At 11:59PM on Tuesday, October 27, the Australian city of Melbourne emerged from one of the longest coronavirus lockdowns in the world. A 112-day shutdown of businesses, public gatherings and freedom of movement first came into effect nearly four months ago, in June, as a second wave of COVID-19 rippled across the state of Victoria.
Bars, restaurants and shop fronts were shuttered; citizens were forced to limit their social interactions to a handful of people within a five kilometre radius; and, at the peak of the lockdown, curfews were imposed to prohibit Melburnians from leaving their homes between the hours of 8PM and 5AM.
But on Sunday, Melbourne was finally given the green light to reopen. Premier Daniel Andrews announced over the weekend that, as of 11:59PM on Tuesday, people would be allowed to freely leave their homes without a valid reason and all retail stores, restaurants, cafes and bars would be allowed to reopen with groups of up to 10 patrons indoors.
After 16 weeks under effective house arrest, many were counting down the hours.
“It definitely felt like people were there to celebrate,” says photographer Ray Rolla, who took to the streets of Melbourne to capture the locals as they took their first few breaths of a lockdown-free city. “Celebrating having that moment to be amongst people—it just felt relaxed and like things had returned to some kind of normality. Everyone was just generally happy.”
Ray ventured to the heart of Melbourne city on Tuesday night to check out the small handful of venues that opened their doors on the strike of midnight—where people had flocked in suits and sequin dresses to celebrate their newfound freedom.
“Everyone was saying that it feels strange, but they were all super stoked,” Ray says. “There was only one hour of power, so there probably wasn’t enough time for people to get super rowdy and go nuts. But I have no doubt that if things open from 6PM until 1AM there’d be a lot of heads in the gutter.
“There were definitely some big drink orders,” he adds. “But it was basically just people having a good time.”
As it stands, residents of metropolitan Melbourne are still legally confined to within a 25-kilometre radius of their homes until November 8, at which point they’ll be allowed to travel statewide. Home visits are also currently limited to no more than two visitors from two different households, once per day.
The state’s borders remain closed to most residents—with exceptions given to some in border communities—until further notice.
All photos by Ray Rolla. Follow him on Instagram