days, had visited many places, sending children to school and university etc. We now have the long list of places online, (including certain buses), which are considered potential sources of infection.

Testing centres have been overwhelmed and people are waiting 5 to 6 hours to be tested. The centres are now going to be open 24 hours. 5,000 people are in self-isolation / quarantine including 100 police.

Our State is trying what they call a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to get on top of the spread. This will be followed by an 8 day less stringent lockdown. We just have to hope it works so all our plans for Christmas and being with family interstate are not scuppered. Our Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier, is very popular and we have faith in her decisions.

This is not a major catastrophe for us in South Australia. Or neighbouring state of Victoria endured a 4-month lockdown. If this is what it takes to contain this outbreak, we have to go with it.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-18/sa-ordered-into-major-lockdowns-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/12894666

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: a Scorcher

November 14-16. Willow Springs, Flinders Ranges.

Sunday was forecast to be a scorcher – over 40 degrees with a hot northern wind – but since we only had a brief time in the Flinders Ranges, our group decided to make the best of it by taking off early to explore – with the backup-plan to rush home to retire indoors when our excursion became unpleasant. The locals at Willow Springs Station told us that they were hoping for a little rain. They’re always hoping for rain; their lives are circumscribed by the rainfall.

the ‘golden’ spike

So, we drove north to enter the world famous Brachina Gorge geological trail.

Through this spectacular gorge you can follow a corridor of geological time: exposed rocks from 1,500 billion years to the Cambrian (beginning 541 billion years ago). We drove through a billion years of rock deposition!

Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges

We took a short excursion within the gorge to see the ‘Golden Spike’ which marks the spot where the relatively new Ediacaran geological era is defined (635-541mya). This significant place for geologists is on the bank of a dry creek bed surrounded by river red gums. Very low key.

Along the way, we saw several emus, including a family with nine chicks.

Emu Family – Flinders Ranges

But sadly, during the whole day we saw only two kangaroos. In the past, before the current drought, kangaroos were plentiful. I searched the rocky hillsides for the endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies but saw none – previously they were plentiful at that location.

Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby – taken on a previous trip

After about 10 o’clock the hot wind gusts made us rush back to the comfort of the cars. We carried on to the western side of the Flinders Ranges to reach the famous Prairie Hotel at Parachilna – it was an oasis! We had coffee and drinks before heading east through another gorge: the Parachilna. The temperature was now over 39° and dust eddies battered our cars.

We arrived home, thankful for the cool haven of the shearers’ quarters. About four pm, the sky turned weirdly brown. I drove up to the main station to pick up the local wi-fi. I was sitting in the car when the world around me disappeared in ferocious flurries of dust and flying branches. It seemed like a tornado.

the Begining of the dust storm

Extreme wind squalls rocked the car, brought down huge branches from the eucalypts in the creek beds and torn tin sheets from one of the station’s houses.

The dust storm in the creek

I kept my car in the open, nervous to drive back to our accommodation, as I realised that driving under a gum tree was highly dangerous. The newly arrived sheep did not seem to mind these events: huddling together, they put their backs to the wind and rain and shook their fleeces.

The dust storm was followed by a short hail storm and hard rain lasting only 5 minutes – 2.5mm – hardly leaving a puddle.

The shearers’ quarters in the rain squall

The temperature dropped 15°, the wind abated and within minutes it was delightful to be outside: the trees were shining, the sheep ventured out, only the eastern horizon was black over the Bunker Hills.

But there had been further damage: a branch had taken down our local power line. We brought out the candles and torches for our last night.

So, it had been a memorable day: we experienced some of the extremes for which Australia is famous. To be a farmer here you need fortitude, patience and to ever believe that things will get better. 

Sunset after the storm – Willow Springs’ shearers’ quarters and woolshed

I arrived home on Monday to be greeted by the news that South Australia is again heading towards lockdown. A worker at one of our ‘medi-hotels’, where travellers are in quarantine, got infected – how so is a mystery at the moment. Before she was diagnosed, she had infected her family and they had all travelled around Adelaide and their kids had been to school. So, the wicked genii are out of the bottle and we are in trouble. Whether contact tracing, testing and other vigilance to stop the spread will work is the big question for us in the coming two weeks.

From Anne in Adelaide, Australia: across the Straits to Kangaroo Island.

21 October.

Ferry to Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island, off the south coast of South Australia, is perhaps one of the safest places to be during a pandemic. The population of under 5000 is spread across the 4,200 square kms of countryside and villages and only a small ferry connects the mainland. They had a case of COVID-19 in April that infected two other people but that’s that. Now with all the careful behaviour there have been no cases for a long time.

While here, we have barely listened to the National news. What has come through is the welcome news from Victoria State where the daily numbers of infections have declined to well below 10. What is less welcome is their reports of the political cover up of who decided to appoint the ill-fated security detail for quarantined travellers. The Royal Commission has closed their public hearings and is yet to report.

We have come here for seven days to stay in a cottage on the idyllic Island Beach.

Roy dog at dawn

I have been getting up at dawn to take Roy, our Cairn Terrier, for a beach walk to allow the rest of the household to sleep in. It is only a pleasure.

Dawn on Island Beach

At the moment I share the four kilometre beach with no other human. However, I do enjoy the space with many pairs of pied oystercatchers. Pied oystercatchers are well dressed birds: a coat of black and white, a long crimson beak and scarlet legs. These birds are breeding at the moment and are fiercely protective of their particular stretch of beach. I watched two of them defending their territory with aggressive body arching and loud whistles of protest. The interlopers flew off. Further along a pair already have a couple of long-legged youngsters who rush into the seagrass as people approach.

Pied Oystercatchers

As birdwatchers, we are enjoying the extensive unspoilt bush land on the island. As a bonus this week we have the annual Backyard Birdcount going on, organised by Birdlife Australia. You record the bird species and the numbers you see in time slots of 20 minutes. The app registers your location. So far, with four days to go, 2 million birds have been sighted and 63,000 checklists have been uploaded.

No longer is Kangaroo Island home to the dwarf emu: wiped out by humans and declared extinct by 1837 not long after the first permanent colonists (whalers and immigrants) settled on the isand. Evolution continues. Bird species are evolving into subspecies here and one day there will be endemic bird species on Kangaroo Island again.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: A late-enjoyed Christmas present or Learning to Cook

October 4. Last Christmas, our Capetown son and daughter-in-law gave us a present of two tickets to attend a cooking course at Scoffed Cooking School in Adelaide. Scoffed offer a range of themed evening and day-time cooking options for children and adults, for beginner and more advanced cooks.

We planned to select a course in the New Year, but before we could, COVID-19 shut down the cooking school along with everything else. Fast forward 7 months and the business has reopened. We now had two credits to attend a cooking session of our choice. The numbers they allow into the school’s classes have been reduced and Covid-safe rules are strictly applied. (This is although there is only one active case in South Australia … a young man arriving from overseas and already in quarantine. Deaths? Four people died overnight and 479,000 tests in total have been undertaken.)

New Zealand green-lipped mussels ready to finish in the oven – one of the largest mussel species reaching 240mm in length!

Previously, I had chosen a course on how to cook fish, but this was not available. So, instead last night I attended a course on Spanish cooking, more particularly how to cook paella and pintxos (typically, a small snack eaten in bars in Spain and Portugal … like tapas).

When the 13 of us gathered – socially distanced in the professional kitchen – we were first informed about the ‘Covid’ rules for the evening. I have never washed my hands so often! Then there was a demonstration in ‘how to chop with a sharp knife’ … how not to slice the end of your fingers off while slicing the parsley.

Seafood Paella

I have to admit, in all honesty, that I’m not a good cook. I have learnt and adapted over the years and there are moments when I am quite pleased with my cooking. However, in my family there are very good cooks. My sister-in-law, Meri, is a phenomenal cook, a natural, and my daughter, Shannon, in Seattle is another – although she uses almost every utensil in the kitchen in the process. But the result is worth the wash-up.

the three student paella-cooks

Anyway, last night, under instruction, I had a lot of fun cooking up a series of Spanish-themed entrees and a delicious seafood paella. My co-cook of the evening was a younger woman who had had to ditch her Spanish travel plans for 2020. She continues language instruction on Zoom and had decided that acquainting herself with Spanish cooking was the next best thing to do!

(The crux of the evening was to show us how to form a crust in our paellas– the essential mark of a good paella.)

in style …

Between each course, we adjourned to their small cafe carrying our food to enjoy there with an accompanying half glass of wine. So, with the cooking demonstrations and the frequent hand-washing, the whole process took over three hours. We ended the evening by deep frying churros for our dessert – the churros (delicious deep-fried pastry) were dipped in chocolate or / and dulce de leche.

I realise that these are the kinds of evenings we have missed with the shutdown. Everyone at Scoffed Cooking School was so light-hearted, so relaxed, so prepared to have a fun evening. Even though in South Australia we have not been in a ‘hard’ or lengthy lockdown like other countries, I felt as if I had been let out of school. There are still fun things to do and life to be lived!

And of course, there is now time to buy a special paella pan so I can practice at home and burn the pan with equanimity.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Sewerage with your salmon, sir?

September 21.

Nineteen years ago, I read the June 21st article in the Economist, headed with this challenging and half-amusing title: ‘Sewerage with your salmon, sir?’ I have never forgotten it. Some articles fall on fertile ground! I had, mistakenly, thought that farmed salmon was a good food choice. After reading this article (about salmon ‘farms’ in Scotland), I learnt a lot about farmed salmon. I also learnt it was cruel.

‘Salmon are kept at higher densities than battery hens. Packed in cages of up to 70m in diameter, holding up to 500,000 fish, they are fattened on a diet of the rendered remains of small fish. Anti-bacterial chemicals are used to ward off sea lice and other parasites. Colouring agents are included in their pellet food because, deprived of its natural diet of krill and shrimp, the flesh of a farmed salmon looks an uninviting shade of grey. Roche sells a colouring agent, called Salmofan, which allows salmon farmers to choose the exact shade of pink they like for their fish.’

That was just the beginning of my education about farmed salmon. The excreta from the fish falls to the bottom of the fiords where, in certain weather conditions, it is stirred up into the pens and eaten by the fish. The pollution affects the wild fish and resultant levels of parasites (lice) are unacceptable (and the lice jump onto the wild salmon). The same story is found in Canada and north-western USA.

Since writing for this Covid-19 diary, I have noticed that any of my posts that feature food and cooking gets more ‘likes’. Food is popular! I believe this reflects our current anxiety about what we are eating. Are we keeping healthy? Are we looking after our immune systems? When the virus invades us, will we have the physical resources to survive it? Especially if you ‘suffer’ from the co-morbidly of age, your health is a matter of extra concern.

Eating less meat, more fish, more vegetables, is discussed. Getting enough sleep, enough exercise is also promoted. We are trying.

Can you add to this a concern about how our food is produced? How is it farmed? Are our meat chickens raised in cages? Do we need to drink cow’s milk? Do we need to eat veal? Should we include more vegetarian meals in our at-home cooking?

Along this line of thought, I decided I would check on the latest news about salmon farming in Scotland. Surely, in the 19 years since ‘Sewerage with your salmon, sir?’ the situation would have improved in the fiords of Scotland.

No! They have not!

Production of salmon has increased since 2001 from 127,000 tonnes to 189,000 tonnes in 2017.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-48266480

This article explains that wild salmon numbers are at their lowest levels since records began – experts talk about a ‘crisis’. Lice numbers on wild fish are at epidemic levels. Effectively, the fish gets eaten alive …. Severe injuries are found on the farmed salmon and apparently the inspectors have trouble recording this!

Marine ecologist Dr Sally Campbell says: “I think most people who choose salmon off their supermarket shelves have no idea of the waste that’s going into our marine environment as a result of that. And they would be appalled.”

Every year about 9.5 million fish die in the salmon farms, about 20% of the total.

Disease, parasites and even chemicals designed to treat them can all prove fatal.’

If you have read this far, I should apologise in bringing you this bad news when you already have enough going on.

Why worry about fish, you might ask. Do not worry – just check out the guides and buy accordingly.

https://www.mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/search

Meanwhile, I should think twice about eating our local Tasmanian farmed salmon (which has been a favourite). It’s easy to get advice on what ‘sustainable-stock’ fish I should eat. Keep away from the top predators: marlin, sailfish, tuna, farmed salmon. Keep away from fish that are caught with a huge bycatch.

I am pleased to say that the crabs and southern calamari that I used to catch on our Yorke Peninsula are deemed sustainable. In Australia they have generous bag-limits for crabs and calamari.

Now summer is approaching, I shall have to go fishing again.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Rain!

Weather front approaching

September 20. September in Adelaide is the last month of the year in which we hope to receive a reasonable amount of rain. Our mean rainfall for the first month of spring is 2 inches or 50 ml. Bear in mind that our annual rainfall is 525ml. (21 inches). Some say South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent in the world. It sure feels like that at the moment.

This year, our winter rainfall was only 60 % of the average. You can see this in the hardness of the soil when you dig. Summer lies ahead with those challenging weeks of furiously high temperatures and no rain.

Witchelina creek – long long without water.

I returned from our recent trip up north acutely aware of the devastation that the drought has had on the countryside. So I started watching the 28-day forecast of possible rain that is produced by Elders Weather – hoping for rain for the stations we had returned from. They get their rain from monsoonal troughs arriving from the north. And in the last few days, one arrived.

Witchelina, Farina and the Marree area received close to 100ml of rain (4 inches). The Flinders Ranges recieved a little less. Flood warnings were broadcast with images of swollen creeks. A godsend. Our ABC news was full of the wonder of this record downpour, as farmers rejoiced.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-19/record-rain-has-sa-outback-stations-rejoicing/12681156

So we waited in Adelaide, hoping for the meagre 20 mm (1 inch) that was forecast for last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The clouds were dark but no rain fell … a few showers passed south over Kangaroo Island. I started watering the garden again.

Today’s Bureau of Meterology radar.

Today, Sunday, the skies were full of sound and fury and once more in anticipation I examined the local radar – a narrow band of orange, red and black approached us from the west. We got some rain! Only 5ml over half an hour, but so very welcome.

Later, I walked out in the dark to set our two feral cat traps (yes, we are trapping feral cats with help from our council) and the bush seemed to be singing.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Farina – travelling to an Outback ghost town

September 13.

Farina township, established in 1876, is now 7 hours due north of Adelaide, 630 kms on good roads. You can leave home at 8am, stop for tea in Port Wakefield, a lamb pie in Port Augusta, coffee and a Quandong pie in Hawker and arrive into the ghost town around 4pm. Without speeding.

But pause. Farina was once a month’s ride away or two months if you were on a wagon. Farina, for me, stands as an example of the struggles endured by Australia’s early settlers. You cannot but admire their tenacity at the same time you acknowledge their ignorance of this country.

It would have been a harsh lesson in an unforgiving land.

On our recently trip to Witchelina Nature Reserve, 30 kms west of Farina, we travelled this route north, taking in the landscape as it changed, as the green became brown, as the trees shrunk and disappeared, as the towns became smaller, as the wedge-tailed eagles (Australia’s vultures) became more numerous lifting from the roadside off dead kangaroos. Heartbreak land. Hard to love, hard to survive.

Kanyaka Station – half way to Farina – was established in 1851. Early on, there were 41,000 sheep on the property. In 1867, 20,000 sheep died in the drought.

We did not want to be depressed. This was our keenly anticipated holiday after 6 months of being home-bound thinking of little more than family and the issues of the daily news: how many new cases of Covid-19? How were our children doing in the USA? In Australia? In South Africa?

We were escaping to look at the landscape and geologyof the Adelaide Superbasin. We would have experts: geology professors and practitioners, biologists and bird watchers in our group. We would be beyond the reaches of WiFi. No TV, no shops. We were looking forward to evening discussions, communal meals and shearers’ quarters for 8 nights.

Farina landscape

Farina lasted for many years after the dreams of wheat and barley farming faded with the rain decreasing to the normal levels of 6.5 inches a year. The town, at its maximum had 600 people: Aboriginal people, Afghan cameleers and European immigrants. Once there was water at Farina but it did not last. The town only struggled on after the 1890s due to the railway line – closed in 1980.

The empty rooms of Farina

Over the years, it has become a ruin and a tourist attraction for Outback travellers in their A-Vans and sleek Ultimate Caravans. A café is being established there with an underground bakery. Winter is the time for the Outback when the days are warm and sunny and nights cold. In summer the temperatures can reach 50 degrees.

There is something that draws us in awe to these golden stone ruins, stark in the gibber plains. No roofs remain. The walls impress all who stand before them: the massive rectangular rocks that form the lintels last the longest, holding up the doorways and chimney places. You have to admire the workmanship that went into the stonework. There is confidence in these buildings as well as a warning for the hubris of those who ignore nature.

Arriving at Witchelina Nature Reserve

Our group passed through Farina in our 4-WDs, complete with spare tyres, Air-Con, Satellite phones, 2-way radios, GPs, cameras the size of a pack of cards, binoculars and bottles of spring water. If those early settlers could have seen us what would they think?

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: staying fit without Aged Care

September 11. It’s been six months since our Australian society got into panic mode over Covid-19. At first, there was the rush to secure our food supplies. Rumours abounded. A little later, we worried about exercise. As organised sport, gyms and council programs were halted we Zoomed into gym sessions or went out and walked the parks and streets.

Over time in South Australia, we have been lucky enough to relax –  a lot. We can now play tennis, go to restaurants, cinemas, play bridge and have guests at home. We can travel within South Australia, the Northern Territory and fly to Queensland.

I have resumed attending weekly yoga lessons at our local council hub. As an older person, health has become something I worry about a little bit more than before. It’s not just issues around COVID-19, but a sense that we need to look after ourselves – after all we have co-morbidities. To this end, I decided to go extend my program by going to the Pilates class also offered at my council hub. Pilates teachers talk non-stop about the ‘core’: the weakening ‘core’ as we age! No doubt, my body is in decline. Yoga is not enough.

So, I attended my first Pilates class and I enjoyed it very much and hoped to continue. However, I was told I needed approval from My Aged Care; this Pilates class was subsidised by our Federal Government for older people to enjoy. All the other attendees looked of a similar age and fitness to myself. I felt I would fit in.

My Aged Care was introduced in July 2013 by our Federal Government. The idea is to make it easier for older people to be assessed and supported with various services. I think the plan is to keep people in their homes, as fit as possible and as long as possible, so that they do not burden the old age homes or the medical system.

I already had an Aged Care number which is readily given to people older than 65.

I mistakenly thought this would be a simple process: I would phone up and explain that I would like to attend the Pilates class (citing the need for ‘core’ strengthening!). Obviously, it would make me fitter and stronger and more able to stay in my own home for years to come, thus being less of a liability on the government. Logical.

Not so fast. The kind woman at Aged Care informed me that I would need an ‘assessment’ before they would approve me for this one hour, once a week, Pilates class.

I hoped that this could be done with a few simple questions conducted over the phone. No. An appointment was made for me for an assessment in my own home.

‘Did I have a dog?

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Please could the dog be locked up before the assessment’.

‘Sure,’ I said.

I was now in the system and I did not pull out  – also I was a little curious.

So last week, Trisha, from Aged Care, came to our house. She asked me to open the door (she did not want to touch the handle) and she made sure that we were socially distanced. I offered her tea or coffee. She said she was not allowed to have tea, coffee or even a glass of water. I told her that my almost toothless one-eyed Roy dog (desperate to greet her) was locked away. She said that the interview would take approximately one hour. I was bemused.

Trisha took out her laptop and said she had to go through the whole assessment. The questions were thorough – here are just a few of them: Did I have a social life? Friends? What did I do with my time? What kids did we have and where were they? Did we talk to them? Could I shower myself? Did I have handrails in the shower? She counted all our steps in the house. Could she see our bathroom? (That surprised me). Could I drive and shop on my own? Could I cook? What pain symptoms did I have? Did I have my own teeth? What medication did I take? Did I use pill boxes? etc ….

Forty-five minutes, later Trisha told me, apologising profusely, that she could not give me a ‘package’ because if she gave me a package someone else would not be able to have one.

‘You are fit,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry – you are not isolated.’

I lamely said I did not want a package. I just wanted to attend Pilates and was happy to pay the federal government extra part of the cost ($10). Uh-huh! No way was this possible.

Trisha left after telling me that I should be pleased that I was ‘on the system’ because if anything happened to me, they had all the data about my life!!! They sure did!

The kind of services My Aged Care offer to elderly people is impressive. I had had no idea of the range and scale of the support offered. I must say that we are lucky to live in a society that has put in place such services. But I am somewhat horrified by the bureaucracy that it involves. And its inflexibility.

Recently, I read the Economist magazine’s special feature on dementia where they reported on this looming world-wide crisis. I wonder for how long Australia can afford to support their ageing population in the Aged Care way. In 2107, 15% of our population was 65 and over. (9% in 1977). Growing steadily. People are living longer as well. Our Federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, says our ageing population is ‘an economic time bomb’.

Never fear. I can go to my Next Generation club – further away – for Pilates classes but it’s not so friendly and filled with lithe young mothers in Nike and Lululemon lycra gear. So be it. I am quite pleased that I was rejected for an Aged Care package. Obviously, I am too fit, too busy. For the moment.