As Victoria’s situation continues to deteriorate into a state of disaster, offering the rest of us a troubling glimpse of what a second wave might look like, the dream of Australian Exceptionalism would appear to be evaporating faster than an exhalation of airborne droplets in a maskless front bar.
For a while there it looked like the mix of geographical isolation, swift state government action and wishful thinking was going to make us the smug outlier in a world where many of the nations from which we traditionally take our cues seemed locked in a winner-takes-nothing race to have their populace needlessly die.
However, now Australia has to face the reality that maybe, just maybe, a highly contagious and cure-free disease spread by social contact would be tricky to get under control – especially since said virus is proving frustratingly disobedient when it comes to crossing suburb, district and state boundaries.
South Australia has been resolute in keeping our borders shut to Victoria and NSW and all the signs point to that being maintained for the foreseeable future as the eastern states enter into a battle of virus versus complacency. So hopefully someone is writing a romance novel and/or country song about thwarted romantics of Bordertown and Kaniva, gazing helplessly through a police checkpoint at the ghost of a love that can never be – or, at least, not without a period of quarantine.
But look, South Australia: we can stop the smug “Well, haven’t we done better than Victoria!” rhetoric because the next local wave of infections is a matter of when, not if. I’ve been out in our supermarkets and libraries and depressing suburban shopping centres and I can report that no-one is wearing masks or even maintaining social distance with any consistency, so unless we’re being rendered immune by some arcane power of our time zone it’s pure dumb luck that we weren’t the first to get a new outbreak, and at some point that good fortune is going to run out.
And here’s the grim reality, team: it doesn’t even matter if we maintain South Australia as a COVID-free oasis where our faces can cavort lewd and maskless, because we’re dependent upon the other states for everything from trade to tourism to competent AFL teams to play against Port Adelaide, and can’t relax until they’ve all got a clean bill of health.
And similarly, it’ll be great if Australia bashes the curve down into a straight line – but since we’re reliant on the rest of the world either buying the stuff we have or selling us the stuff we don’t, we’re going to be on tenterhooks until we get a successful vaccine or the bats finally apologise and give us the antidote.
Despite all this, you’re probably getting all sorts of emails from airlines letting you know that they’re gearing up to take to the skies again, at some point, mainly inside Australia, please dear god book a trip, come on, we dare you just buy a plane ticket you bastards.
But if you’re hoping that the multiple daily flights and low, low prices are going to return to Adelaide, then we have some potentially disquieting news: when travel returns in any non-interrupted form, those tickets are going to be a lot more pricey. We’re in for a future of limited destinations and reduced numbers. Those last-minute $40 Tiger flight to Melbourne weekends are going to be the stuff of legend, or at least boring family anecdotes, along with tales of long-ago rituals like mosh pits at gigs, dancing in nightclubs, and binge drinking at the Melbourne Cup.
But it’s not just Adelaideans getting out that is a problem: getting audiences to our neck of the woods is going be even trickier for any tourism operator or event promoter who hasn’t already given up and changed to making artisanal sanitiser. Even if Adelaide maintains our magic disease-free status and we can start doing the sorts of shows that the rest of the nation dreams of, interstate audiences aren’t going to be able to swing by.
So here’s my suggestion: let’s event like no-one is watching. Adelaide, let’s get weird.
Tasmania has successfully channelled their inner demons into compelling events with Dark Mofo, and now it’s time Adelaide took that same spirit and tapped into the weird underbelly of this peculiar town.
Let’s hide frog cakes in hard-to-access places in a citywide Festival of the Smell of Turning Cream, or make this year’s SALA all about the hidden art of fritz sculpture. I don’t know exactly how one might arrange a race to finally determine which is faster, Popeye or the Pichi Richi Railway, but now is the time to find out – and if that means somehow diverting the Torrens to Quorn, just think of the jobs it will create!
Hell, Iceland is letting people scream out their lockdown frustrations and have their recordings blasted over fjords and glaciers – I’m sure plenty of South Australians would be willing to scream international anger out over, say, the Flinders Ranges for five bucks a throw. You know, accumulate a few dozen screams at a time, pack a lunch, head north, make a nice afternoon of it.
We might as well do something unexpected while we’re all kicking around here, because none of us is going anywhere anytime soon.
As of Monday 3 August there have been a total of 455 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Australia, with eight active cases in the state and 250,000 tests undertaken. Readers are advised to consult SA Health’s website for the latest information.
Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).
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