Many of life’s pleasures found close to home but not human comforts

This article is part of a series by Melbourne writers reflecting on the lessons learnt from life in lockdown.

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The COVID outbreak of 2020 has served to remind me that my geographical world is small. While in lockdown and through the portals of digital technology, I was able to visit, ‘virtually’ at least, with my eldest daughter in London and witness the growth of her ‘baby bump’. She is due to give birth on December 1 and I would like to have travelled and been with her.

My grandchildren live much closer to me, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Until recently, I hadn’t seen them for several months, although we had met regularly on Facetime, with limited success, as two-year-old, Archie, developed a habit of grabbing the mobile phone from his older sister, Isabel, and throwing it across the loungeroom.

Lockdown has led to Tony Birch spending more time in nature. He is pictured here on the banks of the Yarra, near Dights Falls.Credit:Justin McManus

As did many people, I discovered the zoom meeting. I gave talks on climate justice from Minneapolis to Melton and was a regular guest at book clubs across the country. Ironically,
while in isolation, I met more people than I would otherwise have had contact with.

My personal experience of lockdown was quite different. With the last of my five children moving out of home in late June, my partner and I had the house to ourselves for the first time in 37 years. Stuck within a five-kilometre radius of my home for several months, my running and walking in nearby streets and parks remained a solitary experience, which is just the way I like it.

I have lived most of my life in inner Melbourne and know the streets and back lanes intimately. I have written about them, photographed them and contemplated life while walking them. While many Melburnians lamented that they were unable to visit the beach, the Dandenong Ranges or the Mornington Peninsula, I came to realise that my places of desire fit snugly into the inner ‘ring of steel’ surrounding my home.

My regular walks along the banks of the Birrarung (Yarra) River did not change. Nor did my running mornings at Princes or Royal Park. On other days, with my camera in one pocket, a notebook and pen in the other, and my dog, Kes, at my side, I walked the streets taking photographs and scribbling ideas for a possible short story or novel.

Mum and I were unable to console each other with a loving hug. It was  a painful experience.

The one person I continued to visit regularly was my mother, who is in Collingwood. Ensuring that I respected her health, we talked to each week over the front fence like a pair of masked bandits. During these socially distanced catch ups, I quickly realised how much I missed the tenderness of her warm body, her touch that I’ve savoured throughout my life.

This absence, an acute loss, became starkly evident earlier in the year, on the first anniversary of the death of my younger brother. Mum and I were unable to console each other with a loving hug. It was a painful experience.

As we find our feet of freedom again, I will reflect on the possibility of new adventures. I do sometimes wonder what life is like on ‘Southside’, as my hipster daughters refer to Melbourne’s southern suburbs. I admit to being genuinely curious, but nothing more, as I will be busy continuing to discover my place.

Tony Birch is an Indigenous Australian author, academic and activist.

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