Australians cowed by Covid ‘beast’ into more lockdowns, borders closed to tourism till next year & a ‘stop infections at all costs’ attitude. There’s no sign of the legendary Aussie spirit among leaders of a once proud nation.
It used to be that the ‘Aussie battler’ was a cherished ideal among my fellow countrymen and was typified by a rugged, determined, individualistic streak that refused to give in and, even when facing overwhelming odds, fought against them with confidence and no small amount of humour.
What has happened?
When I was taught Australian history at school, pioneers, fortune-seekers and adventurers figured large and none more so than the doomed pair Robert O’Hara Burke and William Wills, the first explorers to cross our island continent from north to south before dying of starvation and beri-beri alone at their supply camp at Cooper’s Creek. They never gave up and paid the ultimate price.
Celebrated in song, literature and art, the iconic duo, despite their tragic end, represented all the good things about the Australian character. No longer.
In looking to define what it means to be an Aussie in the time of coronavirus, we’d probably pick another icon: the timid, shy, wide-eyed pygmy possum. A shivering bundle of fluff and fright as big as your thumb that resides somewhere towards the bottom of the food chain, preyed upon by pretty much every other carnivore in the country.
Not surprisingly, they are on the critically endangered list. As is the once cherished Australian national character, thanks to a shrieking hysteria that seems to have overwhelmed the political leadership of the country during the pandemic.
Having all but sealed the international borders until mid-2022, Oz reached a new high, or low, this week when Victoria, the most densely populated state, had a seven-day snap lockdown extended to a fortnight using the logic of one lockdown to prevent another lockdown, after alarm bells were raised when two people tested positive (later proven false positives) for the virus. Currently, there are 70 active cases of Covid in Victoria.
Common sense went out the window. The state premier took refuge behind public health officials, just like everywhere else, citing a pressing need to crush a variant of the virus before it took hold.
Melbourne’s four million residents were told to stay indoors for another week. The fourth lockdown for my home state, for a weary population that had already endured more than 100 gruelling days of enforced isolation over summer.
The latest move is cruel, cowardly and downright stupid. But you won’t convince the politicians that they need to try some leadership, because they are cowering in fear from what they have come to fearfully refer to as “a beast,” despite the fact that just 910 people in a population of 25 million have died from Covid-19, with just one single death – that of a returning traveller – in the last six months.
Right now, Australia’s more than 7,000 critical-care beds remain empty and just 17 people nationwide are lying in hospitals suffering from Covid infection. Yet still, the leaders are ramping up the fear.
Victoria’s acting leader, James Merlino (Premier Daniel Andrews is recovering from a serious fall) is not alone in acting like a pygmy possum. In South Australia, Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier became a joke figure after suggesting spectators at this weekend’s round of Australian Rules football matches should duck to avoid the ball should it stray across the boundary fence. And in Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk raised the idea of a fervent regionalism when she declared the state’s hospitals were “for our people.”
This meant that a seriously ill woman pregnant with twins who lived in New South Wales was denied urgent medical treatment by her nearest hospital because it lay across the state border in Queensland. She lost one of her unborn babies thanks to political grandstanding.
Only the politicians of Sydney, the New South Wales capital, have come out of this with any sort of credit seemingly determined to live with the disease and a staunch refusal to panic. Now that’s the Aussie spirit!
Because elsewhere, it really does appear that crushing Covid-19 infection is the only thing that matters, despite the numbers of people who are vaccinated or even if anyone is even sick. The feeling seems to be that infections, even those which are asymptomatic, among young people or the vaccinated, must be prevented.
No matter what the terrible toll of this approach means for the mental health of people, for the education of children, the jobs of thousands or the economic health of the state. It is a complete surrender to fear that shames a once fearless nation.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not the greatest of US presidents but his declaration “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance,” resonates across the years about the pygmy possum political leaders of Australia. That’s where the nation is at this point. Prevented from advancing Australian fair by the paralysis of fear.
Watching the Australian Olympic team arrive in Tokyo this week, athletes were leaving the bus wearing face masks and waving cheerily to onlookers, with around 50 days still remaining before the opening ceremony. I wondered why they arrived so early and what they had to be so happy about.
But looking at the shambles they have left behind, although Japan is in the middle of its own Covid problems, it occurred to me that they were clearly just glad to have escaped the great LockDown Under.
Hopefully their performances on the world stage will restore some national pride and some sorely needed confidence for my corona-weary compatriots.