Alexandria skies

A smoke-filled, hazy, pink-orange sky during Australia's 2019-20 bushfire crisis. Stock photo.

Sydney writer, producer and director Sunny Grace on how Covid-19 has affected her, her neighbourhood and society at large, in this thought-provoking piece.

2020 started with an orange haze and the smell of the world burning. I seem to have spent more time this year looking at the sky than when I was a young girl living in the country watching for fairies, dragons and shooting stars. There is a rose wash across the clouds tonight.

This pink sky and I have become well acquainted during Covid-19 lockdown in Alexandria. When Covid hit and we were ordered into isolation, I made plans to use this time to achieve all those tasks I had put aside. Like everyone I saw on social media with their posts of cleaning out every cupboard, baking bread, completing novels. 

However, I found myself completely unmotivated, stuck in bed binge-watching TV series and staring out the window. At first, I thought it was the writer’s curse:  procrastination. But I usually clean when I procrastinate. And the house was a mess. I had joined my teenage sons in their messiness; the idea of looking for objects that ‘spark joy’ depressed me. 

Four weeks into lockdown I started to experience some pain in my abdomen. Hospital was the last place I wanted to go during a pandemic, so I might have put it off a bit too long. Seems I wasn’t alone – or I was alone, depending on how you look at it. At 3am when the pain was too much, I woke my husband and we drove to the Emergency Department at RPA to find it unusually empty. Not one single other patient. 

RPA Hospital, Camperdown. File photo.

I went straight through to the observation room and was given some pain relief. Eight hours later, I was in the operating theatre having emergency surgery for an infection of the fallopian tube. Very rare, apparently, and hard to detect, so I was lucky. 

In my pain relief haze, I asked the doctors and nurses how different it had been in the hospital due to pandemic. They replied that it was quiet because only people who really needed to be there were turning up. People were staying away. Except for women giving birth of course. 

I was there for four nights and felt very lucky to live in a country with such a good and free health system as I lay in my ward reading the horror stories coming out of New York due to Covid. 

My only complaint was having to wait a whole day to get the all clear from the gynaecologist to go home because she so busy delivering babies that day. That’s the thing about hospital, they deal with birth, death and everything in between. 

Upon my return home, I was confined to my bed for two weeks. I returned to staring out the window. My house is on the edge of Redfern. One perspective from my window is a canopy of trees, where you can hardly tell you are in the city. Birds swan in and out. The other view is of the social housing towers of Redfern. The socioeconomic disparity in my suburb is fascinating to me. Multimillion dollar houses beside housing commission. 

Housing commission towers in Redfern. Photo: theconversation.com.au.

This was never more evident than at the start of lockdown when the panic buying began. The Alexandria Woolworths around the corner is frequented by the new residents with money. Its shelves were bare almost immediately. Customers furtively avoided eye contact as they tried to smuggle extra cans of tuna into their trolleys.

Yet up on Regent St, at the local butcher and IGA, the regulars queued calmly and politely as they always do. Many of them don’t have the cash to panic buy. They carried on life as normal, waiting for the butcher’s homemade sausages. The butcher who knows everyone’s name. Yet it wasn’t long before the rest of the suburb heard about these shops; places they would never normally set foot in. And before long, the shelves of the IGA began to empty too. 

Despite the early days of panic, there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie in the street as neighbours offered to help each other with supplies. Veggie gardens began to pop up in yards across the suburb. We all checked in on the elderly in the street. Covid dogs greeted each other during furtive essential trips to the park. 

After the charred air of the terrible fires of summer, the world seemed cleaner somehow despite the invisible virus possibly spreading amongst us. What I noticed most was the quiet. Less sirens, less trucks, less cars. More birds. A tawny mouth owl took up residence in our tree and a baby kookaburra frequented the garden. The stars shone more brightly in the city sky.  

Time has been a joker this year. Slipping and slowing, tripping and hastening, and now here we are, springtime already. I hope we don’t get back to being too busy. I hope we can keep some kind of balance when this is over. In honour of those who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic to save lives and for those who have lost their lives.  

I hope we all remember to watch the sky turn pink in the afternoon. 

Oh dear! Perhaps I wrote too soon … a gust of wind with a hint of smoke just wafted through the window. And just like that, I am reminded that another fire season is upon us. 

I guess one thing is sure in the new world order – face masks are here to stay. 

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