Author : Mr A
Location: Cell 6B, Block D, Row 1, The Howard Springs Quarantine Resort, South of Darwin, NT, Australia
As Bon Jovi screams “Woo hoo. we’re half way there!”, from the most important piece of kit we travel with, our Bose Revolve speaker, we look forward to the second half of our sentence disappearing with the same rapidity as the first.
Time is a funny thing right? When there’s so little variation in your routine, so few events that punctuate the day, then it seems to zoom past because there are no reference points. Psychologists have found that the subjective perception of the passing of time tends to speed up with increasing age in humans. This often causes people to underestimate a given interval of time as they age. Well that’s my excuse, I think Catherine may have a different perception given she has been pretty much awake non stop since we arrived. Our usual strategy after a long flight is to get out and walk and get some sunlight on the skin. That approach to avoiding jet lag and ensuing insomnia is not available here and she has really been struggling with her sleep.
So what‘s new for us inmates of Cell Block D, falsely accused as we were your honour of trying to import nasty germs into this virtually COVID free country? Yes, the good news is that if we had caught anything from our fellow passengers (two now tested positive) then we would have had symptoms by now, and we haven’t. With the health protocols in place here its very likely we will be getting the ”Hell out of Howard” a week today. The ultimate milestone is when we get our final COVID-19 test on Day 12 (or day 2 as it is confusingly refereed to here, with day zero being release). If we get a negative result, it‘s an exit certificate and off to Sin City! And there will be sinful amounts of fine food and wine consumed I’m sure.
I thought for this blog a Q and A format might provide some variety, taking the most commonly asked questions from friends and sharing our answers to everyone.
Q: So, were the flights free then?
A:“Nope, the politicians seem to skip that bit when they do the “Bringing Aussies Home” announcements. For us $2,200 a head for a one way fare on a “no frills” flight (two meals, 3 films and 4 bottles of water in 17 hrs). There were a few people I understand who were means tested and supported financially.
Q: Do you have to pay for quarrantine?
A: Yes – $2,500 per head, and then your flight back to wherever is home in Australia. Again if you provide evidence of low income (under $50k) you possibly will qualify for some exemptions. Given the hordes of police, army, caters, and health workers on the ground and providing remote phone based support, they wont be making money out of that.
Q: Do you feel lucky to get back to Australia?
A: Well Australians are fond of looking at the glass as half full, very admirable, but I think this is a complex question around the rights of a passport holding citizen to re-enter their own country. In July the Australian government introduced “flight caps” to limit the number of incoming international passengers that would then have to be dealt with in qurrantine facilities. The London based, but Australian born, human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who has defended cases for entities such as Mike Tyson, The Guardian and Washington Post, Julian Assange, presidents and Tasmanian Aboriginals, has just waded in and commented “It is a serious breach if you don’t allow your people to come home, albeit with necessary quarantine. It’s a total failure of government that it can’t allow its people under whatever necessary COVID conditions to come home.” And Geoffrey knows a thing or two.
The President of the Human Rights Commission has also waded in on the issue, concerned that the flight caps “may not be meeting the obligation in article 10 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child” – calling out the many complaints they have had from Australians separated from their children because of these flight caps.
So we have mixed feelings. We understand the Australian government needed to protect the citizens already in the country, and we had been warned in March to “come home or settle in for the long term”, but not everyone was in a position to do that. For instance, we decided it was riskier to travel back than stay put in the south west of England where we knew Catherine had access to quality medical support for her airway disease, never imagining that we were to be barred from returning home. For many people with work and family commitments it was just impossible to drop everything. Now around 36,000 of them are stuck overseas. So yes we feel lucky to have made it back ourselves.
Meanwhile it seems if you have money then you just get to skip around the caps and the quarantine. The same day we landed, last Sunday, the billionaire founder of SnapChat, Evan Spiegal, landed in his private jet at Sydney airport and just skipped around hotel quarantine. You can also buy your way in to Australia when you don’t even have a passport by getting a “Business and Innovation” visa – 485 of these were granted between March and mid September this year to wealthy investors. No wonder there’s some very upset Australian citizens stranded out there waving their passports wondering what the heck is going on.
Q: Whose room is the tidiest – yours or Catherine’s?
A: To be fair, we have never been asked this question, but there has been a lot of banter between us living in our small spaces in caravans and motorhomes as to who is the source of any untidiness.
I rest my case your honour…I understand there will be an appeal lodged by Mrs A on the grounds that she had only got up. I have shared evidence with the claimant in the form of a time stamped photograph at 12.45pm. lets see how the case progresses.
Q: How do you spend your time? (A popular question!)
A: Other than writing these blogs? Well we are not allowed out for exercise, unlike the early flights, who had two 20 minute slots allocated, plus pool time! However, incidents of Australians abusing these privileges made it to social media, and then to the police, and hence now no outside time off the balcony is permitted. So a daily walk 2 metres to the rubbish bin, and a heady 10m metres to the laundry twice a week, our only “outings”.
Pilates on the deck kicks off our day to an ab screaming start. After being very disciplined in lockdown at doing this 2/3 times a week, once we were back in our tiny Truffy (motorhome), it was just impractical. So we are feeling the pain! Then we are both working on different projects. Catherine has her voluntary work for the support community she administers, as well as the research work she is running or supporting for multiple doctors and universities around the world.
For me it‘s catching up on Australian news, and reading to broaden a mind dulled for so many years by an expectation at work of only being able to answer one question. “Ando – whats the forecast sales revenue this week?”
While we we were in the UK we strictly limited our news intake intake for mental and physical health reasons. Yes – physical health as well. Research is indicating that cortisol, produced when we are stressed – for instance when watching “Doom O’Clock” (as we called the daily briefings from Boris), or the latest antics from over the Atlantic from Trump, can cause a range of health issues when elevated for long periods. For a most readable analysis of the potential impact 2020 is likely having on our mental and physical health check out this Psychology today article from last week. So we have spent little time following events over here, in fact missing the introduction of flight caps completely, and despite registering on the Australian governments SmartTraveler web site, had no communication about them.
It‘s actually been a breath of fresh air to settle back into reading the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News apps. Somehow the BBC seems to have lost its way, and I’m finding a less sensationalised news content here. Obviously steering clear of Murdoch Lies Inc. and it was such a pleasure to read about the Climate Change Bill introduced last week from our very own independent MP for Warringhah the multi-talented Zali Steggall. Olympic athlete, solicitor, mother, and all round goodness as far as we can see. Anyone who can wrest away a seat from that climate denier fool Tony Abbot, well done! For an interesting write up on the bill see The Conversations’s article from last week .
Zali even took the time to return an email I sent her concerning the flight caps, and her office has been super helpful since. The only disparaging story you will find about her is from…..of course The Daily Lies/Telegraph, a Murdoch paper. How predicable. If you haven’t seen this brilliant clip of a former Australian prime minister (Malcolm Turnbull) lay into the editor in chief of Murdock’s evil enterprises give it a watch. Even if you’re not Australian it will give you a good sense of how battle is done in the colonies.
Q: What’s the internet like?
A: Closely related to the above question! Well it’s been hit and miss to be honest, and that really needs sorting as they plan to double the current number of people coming through Howard Springs, and if you are confined to quarters then it really is important to keep connected.
Q: What’s the food like?
A: It depends on what your comparison point is, as always. To a meal that Catherine would cook – not great. Compared to the diet of more than 690 million people around the world who go hungry – fine. Everyone involved in this facility is clearly really trying to do their best. The caters must have a tough job. There’s currently around 560 of us on the international blocks of this this facility, we are strictly “Cyclone fenced” away from the domestic detainees, who are far less likely to be COVID positive. The food has to be packaged up and wheeled around on trolleys in the baking afternoon sun, when temperatures have been regularly over 35 degrees centigrade (95°F).
We were advised to bring our own plates and cutlery, as everything is served in take away containers with wooden, disposable utensils, health protocol I assume, or a concern sharp knives might be used by those not derailing with the isolation? These plates and cutlery have been a blessing, and Catherine insists on doing the washing up so it’s done “properly”. We also get an advance bit of Christmas cheer with our plates. Small things…small things.
Q: Are you allowed to mingle with others “doing time”?
A: Well if you call a shouted conversation across 4 metres of yard while wearing a mask mingling, then a bit. However, most people are inside the majority of the day, it‘s just too hot to sit around and our balcony in sun all afternoon. There is a Facebook Group started by a detainee for Howard Springs residents, which had some very helpful content on it we checked before we arrived (like “bring plates and cutlery!) . Sadly now the keyboard warriors are out in force with some really disrespectful comments, I‘ve left it. It appears to be no longer moderated. I started a little group message with a couple of people in our block instead, and that’s been helpful I think. Its so isolating for people here with one call a day from a remote tele-health service, and that’s it.
As mentioned earlier, some of the previous residents were caught breaking health protocols, so they have really clamped down on any opportunities for mixing. The few covidiots ruining life for the many – a familiar story. Three lads were caught pushing one another around in a wheelie bin for instance, wearing no masks and close together.
Today Catherine had a knock at her door and two police officers and a guy in an army uniform asked her if she knew “the gentlemen in the unit next door”, as clearly we had been seen nipping in and out of each other rooms. They thought this row was for singles. It’s good that they are on it. I can just imagine though, some observer of us going, “What’s that old bloke doing hanging around that young shielah‘s donga ? “ I should explain a “donga” is not a body part – it’s a miner’s cabin – pre-fab – desk, bed, bathroom 🙂
The police are very assertive about mask wearing, even when there is absolutely no one else around. I was told off this afternoon as I briefly put my head out of my donga door mask free, but with it dangling in my hand ready to put on. I was shouted at (no armchair manner with this particular officer) “PUT YOUR MASK ON., ITS NO GOOD IN YOUR HANDS!”. I could have rejoined “Well, it would be no good on my face either would it as there is no one within a 20 metre radius?”. But there would be no point. I have heard there have been some very rude and even violent detainees. It would be a tough job, walking around in full kit in this heat, and must be draining even if you are acclimatised. Again I have to say what a shame it is that a few idiots just ruin it.
Well, I hope that gives you a flavour of what’s going down /up here (depending on where you are reading from, geographically), any other questions just fire them in. We have time to answer 🙂 So today is day 7, and a week today its all over, we hope. And really what’s two weeks? For hundreds of asylum seekers in Melbourne it will be 6 years since they were locked up . So yes we’re very lucky.