The one thing that unites Melburnians under lockdown

It’s hard to unite Melburnians, it’s a city of many different communities and subcultures. Right now, we are also a collection of multiple, overlapping 10km bubbles.

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But there is one thing that Melburnians have in common, regardless of their opinions on the road map to COVID normal: all other Australians have absolutely no idea what it’s like to live here right now.

Overlay the wide range of views on the road map and it might feel even more fractured, as neighbours, family and friends disagree over the details: curfews or police surveillance or when the state should reopen restaurants or allow children back to school. It’s difficult to connect, especially when most of the ways of doing so are currently illegal.

In years to come, when this time indoors is just a memory, it’ll still define us. For cities such as London or Paris, the pandemic is only the latest disaster its citizens have endured. These are tough old metropolises that have seen off plagues, famines, rebellions and wars. Yes, Melbourne has one other pandemic – the Spanish flu – and several brutal economic downturns, but the long lockdown we’re enduring during our second surge is a defining moment for the city.

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Our readers in the country have shared some of the burden, but many of those regional communities have already been tested by drought and bushfire in ways the city has never known. We rejoice in their new freedoms in the country, hoping we'll join them soon enough. We’ll be talking about our iso-times for the rest of our lives, and it will have a profound impact on the city's future.

Our chief reporter Chip Le Grand has spent the week talking to prominent citizens of this city for our series Rethinking Recovery. These are people who are living through lockdown alongside us, rather than lobbing their views from power lunches in Sydney. They don’t want to score points, they want to use their expertise and insights to help the city back on its feet.

I asked Chip to summarise what he’s learned from Rod Eddington, Lee Clifford, Derek Scott, Michael Gudinski, Margaret Gardiner, Bill Kelty, Janet Whiting, John Wylie and Duncan Maskell.

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The key themes were that the Andrews government needs to widen its circle of advice to tap into the expertise out there and that we need to turn disaster into opportunity by dreaming big to remake the city brighter and stronger than ever. All of them said, yes, the short-term experience is pretty miserable, and there’s a lot that could be done to fine-tune our way back to normal life. But they also all said that this city isn’t finished. It has reserves of skill and ingenuity to spring back. They also all emphasised collaboration – “Victoria is best when business, unions, politicians and civic leaders work together,” Chip wrote. “That's how we lifted ourselves out of the last recession. It needs to happen again.”

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