Dark POMO – by Jean Taylor

PANdemIC in Melbourne

We are living through extraordinary times the like of which we’ve never seen before and hopefully never will again. The big disappointments for me who, at this time of the year very much enjoys getting to as many Midsumma Festival, International Women’s Day, Melbourne Queer Film Festival and Comedy Festival events as I can manage and afford in order to stave off FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), now find myself suffering, with every event and venue either cancelled, postponed or closed, from POMO (Pain of Missing Out).

Even though China had identified and reported a new lethal pneumonia in Wuhan on 31 December 2019 and by the end of January 2020 WHO had declared a world-wide public health emergency, in Australia it was business as usual. During the Midsumma Festival, 19 January–9 February, I went to several events including the Carnival in the Alexandra Gardens (sadly no Matrix Guild stall this year to take our turn on the roster) and three events at Hares & Hyenas bookshop: A Conversation with Writer Friends, (ultimately disappointing with only one out of five, Andrea Goldsmith, a lesbian writer), the ever-popular Rapid Fire and the Queer Zine and Art Fair where we had a table selling books published by Long Breast Press and Dyke Books. We enjoyed the music and hijinks in The Top Secret Violin Case with the band Vardos live in drag, and new classical music by queer composers in Homophonic, both at La Mama Courthouse as well as Goddess Grooves with an all-lesbian lineup of talented singers and musicians at Wesley Anne. We were there at the opening of A Sight For Sore Eyes featuring queer First Nations artists at the Blak Dot Gallery and the opening of two exhibitions, Dark Sepia and The Deaf Culture, at the Incinerator Gallery. We went to the Queer Playwriting Award Showcase to enjoy the 15 minute excerpts from four very talented playwrights at Gasworks. And as I’ve been doing since its inception in 1996, we went on the 25th anniversary Pride March carrying the Performing Older Women’s Circus’ banner and were a lesbian presence in solidarity at the Invasion Day Share the Spirit Concert with No Fixed Address under the trees in the Treasury Gardens.

By that time, WHO announced the new coronavirus disease would be called COVID-19 and it wasn’t long before there were outbreaks of the disease in Korea, US, Iran and Europe, especially Italy, so much so that by 8 March, IWD, Italy was on lockdown. Even so, I went to the informative and educative Feminist Summer School at RMIT, 4–6 March, and was back doing volunteer work on the Victorian Women’s Liberation and Lesbian Feminist Archives by indexing the lesbian and feminist photos housed at the University of Melbourne Archives in Brunswick. I was still seeing a film at the Nova Cinema in Carlton every Monday afternoon, including the documentaries For Sama and the Aboriginal In My Blood It Runs which were excellent, by the way; attended the book launch of Out of the Madhouse: From Asylums to Caring Community? by Sandy Jeffs and Margaret Leggett (Arcadia 2020); also Romaine Morton’s session at the Indigenous Women’s Filmmakers at RMIT with playwrights giving their insights into their processes; and the comedy drama musical Black Ties produced by the Ilbijerri Theatre Company and Te Rēhia Theatre Company from Aotearoa as part of the Asia TOPA season at the Arts Centre; plus the Sydney Road Street Party and the Blak Dot Market with lots of Indigenous art and crafts to buy. And then it was the free IWD events to attend: the digitised now-defunct Collingwood Women’s Mural organised by the Victorian Archives Centre at the Public Record Office Victoria in North Melbourne; the excellent Wise Words—A Night of Intergenerational Story Telling by a lineup of lesbian and queer writers at H&H; a picnic at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre with Candy Bowers; and finally Moss’s play set in country Victoria, Running With Emus, at La Mama Courthouse on 11 March, the day WHO declared the world was in the midst of a PANdemIC.

In Australia we were getting warnings to wash our hands frequently and only greet each other with elbow bumps and jazz hands but the dangers notwithstanding, we still managed to get to the launch of K’ua K’ua and Erub/Mer artist Destiny Deacon’s book, DESTINY, at the NGV in St Kilda Road in the lead-up to DESTINY the exhibition at the NGV in Fed Square; attended the regular Lesbians Over 70s meeting to catch up with our ageing peers; saw three excellent lesbian films at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Anne+ (Dutch) at the Nova, T11 Incomplete (US) at the Jam Factory and Two of Us (French) at the Nova, before everything more or less ground to a halt!

The Comedy Festival, 25 March–19 April, had already been cancelled by this stage, we’d already booked to see and were sad to miss Geraldine Hickey in What a Surprise, the female stand-ups in Breast of the Fest, Dazza and Kief in Go Viral in Space With Ya Mum, Fuck Fabulous with Sarah Ward at the Arts Centre, the Aboriginal line-up, Deadly Funny, at the Forum and Bobby Macumber Is Extra. When MQFF, 12–23 March, followed suit, my next five lesbian films: The Sympathy Card, Laws of Desire, White Lie, The Archivettes and Bit, were cancelled, (as announced previously on FB, I am donating the proceeds of these tickets back to the performers and organisers who are understandably devastated by these cancellations after all their hard work). Then La Mama cancelled all its shows including a few we’d booked in to see over the next few weeks: We Too Us Too Me Too Too Too, Mrs Robinson: A Soap Cabaret, Hedda GablerGablerGabler and Ladies of the Bay, as well as future shows we were looking forward to, like Do Not Go Gentle and The Return at the Malthouse Theatre and especially Fun House and Sunshine Super Girl by the Melbourne Theatre Company. It was especially disappointing when the extensive Flesh After 50 program which included Ponch Hawkes’ 500 Strong photographic exhibition of naked women over 50, I was one of those photographed, at the Abbotsford Convent, 28 March–3 May, was also cancelled. As was the Matrix Guild IWD Dance on 22 March, (Matrix was busy at Chillout in Daylesford on 8 March, the 10th anniversary of Jan Gladys’ death). And perhaps worst of all a get-together of radical lesbian feminists had to be cancelled.

There were first 600, then 100 limits on gatherings, travel overseas was cancelled and Qantas grounded its fleet, interstate travel was okay till it wasn’t, social distancing became a thing as did working from home, state borders were closing as were libraries, swimming pools and the Women’s Circus. Destiny Deacon’s art opening of DESTINY at the NGV was cancelled, and even the Nova Cinema, Counihan Gallery in Brunswick and all the cafes and public places closed (except for takeaway in cafes, if they chose to stay open) because finally the government announced that from Monday 23 March we were in lockdown and confined to our houses. There were only five reasons to go outside: to buy food and other essential items like medication, for work and education and to exercise. The following day all the schools in Victoria closed.

I went from thinking it was all a beat-up with panic buying and stock-piling of toilet paper the worst of it, to realising that as an old lesbian who was turning 76 in April and prone to asthma that I was likely to die, (most of the deaths in Italy were people over 80), and so I have more or less come to grips with all the closures and the cancellations so much so that staying at home with the odd small walking forays into the world for exercise seems like much the better option. According to the Internet, on 24 March there were 2,044 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia and eight deaths and in Victoria 411 confirmed and no deaths. And cruise ships were sailing time bombs.

I’m still meditating, still doing my writing work in the morning, as always, which includes writing small pieces for various US periodicals, working on the next Long Breast Press book, listing my old photos with names and dates, listing all of my novels, plays, poetry, non-fiction and short stories, both published and unpublished, in chronological order (an unsettling trip down memory lane), watching a couple of Nordic Noir series on SBS OnDemand and Netflix, reading Anne Summers’ Memoir, Unfettered and Alive, answering emails, talking to friends and family on the phone, not visiting the grandchildren for my own safety is probably the hardest, cooking and hanging out with Ardy.

I’m well aware that being on the old age pension and living in my own house I’m in a very privileged position compared to those who have lost their jobs and their businesses and their stage shows and have to work from home and at the same time homeschool their children for who knows how long. But it still all feels very surreal. Four days ago we visited the family in the next suburb to celebrate my grandson’s 17th birthday and now with lockdown and strict social distancing and me being over 70 and advised to stay at home I won’t get to see the three grandchildren for however long this will take, a definite deprivation on top of losing everything else that made life fun and worthwhile.

And it’s only Day Three.

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In the grip of the COVID-19 PANdemIC it seemed I couldn’t write anything that wasn’t in some way in response to this deadly virus that was affecting the whole world with cancellations and restrictions being imposed left, right and centre. So, at the suggestion of a friend in Sydney, I started a COVID-19 PANdemIC Diary to try and make sense of what was happening to me as an individual in response to this world-wide phenomenon that was affecting everyone in deadly and extraordinary ways beyond our control.

Friday 3 April 2020

I see by my diary for today that in the usual course of events I would have been heading to the University of Melbourne Archives to continue with the indexing of the photos in the Victorian Women’s Liberation and Lesbian Feminist Archives Inc collection as I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. Instead I’m home finalising my travel story for the forthcoming Long Breast Press (LBP) Travel anthology by adding some pertinent details to the final Paris section and taking a phone call from my ex-Tai Chi teacher who rang to see if I’m okay and did I need anyone to do some shopping. I said thank you, but no.

Saturday 4 April

I went across to the post office this morning to buy the Saturday Age, Good Weekend and Spectrum and to get money out of the bank before I went for a walk around the block in the lightly falling rain, not enough even to put up my umbrella, to get some exercise.

PANdemIC State of Play on page 5 of The Age 4 April 2020: The National Total Number of Confirmed Cases: 5,330 and 28 deaths.

Monday 6 April

I’m with Greta Thunberg, we don’t want hope, (‘the thing with feathers’), we want a revolution, change, honesty, financial security, integrity, a moral compass, worthwhile work, family, community, secure housing, healthy food, art, relevant educational opportunities, fun, laughter, creativity, books, films, plays, the list is endless.

If the lockdown lasts for six months, as the governments is threatening, some people think that this enforced time on our own could lead to a new world order while others, like myself, think it’s more than likely to lead to a totalitarian regime where our lives become even worse, especially if we have to wait till next year for a COVID-19 vaccine before we’re allowed out of lockdown, by which time, as someone was saying on telly last night, there’ll be more suicides, madness, anxiety, stress-related illnesses and life as we know it will definitely be over.

Wednesday 8 April

I’ve got a small and achievable list of things I want to do today: check and answer emails, rewrite and correct an article I want to sent to Rain & Thunder, add to my COVID-19 diary, do some Long Breast Press business and anything else that pops up that needs attending to. After lunch, I’ll go for an half-an-hour walk around the streets of East Brunswick.

Monday 13 April

We’re now going into the fourth week of Lockdown and while it all feels quite familiar now, I find myself crying at odd sentimental moments and still railing against the restrictions. For example, I was annoyed later in the day because a male and his teenage son were striding down the footpath towards me two abreast without any sign of giving way to me. I had moved to the grass verge to avoid them and when I challenged him about not walking single-file, and he answered that it was alright because they were family, I said, but I’m not and called him an idiot. Fortunately, I was relieved to see, most of the others I encountered were observing the correct social distancing.

I know how fortunate I am and how privileged that the old age pension supports me, that I have a very comfy roof over my head plus a verandah and a garden, that I have my own writing work that sustains me.

Tuesday 14 April

The stats for today: 42 more COVID-19 cases in Australia, and two of those in Tassie were off the Ruby Princess, with 62 deaths and over 6,400 infected and 3,598 recovered; whereas there are 500 deaths daily in Italy and 10,000 deaths in NY a city of 18 million people; while in Indonesia people dressed as ghosts are employed to frighten people back into their homes.

Thursday 16 April

After reading ‘The Handmaiden of the Holy Man’ chapter in Robin Morgan’s Parallax, I sat for over an hour during which I realised that while I was concentrating on the fact that I was financially and personally privileged compared to others I was, in fact, not coping very well at all and was, indeed, in shutdown mode. An important revelation which, conversely, made me feel a lot better.

Sunday 19 April

Our usual quiet Sunday morning in bed followed by bacon and eggs on toast on the verandah in the warmth of a sunny midday and two games of Bananarama before we went back inside to get on with the day. The only unusual event started at 2pm for about an hour and a half of chatting and catching up with dear lesbian friends on Zoom because we’d had to cancel my 76th birthday lunch with them at their house, not something I was keen on, but did enable us to see as well as hear each other.

Monday 20 April

Dreamt this morning that I was launching a book and directing a play at the same time and I was worried that no-one knew their lines and it would be a shemozzle …

Wednesday 22 April

With all the talk of flattening the curve and perhaps some of the more stringent regulations being relaxed now that fewer people are being tested positive for COVID-19, I find I’m feeling a bit frightened all over again that I might catch the virus and die. Of course, I can just go on doing what I’m doing now and stay home anyway and I might just do that until I can be assured that what has happened in Singapore with a spike in infections when they relaxed the lockdown, doesn’t happen here. Or more to the point, make me and Ardy more vulnerable.

Because I really wanted to hear and see Dr Lou Bennett’s webinar, Sovereign Language Rematriation Through Song Pedagogy, I actually downloaded Zoom yesterday so I don’t miss it. Talking with our lesbian friends via Zoom on Sunday helped me to get over my resistance …

Sunday 26 April

The three plus hours of Music From the Homefront Concert organised by Jimmie Barnes of Cold Chisel and Michael Gudinski on Channel 9 last night giving thanks and paying tribute to all the workers on the front line, the nurses, doctors, medics, ambos as well as the workers at the supermarkets and public transport who are all helping to keep us alive, fed and connected as well a honouring the Anzacs, was one of the best.

Thursday 30 April

Tragedy has struck an old people’s facility, Newmarch House in Caddens Western Sydney NSW, because a nurse with a ‘scratchy throat’ wasn’t tested for COVID-19 till it was far too late, a dozen patients mainly their 90s have since died with probably more deaths on the way. This highlights the vulnerability of old people and the absolute necessity for total lockdown of Nursing Homes and the need to test all of the staff at these facilities on a regular basis.

Saturday 2 May

Noting here that three well-known lesbian activists have died recently in the USA: Ariana Karen Manov, 6 October 1946–22 March 2020, aged 73, a long-time friend of Ardy’s; Phyllis Lyon, 10 November 1924–9 April 2020, the widow of Del Martin, aged 95; and Jean Boudreaux, 1932–23 April 2020, better known as Shewolf, aged 88.

The day didn’t get off to a good start when Ardy baled me up in the corridor as I was coming back from the toilet and on the way to the front room to start meditating to tell me that she’d been awake since 3am with a sore throat, coughing, a runny nose and sweats and was waiting till 9am to call the health clinics to be checked. I decided not to panic because Ardy looked quite well and didn’t have a fever, it was more than likely just a cold and by the time I was fixing my brekky in the kitchen just before 9am I had made the decision that if Ardy decided to get tested at the Royal Melbourne Hospital that I wouldn’t go with her.

Friday 8 May

With the full moon shining in my bedroom window from the west this morning when I got up at 5am, it’s good to know some things aren’t affected by COVID-19.

Saturday 9 May

Feeling like a warrior on a hunting and gathering expedition, I went out into the spitting rain, cold and dark at 6pm to pick up our takeaway order of fried fish, scallops, potato cake and calamari for me, and a burger for Ardy from Scales Fish & Chippery in Weston Street attached to the Tip Top apartment block. I did wonder, given the weather, if it might have been more sensible to drive but then I’d never have found a park in Weston Street nor any park in our restricted parking street when I got back, so never mind. It was warm and full of light in the large shop and unused cafe with us customers practising social distancing till I strode back out into the cold with my brown paper bag and along the bluestone laneways to home.

Monday 11 May

On The Project that night Daniel Andrews’ new regulations for Victoria told us he was still taking a cautious approach which I was pleased to hear and that about the only restriction that was lifted from 11.59 pm on Tuesday night that really applied to me was the one about being allowed to have five visitors, limited to family and close friends. Which augured well for my granddaughter’s 15th birthday and also for the Lesbians Over 70 meeting on Sunday 17 May.

Tuesday 12 May

According to ABC News online by Nicole Mills, Coronavirus restrictions eased in Victoria to allow five visitors to a household and outdoor gatherings of 10 people. So, kids can see their grandparents? According to that rule, it is now possible for children to see their grandparents. But that doesn’t mean they should. Professor Sutton said it was up to individuals whether they shake hands, kiss or hug.

Saturday 16 May

First I was afraid I was going to die of COVID-19, then fearful of going into lockdown for an indefinite period and only allowed out to exercise, and now I’m afraid because with the easing of restrictions, I can visit friends and family and they can visit me. We even had a calendar talk this morning for the first time in weeks to see what we’re doing in the immediate future. What next? I rather fear, with a runny nose and other symptoms I woke up with this morning, I might have a cold. Damn! …

Tuesday 19 May

Picked up my Vitamin D tablets at the chemist, 250 for $36, and ran across lesbian friends in one of the laneways on my short walk today and stopped and we chatted across the appropriate width of bluestones. I’m not sure if my lack of energy is just because I’m old or a symptom of something lurking in my body but all I can seem to manage is the couple of hours I spend on the computer in the morning before I’ve completely run out of puff and have to put my feet up after lunch

Thursday 21 May

… and more rain yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Saturday 23 May

While on-line shopping is financially very successful, retail spending in stores is down, according to The Project last night, also 75 Target stores are closing and the rest will be turned over to K-Mart and all stores in Vic might all be open by next week. The number of COVID-19 cases has spiked suddenly in several countries, including Sweden, US and Switzerland. But the big news is that the Treasurer over-budgeted by $60 billion, in a $130 billion budget to cover the wages of 6.5 million workers, due to what he claims was the fault of 1,000 employers filling out their forms incorrectly. Not a good look whichever way you look at it. Now, of course, there’s pressure to use that spare $60 billion on all those who also lost their jobs when festivals, events, and venues were closed and cancelled, leaving all the artists and performers and other odds and sods on temporary and casual employment, who were considered below the arbitrary cut-off point, out of work through no fault of their own and with no income at all apart from the dole.

Wednesday 27 May—Reconciliation Week

At some stage after I’d written it here, I posted this on Facebook: Today is the 53rd anniversary of the Referendum in 1967 when 90.7 Australians voted YES to allow the federal government to make laws with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and also that these same Indigenous people could be legally counted in the Australian Census for the first time. Today is also the start of Reconciliation Week 2020 which will end on Wednesday 3 June which is Mabo Day and commemorates the successful application by Eddie Mabo 28 years ago in 1992 to overturn the lie of terra nullius and establish Native Title and traditional rights for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

Ardy and I actually started the day in the front room at 9am with Sinister Wisdom’s memorial to Shewolf aka Jean Boudreaux with several speakers giving moving and informative tributes to the lesbian who was best known for her Shewolf’s Directory of Wimmin’s Lands which ran to six editions and included all of the womyn-owned lands round the US and some overseas which connected lesbians who were travelling and lived on the land with each other.

Thursday 28 May

As Ardy was saying this morning, she is enjoying her life so much in lockdown, with a few forays out into the world for food and necessities, that she doesn’t want to go back to the way things were.

The Zoom experience this morning on Treaties and Reconciliation organised by the Melbourne Law School and ANTaR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) with speakers Tony McAvoy, barrister in Sydney, Elly Patira, Premier and Cabinet, lawyer, and Marcus Stewart, co-chair of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria, was absolutely fantastic and gave some essential insights into what needs to happen around the Treaty process which is also tied up with reconciliation with Justice for Indigenous people being a key element in any negotiations towards self-determination, truth telling, the high numbers of Aboriginal people in person as well as the numbers of children still being removed from their families and community. In other words, it’s still going to be an uphill battle to get anything in place.

I was moved to write a wee message on the chat: Congratulations and huge thank you to all the panelists for a clarifying and informative discussion, it has made my day, I have supported the need for self-determination, land rights and sovereignty for several decades now and I’m ashamed that all of these fundamental issues are still bogged down by the resistance from non-Aboriginal people, keep on being strong and thank you with gratitude for all the work you’re doing

Monday 1 June

The official start of Winter and time for Melbournians to hunker down rather than getting out and about, quite a bit like lockdown, and while it was great to have such a mild and sunny day yesterday, it’s also appropriate that it was raining when I got up at 6.30amish. Many more easing of restrictions in Victoria today, The only ones that apply to me are: Up to 20 people allowed in people’s homes, including primary residents; Libraries, youth centres and other community spaces to open, with no more than 20 people in a single area. I’m now waiting for cinemas, performance venues, cafes and restaurants to open. Since last night, I see that another eased-up restriction might also apply to me: Up to 50 people allowed at funerals, plus those running the ceremony.

Wednesday 3 June—Mabo Day and the end of Reconciliation Week

I’ve decided not to read anymore of Broken Song by Barry Hill, far too dense and depressing, and started on the second in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series by Anne Holt, Blessed Are Those Who Thirst, changed the toner when it ran out halfway through printing The Spin Newsletter and enjoyed the bread pudding that Ardy had made, for arvo tea with yoghurt and coffee in the front room because it had become far too cold outside since I’d had lunch on the verandah. I didn’t like the sound of the proposed Black Deaths Matter demo organised by Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance in support of Black Deaths in Custody in Australia, scheduled for Saturday 6 June outside parliament house with 29,000 people registered to attend especially while social distancing is still mandatory and with untrustworthy cops in attendance.

Saturday 6 June

As we had agreed we wouldn’t be going to the Aboriginal / Black Lives Matter rally today outside parliament house at 2pm but were at a bit of a loss as to what to do to show solidarity till a friend’s email with an Aboriginal Lives Matter poster attached and the suggestion that we do our own mini-rally, solved the problem.

After an exhilarating hour holding up our signs, I put the following message on Facebook: Because it was far too dangerous for us two old lesbians to go into the city to join the rally organised by Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance outside parliament house we had our own mini-rally with our Aboriginal Lives Matter signs on the corner of Lygon Street Brunswick East for an hour with many thumbs up and toots from cars, smiles and waves from the bicyclists and dings from trams passing by, all very gratifying to see so much support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Monday 22 June

With the Nova Cinema open for business for the first time in weeks with several films on offer I decided I was prepared to go and see Ardy’s choice of Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears at 1.20pm rather than my preferred choice of Queen and Slim at 3.25pm because I didn’t want to be coming home on the tram during peak hour. Ardy rang to see if we could book tickets, but it was no surprise, with the 20 limit on patron per session, that the tickets had sold out. I was relieved in a way, then sad, then okay again and settled in to doing the corrections and additions on my novel Trios and just lost all sense of time I was enjoying it so much.

Thursday 25 June

According to The Project last night, for the eighth day in a row the virus stats just keep on rising in Melbourne with 20 new cases, eight spread by community contact making 142 cases in total and an 80 year old man died, the first death in a month and it’s now up to eight cases in Moreland. Not too surprisingly, the government has requested medical support from interstate and has also called in the Army, there are long queues at supermarkets and because people are stockpiling once again there are limits on the numbers of toilet paper, pasta and other essential items people are allowed to buy.

Saturday 27 June

When Ardy asked me why my upper arms needed extra massaging from her this week because they were much sorer than usual, I had to confess that I had been so excited and interesting in getting back to correcting Trios that I’d been overdoing it. It wasn’t till yesterday that I made the connection between overdoing it with my writing and the increased numbers of COVID-19 in Moreland and the increased risk to myself, and how Victoria was now seen as an increased risk state as far as the rest of Australia was concerned. I’m doing more writing that I particularly enjoy to try and balance out the fact that I am back to feeling vulnerable all over again …

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Jean Taylor is a radical lesbian feminist writer and political activist based on Wurundjeri Woiwurrung country Naarm, Melbourne. She has been actively engaged in the Women’s Liberation Movement and lesbian feminist activism since the 1970s and has written many novels, plays, short stories and non-fiction on these and other subjects.

Jean’s work can be found on http://www.dykebooks.com.

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