A Roaming Eye

By Bruce Menzies

I lie awake, watching the morning light seep through the drawn blinds. Outside, the street is silent. Soon there will be the sound of footsteps as hardy locals head down for an early morning dip. Now and then a car passes. Some people are still working, keeping to their timetable to avoid the rush hour. I wonder whether there is still such a thing as a rush-hour. Does the freeway still jam up or has traffic flow subsided, along with everything else in Corona-time?

Here in South Fremantle everything has changed – and yet nothing has changed. We bask in the privilege that our locality bestows. Peaceful streets, laneways and cul-de-sacs, renovated limestone cottages, larger houses revealing architectural flair, rows of townhouses, modern apartments and kerbside gardens. Sanctuaries like Parmelia Park and South Beach within walking distance. And South Terrace, with all its commercial eccentricities, not the least of which are the coffee shops, mercifully still open for takeaway caffeine and patisseries.

Yes, we can continue to bask in that privilege. Yet, of course, it is a Brave New World to which we awaken each day. A tiny virus has turned us upside down – both locally and globally. In our own way, we are all coming to terms with this strange and sudden upheaval.

Roaming the neighbourhood carries a fresh flavour. With gyms and yoga studios closed, more people seem to be walking. We exchange wry smiles as we pass, fully aware that one and a half metres is a tad wider than the average footpath. As well as walking, people are talking. Yesterday, a young man in Chester Street chatting over the fence with an elderly lady standing some distance away. No need to exchange names. A friendly word here and there, especially with those living alone.

Music can be a blessing and a balm. Operatic sounds drift across the rooftops. Somebody on Lefroy likes Verdi. Outside the Third Wheel, a busker brightens the day. Coffee-huggers stand at discreet distances, sharing the gossips of the morning.

We park at South Beach. For some unfathomable reason, there always seem to be more cars than people. Not so many vans, though. Perhaps the backpackers migrated to Broome before the borders closed. Adjacent to the café, the regular swimming group recap their daily ocean progress. Conversation seems to swirl around how many metres each have accomplished. Like other conversations, in the park, and on the beach, participants keep their distance. Awareness levels have certainly risen – not perfect, if the letter of the law was to be observed, but seemingly safe and sensible.

Not everyone is as accommodating. We make way for a lumpkin who trudges down the centre of the track to the beach. ‘I don’t buy that,’ he grunts, as my wife indicates she is trying to maintain due separation.

Thankfully, this attitude is not shared by most beachgoers. Physical distancing is accepted and maintained. Our greatest fear is that beaches will be closed and though we don’t want to become policemen and policewomen, some of us feel obliged to remind stray transgressors of their community responsibility. Unlike northern beaches, we have not yet seen a sustained uniformed presence, let alone a drone circling above. But we know that day may still come.

This morning there are more people about. And why not? Glorious early autumn sunshine, a faint breeze and every cell in the body demanding a stint outdoors. Swimming, gardening, walking or simply sitting quietly under a tree. Perfect weather, 10 out of 10.

Naturally, our South Terrace social habitat is an altered state. Normally, a Friday would bring hordes of people to the cafés, as the parking places in adjacent streets quickly filled up. Everyone seated, elbow-to-elbow, yarning and laughing as friends and families caught up with one another – a prelude to the weekend when numbers would double. Now, that is no more. It’s a takeaway world – a world without tables and chairs and the physical closeness that has defined us – the children of the caffeine cultural evolution. We have had to adjust – and will continue to adjust, as winter approaches.

Leaving economics aside (if that’s possible), there’s an invitation to seek out the positives. My guess is that people will find ways to help themselves and to help others. Hopefully, this may inculcate a wider and deeper sense of community. We in Fremantle can succumb to self-praise – that we are sharing, caring mob. This can be a trap, if not reflected in how we actually behave. Now, in Corona-time, we are given a wonderful opportunity to practice what we might have preached. We can do this, everyone, in ways great and small. For every curmudgeon who wants to incessantly grumble about restrictions, blame the government, or abdicate any personal responsibility – there are a hundred good souls willing to take a deep breath and embrace this bizarre period as an offering to grow and to learn. Inherently, that is a positive thing.

Whether I am sitting in my eyrie penning these words or enjoying appropriate outdoor exercise, I’m aware that none of us is truly alone. There is an inter-connectivity that binds us as humans and to our environment. Going about our normal, daily lives, we can forget that. Our very busy-ness can consume us. But now, in Corona-time, that rug has come out from underneath. We are being tested in a different way. Let’s hope the better angels of our nature will dance and sing and deepen our connections as the days, weeks and months unfold.