It’s been a long, gruelling winter.
So, what a stroke of luck it was to have warm weather, sunny spring skies and puffy Pixar-esque clouds floating over the city as it stirred from its 111-day slumber yesterday.
I began my trek around Melbourne’s food and cultural hubs not knowing what to expect. Would Collingwood’s cafes and restaurants be heaving? Would the boutiques and retailers be deserted as people continued to work from home?
Weaving between main streets and ducking in and out of laneways, I was keenly aware that, when you shut down industries that employ hundreds of thousands of people, you can’t just flick a switch to open them back up. Venues are just now pulling back the drop sheets and remembering what a standard pour looks like, with only a few days’ notice.
I don’t think anyone minds that much, though. As a city, we’re just overjoyed we can sit at a table with people and share a drink; finally see each other again with no webcam distorting us; and laugh about the absurdity of being able to order from an actual menu.
When I photographed the city the day before stage-three lockdown kicked in, it was genuinely upsetting – an end to the normal way of life for “six” long weeks. Ha, the naivety.
Now, however, I feel no despair, but a mix of feelings. I’m beyond thrilled to explore my beautiful city again, but I’m conscious it’s deeply, profoundly different. The empty venues and vacant tenancies are shocking. Even the stalwarts of Gertrude, Brunswick, Lygon and Chapel Streets – the list goes on – are hurting, badly. Many, many businesses did not survive lockdown. When you finally get to hit the streets with your friends and family it will be confronting, I guarantee.
But rest assured, Melbourne’s hospitality community is far from beaten. The reopening just reinforces it.
Deliveries of fresh produce have been rushed to restaurants and cafes, into the eager hands of chefs, and venue managers have run waiters through new menus in record time. It seems like every carpenter in Victoria has taken to the streets, madly building outdoor-dining areas as fast as their table saws will let them. And previously grey streetscapes are now blooming with brightly coloured umbrellas and marquees.
And, seemingly overnight, parking spaces have become an endangered species – replaced with bollards and plastic walls to create enough outdoor seating for the summer to come.
A summer that, almost certainly, will go down in history as a defining season for the people of Melbourne. We made it. We did the hard yards, and now as a community we’re going to sit in the fresh air and the sunshine and revel in the glory with a drink. Or five.