Locking down with the locals, flights of fancy, and fighting it on the beaches…
Tuesday 24th March to Sunday 29th March 2020. Tuesday morning. Tomorrow we should have been flying home. Today we should be packing, saying our goodbyes. Instead I was reeling from a sleepless night that left me with no clear idea on how we were going to get home. Suddenly, the UK seemed a bloody long way.
A little before midnight I had been given a glimmer of hope. An email from Travel Trolley asked for my contact details, indicating I could expect a phone call. But it was fake news. I spent the next few hours doing some much-needed housekeeping on the folders in my laptop. Not an easy task when you’re wearing sunglasses at 3 am. Then came another email: “no options for flights remained”, effectively telling me I now had to make my own arrangements. I was not a happy roo.
Drained of all energy, I shared our plight with Elaine at 6 am. Sleep had been a stranger to her too – the consequences of being stranded was not something either of us could push to the back of our minds. Now we really were dependent on the generosity of our Aussie hosts.
Later that day, having exhausted any further avenues of help from the British Consulate, we continued to batter both internet and telephone when Virgin Australia held out hope of a same day deal with a connection at Sydney from Etihad Airways. BOOKED! Paid for on credit card (2,000 AUD)… and then the flight was immediately cancelled. Our misery was compounded even further, spending another hour on the phone to claim a refund.
Two days later, twenty-four hours before our once re-scheduled flight with Emirates, I got an email from Qantas. They apologised for cancelling the leg that Travel Trolley had successfully re-booked from Adelaide to Melbourne, but they had good news… they’d got us on a later one the same day! Whoopee. Now I had a further call to make, explaining how Melbourne airport was no longer a desirable destination if there was no onward flight to the UK. To give the girl credit, she did try to find another airline operating in our favour, and she did sympathise with our lot. She was sheltering an American couple stranded just like us.
In the meantime, Sue Mac assured us she would not be throwing us out on the street. (Not for another month anyway.) Surely something would be done between the governments? Having worked for one for thirty years, and then seen the Boris Johnson school of diplomacy at work, I had serious doubts. But I kept them to myself. There was something for me to smile about though: my glasses had been found in Peter and Ann’s car after all. Lyn phoned me with the news that they were being sent over via Sealink, and then on Wednesday morning they brought them round for me. Aren’t Aussies wonderful?
So, what’s it like being stranded in Australia during this new thing called “lockdown”?
We faced the same restrictions as everyone else. While supermarkets and petrol stations remained open, pretty much everywhere else was closed. We couldn’t go anywhere, other than to exercise. While we could buy a bottle of beer from a licensed street vendor, we couldn’t open it until we got home. Takeaway food was available, but we faced at least a twenty-minute drive before we could re-heat it in the microwave. Having said that, we could walk on an amazing beach at Normanville (Normy).
There’s certainly something to be said for being able to walk barefoot along the water’s edge for mile after mile, and only seeing a handful of people – at a discreet social distance. Finished off with a boysenberry-flavoured ice cream cone, naturally.
There were other issues to resolve as a result of being stranded abroad: Our car was sat in a car park at Manchester Airport, and we had no idea when we would be able to retrieve it, so I had to notify the company we’d booked with. Then Elaine had concerns about some medication she would run out of after another nine days. Sue Mac used her local influence and booked an appointment with her own doctor – but that would be subject to restrictions around social distancing. Apart from that, we were able to appreciate Sue’s two-acre sun-filled garden from the shelter of her porch.
On Saturday morning Elaine checked her phone and found an update from the UK government, advising British Nationals abroad to register their details with the British Consulate – something we had not been allowed to do on Tuesday. The invitation was intended for staff to compile personal details of every person stuck overseas, so that arrangements could be made for repatriation. News that Boris had now caught the virus failed to put us off – we still needed to get back somehow.
That simple action felt like a turning point. Our names were on a list somewhere out there. Let someone else take the strain!
Australia was moving toward Autumn, but it was happening gently. While the UK prepared for Spring weather by putting their clocks forward an hour that night, we found there was another week to go here – and that meant seven more official days of Summer. After a brief fall of rain overnight, Sunday afternoon brought warm sunshine on our shoulders, and we were back at the Cape to join Linc and Lyn for a walk on the beach.
Bearing in mind this is Linc’s idea of a walk (see Day Nineteen), we were not heading for Normy this time. Instead, he drove the Jackaroo in 4x4 mode down a cliff face to a place called Morgan’s Beach – a smaller stretch of sand, but very picturesque, and popular with the locals.
Compared to Normy, three sets of visitors enjoying the local ambience (each with their cars) almost made the place look crowded. It is a fine beach, surrounded by steep cliffs and ancient rocks similar to those we saw on Granite Island. As we neared the far end, Linc struck up a conversation with a guy fishing with two rods and lines. His partner, a girl of Asian origin, was sat nearby reading. Then we spotted a brightly coloured object being washed up at the shoreline.
“That’s a puffer fish,” said Linc. “Be careful. They’re extremely poisonous.” I kept my distance – but the Asian girl suddenly jumped up and ran towards it. That caused her partner to shout a warning, and she backed off after taking a photo on her phone. The guy turned to us and dropped his voice. “I have to watch her. Her kind will eat anything. They like any part of the fish – head, eyeballs, the lot!”
The afternoon continued with a close-up inspection of the nearby wind farm, providing another perspective of the dramatic northern coastline, and of Fisheries Beach to the south. The latter was once used to offload silver and lead ore from the Talisker Mine, but is now a protected area for wildlife around the point where the electricity cable goes under the sea to Kangaroo Island.
Scott Morrison (Australia’s PM) appeared on the TV that night, updating the nation (and guests) on the battle against the virus. He answered some tough questions from the media, giving heartfelt answers in a patient and straightforward manner. Could that ever happen in the UK?
We can only dream.
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