This morning, I came across an email with the subject line “Little Melbourne Astronaut” in my inbox. I was curious, but unprepared for the wholesomeness that lay within.
It was from Melbourne dad Andrew Rovenko, the creator of an “unintended” lockdown photo series in which he and his wife Mariya had turned their four-year-old daughter Mia into an astronaut – and their lockdown radius into a makeshift outer space.
But the email went deeper than the photos: “A lot is being said about the damage done by Covid. But many parents were given this priceless gift of time with their children that they would have never had otherwise. That’s one hell of a silver lining.”
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And just in case my cheeks didn’t ache enough already from smiling, the sign-off read: “Andy and the little astronaut Mia”. I called him almost immediately.
When kindies, playgrounds and Spoonvilles became ghost towns in lockdown 6.0, Mia got bored. But Andrew and Mariya, an avid sewer, got crafty. They made Mia a papier-mâché astronaut helmet and little space suit to go with it.
“She’s obsessed with space, particles, molecules,” Andrew tells Broadsheet. “Basically, she’s super curious … People think the parents are the ones shoving this knowledge down her throat, but it’s the other way round.” (It’s unsurprising, then, that Mia wants to be an astronaut when she grows up. “She’s told me 500 times,” says Andrew. “She saw the music video for Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic and couldn’t stop dancing around.”)
Given Mia’s universe was, at lockdown’s peak, restricted to five kilometres from the family’s bayside home, walks weren’t just walks. “Every one became an adventure,” says Andrew. “When we went past the laundromat, we saw all these machines and imagined we were in a spaceship … She also climbed these barrels at an old taxi-repair place, which was deserted on the weekends. That was one of her favourites.”
While the escapades were intentional, the dreamy, out-of-this-world photo series that resulted was a little less so. It happened almost by accident. Andrew took his camera out one day to snap a few personal shots, but “when I developed the film at home – a DIY job – they just looked so surreal. I showed a few people, and they were amazed.”
Andrew works in the ad world as a creative technologist (“it’s probably the wankiest job title ever … I figure out technical solutions for creative problems”), but he “flirted” with photography earlier in his career. So, he’s been known to whip out his film camera – a chunky Mamiya RZ67, often used for fashion photography, he says – on the odd occasion. “The best thing about it is it stops me from taking too many shots.”
Though that isn’t an issue here. Both cute and curious, Mia is pictured crouched next to a fire on the beach, gazing at a purply-pink neon sign and plonked on a couch awaiting hard-rubbish removal. The series screams, “It’s Mia’s world, we’re just living in it.”
And as for the responses from passers-by? “When we started, everyone was wearing masks, so you couldn’t really see their faces,” Andrew says. “But what you could see was their eyes become a little bit wrinkly because they were smiling so wide.”
It’s easy to see why. In another year where lockdown became the new normal for both Melbourne and Sydney, the power of a little girl’s imagination – and the willingness of her parents to let it run wild – is just the kind of good-news story we need.
“Everyone found their projects or moments or things to help them get through this time,” Andrew says. “And this just happened to be ours.”