Tuross Head on the south coast. Photo: Brad McLean
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has described holidaying Canberrans self-isolating at the south coast as “extraordinarily selfish” because of the risk of spreading the virus and a lack of resources there. Columnist  ROBERT MACKLIN, writing from Tuross, begs to differ.

THIS wretched plague has suddenly turned all sorts of normal behaviour into moral questions, and most derive from a simple measurement of distance. 

Robert Macklin.

By now, we’re all familiar with the rule about staying a metre and a half from each other, but for some people it seems almost impossible to change their ways.

Not this kid. As a septuagenarian with COPD (a euphemism for emphysema) I’m very aware that COVID-19 is a death sentence. So I have no problem managing my compulsory exercise, of two substantial walks a day, and the rest indoors at the computer writing my next book. Indeed, I don’t mind appearing quite rude when folk venture too close and there’s nowhere to turn. “Stand back!” I cry, or freeze them with a wild-eyed look.

It’s a matter of distance. My wife Wendy and I live half our life in Canberra, where we have a big extended family, the other half in Tuross at the beach house. But the new book, a fascinating slice of recent Australian history implicit in a biography of a very remarkable bloke, has kept us in Tuross because by chance, that’s where my subject lives.

But I’m totally aware that there are no ICU facilities down here. The nearest is in Canberra and by the time we contract the plague, chances are that Canberra Hospital will be overrun. Happily, Wendy is as healthy as a heifer, but I’d never get through the triage net.

So, here we stay and now that I’ve finally cracked the code to get a Woolworth’s delivery, the odds against our getting infected have improved a bit. 

There were one or two little bumps in the road. The first delivery contained a quarter of a watermelon plus another whole melon you could hardly jump over. Happily, Wendy was able to improve neighbour relations with half each to the nice bloke next door and the other fellow down the street who, in more feisty days I’d offended in a dispute about his trees and my view. All forgiven now.

But when there’s a sudden flare-up from ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and the south coast mayors about Canberra folk retreating to their beach houses, the moral question becomes a dilemma. 

In the last few years, hundreds of Canberrans have invested in the south coast and made it their home-away-from-home, sometimes for holidays but often working in both places as the seasons and the employment opportunities permit. 

This is particularly true of the semi-retired, who, despite the second-rate medical services, try to live a healthy life with more exercise than ever before. In many ways it’s an extended suburb of the national capital, as indeed the original planners conceived Jervis Bay. So, of course that is their right. 

It’s equally understandable that they now fear an influx of holiday makers. And while the local rental agencies at Tuross have “closed the books”, this is not the case in other towns hard hit by the Christmas bushfires.

I guess every Canberra family will calculate the odds. We’re now stuck here, and one of our sons is using our Canberra apartment as his work-from-home office when his wife takes over the home schooling of their little girls.

We miss them – and our Sydney-based son and family – terribly. But when I think of the plight of other friends in Australia and around the world, even a little whinge seems absurd.

And the way those wonderful medical scientists are exhausting every resource to find a cure is truly inspiring. The only question is distance – how long before they cry, “Eureka!”

robert@robertmacklin.com

South coast isolation is ‘extraordinarily selfish’, says Barr

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