For 86 years Melbourne has been my familiar ‘home base’. When a Qantas flight plays ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ I think ‘Melbourne’.
If you had asked me on New Year’s Day 2019, I might have said, ‘This place is predictable. I could parachute into the inner city, the north, the west, the east or any of the bay beaches, know my way around, and tell you many stories’.
Something has shifted. The ground has shaken under us, and not only because of an earthquake in Mansfield. I’ve had email messages from several continents, ‘We saw Melbourne on the news. Are you OK?’
A week or so ago, the news clips were showing the deserted heart of Melbourne, the lonely strip of closed emporiums, the locked-up coffee shops with chairs stacked on empty tables.
The world knows what happened next.
The streets were no longer deserted, protester had defied the bans and surged into town from inner suburbs so familiar to me: Richmond; Fitzroy; Flemington; Collingwood. Views from a helicopter show major streets milling with protesters. They surge this way and that while lines of police, shoulder to shoulder in full riot gear, carrying weapons, advance towards them. The police arrest a few and block the rest, forcing them to retreat and change direction. This does not deter the protesters. It is as if any place will do, the aim is to occupy the city. My staid, predictable Melbourne! Emotions are overflowing.
Close-up there are scenes of anger and violence. The crowds block the West Gate Freeway and the Shrine of Remembrance. Media reports give the impression that the city streets teem with riots which cannot be contained.
Through the power of modern technology in quiet lockdown in Abbotsford, I know of happenings in the city of Melbourne and happenings around the world.
Planet earth is home too.
Yesterday was a typical day.
A phone call from far away. Do I know who in Melbourne could reliably help a newly arrived Afghan refugee family? Yes. I can help with that. Then comes an encrypted call with a friend who speaks for justice and equity in a land where such speech is criminal. Simple conversation. ‘Safe for the moment’.
Totally from left field comes a call from the leader of Catholic Social Services. It is about the imminent Australian Plenary Council, a major attempt for reform and renewal in the Catholic Church. It will be watched worldwide. CSS leaders believe that as well as attending to greater transparency and inclusion within Catholic Church leadership, the Plenary needs to look outwards to the suffering, violence, fear and insecurity in our world. The Gospel message is of love, of respect for all of creation in the web of life on our fragile planet. There is a virtual community of potentially 400 CSS leaders. Could I be part of a three-person team bringing this community together in early morning meditation at the cusp of the Plenary? Yes, Social solidarity.
Lockdown is like this. From the immense to the miniscule. I consider my small home with its tiny garden. Through the front window and the glass front door I can watch spring flowers opening and the locals ‘out for a walk’. Our small apartment block is nestled among worker’s houses of a century ago, with their low front fences where ‘locals’ have waved to watchers-on-the-veranda. I have ‘regulars’ who wave until they catch my attention: a beautifully groomed young woman who points with delight to any blue bell or cyclamen newly bloomed; a couple of blokes as old as I am waving both arms and maybe walking sticks. Social closeness.
Daily, for my permitted ‘leave home for exercise’, I walk along the nearby Yarra River. This is total delight. The riverside track runs between the Yarra, the ancient Birr rung Marr, river of mists, and the brick retaining walls, the foundation for factories once strung out along the river. The walls are painted with street art renewed almost every night, so it seems. I sense that it is changing, more urgent, more emotional, more liberal application of gold paint. ‘Love Ya’ messages. Yesterday a sign on a post. ‘Together soon enough’.
We hold on to hope.