Having spent the better part of a year in deep freeze—with some five million people forced to live, work and socialise under state-sanctioned house arrest—Melbourne is finally coming out of one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns. Amid the brave new world of face masks, hand sanitizers and mandatory social distancing, the city is slowly creeping back to some semblance of its former self.
And yet 21 days after the city officially reopened, we're still not quite seeing the pre-COVID Melbourne that people used to know and love. The masks, sanitizers and social distancing are unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon. But as Melburnians emerge into this new “COVID-normal”, we asked them: what else has changed?
Dan, 46, Musician
VICE: Hey Dan, how has 2020 changed you?
Dan: I think it’s appreciating the small things; it brings a certain focus and clarity into your life. You do realise how much we take for granted, like being able to sit down somewhere with coffee or meeting up with friends.
I’m a pretty solitary person so I kind of got through okay. I think what it does is bring into sharp focus your strengths and weaknesses, and for me I was able to rely on my independence. But it hasn’t been easy for anyone, and I think it’s more the mental existential threat that’s been the hardest thing for people.
Have you gotten into any new hobbies during lockdown?
Just more of what I love: a bit more time for reading, and I’m a drummer by trade so I spent some time practicing. No new hobbies, though; I’m too old for new hobbies.
Ash, 21, Retail Assistant / Student
Hey Ash, what about you? How has 2020 changed you?
I used to be so sure of myself. This year has taught me the world has so much uncertainty, and that there’s no need to be certain. It’s okay to be more open minded and flexible.
Did you take up any new activities in lockdown?
I’ve always wanted to play the cello, and I just never found the right opportunity, but this year I rented one and I’m still learning. It’s been really nice to pick up something I’ve always wanted to do.
Prashadi, 35, Cafe Manager
Hi Prashadi, what have you been up to in lockdown?
I recently had a baby!
Thank you! I got back to work when she was only three months old, so I didn’t mind a break. I did spend time with her; pretty much family time in lockdown.
Any major lessons learned this year?
Well I learned how important family and the house is. For so many years I don’t think I even had a month of holidays; I was just working, working, working. This [time off] was good, actually—well it wasn’t good, but I didn’t mind it.
How was starting motherhood in lockdown?
It was stressful to be with her everyday 24-7, because my partner’s working full-time even in lockdown. But I enjoyed it.
Did you get into any new activities on top of that?
I did, actually. I started refurbishing furniture, which I never thought I could do. Even now, I’m just doing four days and putting my spare time into it. Basically bedside tables, dressers and stuff. I sold them on an online marketplace and people bought it, surprisingly. It’s just for fun, but I love it.
Madi, 25, Retail and Events
Hello Madi. How do you think 2020 has changed you?
I feel more hyper-aware of everything, and gratitude for everything we had prior to lockdown… and a bit of imposter syndrome. This lockdown made me think about who I am, what I’m doing, why we’re here, and the whole journey.
I just feel like I’ve been made aware of everything around me and feeling very… not who I was before lockdown. So I feel a bit different at the moment, and I think it’s just me getting used to being back doing normal things. I feel like I’m looking at my life from the outside—like someone else is sitting here watching me.
So who were you before lockdown?
I just probably didn’t think about a lot of things that I’ve been thinking about in lockdown. Just not as aware and living life really easily and very fast-paced without a chance to think. Lockdown really made me sit and think a lot. A lot.
How does it feel to be back in retail?
Weird; it’s like I never left. But it’s also weird seeing everyone in shopping centres. It’s still really quiet in the city, but it’s been an adjustment. On my first day I was like “Wait, I forgot how to do certain things”, but then I’m like “Oh wait, no, I know how to do that”. Overall, I just feel good to be doing something.
Matt, 34, Store Manager
How do you think 2020 has changed you?
It’s kind of made me realise that you can’t always plan everything, and sometimes you have to adjust to what’s happening. I got engaged to my partner in February this year, but then COVID happened, and a lot of friends are in the same boat so we had to reschedule.
It kind of shifts your priorities in life as well. I think a lot of people, over the last few months, have realigned their priorities in their life and I think a big focus on people’s health and wellbeing is a good thing. There’s a lot of insecurities in people these days—job insecurity and things like that—but you gotta go with it and see what you can do if anything arises that way. I guess that’s changed me a little bit.
Compared to who you were before the pandemic, what’s different?
Paying attention to people close around you, and making sure they’re okay… and trying not to focus on things around the world that may affect your mental health. There are lots of things that go on outside of what’s been going on for the last six to eight months, and everything on top of it can be a little overwhelming.
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