An Irishman in Tasmania: Covid has killed off the laid-back Aussie

The stereotype has been shelved. Australians panic-shopped with the best of them

Summer has arrived here in Tasmania. It's not as hot as mainland Australia but it's hot enough all the same. This one-time Irish man has always been averse to the Australian summer sun. As always, tinsel and Christmas decorations look a tad incongruous under the blazing sun. But there's a buzz around the shops and there's a palpable sense of urgency on the main street of our nearby town. It's not quite a frenzy yet but there's an added edge as people set about getting organised for the big day.

The days are lengthening as we approach summer solstice and the nights are generally balmy and everything is running riot in the garden. La Niña has brought above average rain recently to southeast of the continent and the fields around here that are usually beginning to brown are still flush with abundant feed for livestock and the ubiquitous nocturnal marsupials.

Perhaps my revised expectations are a consequence of living in this pandemic without any apparent end date in sight

Elsewhere in Australia, La Niña has wreaked havoc in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Entire townships are under water. Hundreds of acres of crops have been destroyed, heartbreakingly on the eve of harvesting. Farming in Australia can be a hellish affair with droughts and floods and the punishing effects of climate change.

After three score and more decades Down Under, Christmas has taken this migrant by surprise this year, and it’s a pleasant surprise. I no longer for any hankering for colder climes. I am certainly not dreaming of a white Christmas. Perhaps I have finally jumped the shark or slipped the leash. We’ll be having a quiet Christmas this year, and with a vegan in our family, the fare will likely steer well clear of the traditional Irish trappings. The prospect of this pared-down affair doesn’t bother me at all. Perhaps my revised expectations are a consequence of living in this pandemic without any apparent end date in sight.

Like so many countries across the globe, Australia, despite its prolonged lockdowns and bans on international travel, looks no closer to seeing life return to normal. Many businesses, especially in hospitality, have folded. Government stimulus packages have long since dried up. Various states and territories have thrown all sorts of restrictive measures at Covid, and yet here we are with Omicron already brazenly announcing its arrival in venues all over this vast continent.

If one thing Covid has succeeded in doing is disproving the tired old stereotype of the laid-back laconic Aussie. The “she’ll be right mate” has been quietly shelved. Whenever lockdowns have been announced, we have shown we can hold our own against anyone when it comes to panic shopping and stockpiling of essential items.

Long after the tinsel and Christmas decorations have been stashed away, I suspect we will be being urged to social distance, to have our masks at the ready and to get vaccinated

Almost all of Australia's major cities have witnessed fractious street protests with police having to resort to heavy-handed measures to prevent riots. Anti-vaxxers have garnered widespread media attention. In Melbourne a gallows with an effigy of the state's premier Dan Andrews was towed through the streets. Death threats have been made towards politicians and health bureaucrats. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested and dozens of police injured at anti-lockdown protests.

Vaccine mandates remain an extremely divisive issue. Social media is awash with all sorts of misinformation and nonsense. A surprising number of people, of all political persuasions, believe that our government have introduced Covid restrictions simply to track people’s movements and to curtail individuals’ freedoms.

It remains to be seen what impact Omicron will have on the Australian economy, and what toll it will exact on the unvaccinated in our midst. What seems indisputable is that Covid will be around for quite some time to come. Long after the tinsel and Christmas decorations have been stashed away, I suspect we will be being urged to social distance, to have our masks at the ready and to get vaccinated.

I will do well to stay bunkered down here in Tasmania, at least for the foreseeable future. This is our new normal, with no end in sight.

Come Christmas, perhaps, for old time’s sake, I may even dig out The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York. But then again, perhaps not.

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