‘That lovely breeze through your hair’: Seniors cautiously revel in regained freedom

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

As COVID-19 lockdowns are gradually lifted across the nation, Australians are enthusiastically resuming many of their favourite hobbies.

Key points:

  • Many older Territorians want border restrictions to remain in place
  • Some NT seniors will self-impose gathering restrictions while Australia still has virus cases
  • Others have been happy to see society’s hectic pace slow down during the lockdown

But for seniors, statistically considered more vulnerable to coronavirus, easing into the “new normal” comes with added risk.

Five seniors spoke to the ABC about their feelings as restrictions lift, pubs fill with patrons and swimming pools reopen.

At 90, Nita McAuley has been delighted to rejoin her Darwin Stingers Masters Swimming Club mates when they resumed training at the Parap Pool this week, but she could have waited longer.

“I think we should have stayed locked down a bit longer and made sure that we’re all well, but people get impatient. I’m not impatient, I can’t afford to be,” she said.

‘We’re very lucky to be in Darwin’

Ms McAuley doesn’t feel the need to limit her movement or activities but says that’s only because people arriving in the NT still have to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel.

“We’re very lucky to be in Darwin, we haven’t experienced all the terrible things that are happening down south, and I think we should keep it that way a bit longer until we’re sure of what’s happening in other states,” she said.

But other club members including Anne Walker said they would keep self-imposing limits on how many people they gathered with and how they moved about, beyond the official rules.

“I won’t be getting into any large groups any time soon, I am only mixing with three or four people,” she said.

Ms Walker also said her feeling of relative safety would disappear if the Territory’s border restrictions were removed while there was still community transmission of COVID-19 in other states.

A difficult time for families

On Darwin’s Fannie Bay bowling green, Christine Paynter is relishing being able to gather with the members of her seniors team now the lockdown has been lifted.

“I didn’t like it at all because I’m a social butterfly, I like to be out and about and I’ve missed my bowls really badly,” she said.

The retired nurse said she was happy to move freely around Darwin as long as the Territory’s border quarantine rules remained.

During the lockdown, she had to remain out in the community, doing essential shopping for her daughter’s family, who quarantined at home for two weeks after her baby grandson came home from emergency surgery in Brisbane.

“That was pretty traumatic. I just had to hand the shopping over the fence, so I also isolated myself as much as I could,” she said.

Larrakia elder and community leader Kathy Mills, 84, said what upset her most during the lockdown was feeling it wasn’t safe to see her great-grandchildren at her home in Palmerston.

“I’m very close to my grandchildren, and it has hurt me not to be with them, and then when they’ve come I’ve been nervous about touching them,” she said.

“It wasn’t that I was scared about catching the virus, but because of my age and because I was vulnerable it made me feel worried that I might pass it on.”

Ms Mills hopes missing family and society has encouraged people to value those as much more important.

COVID-19 a ‘great leveller’

Although she has cerebral palsy, Robyn Burridge said she hasn’t felt more vulnerable than other people in the community, but she listened to medical friends who ordered her to stay at home as much as possible.

She said she missed having friends to visit, as well as being able to attend a ceremony to receive an OAM for her disability sector advocacy work.

But she has also found the pandemic “a great leveller”.

“It’s been wonderful that everything has moved a lot slower, people have moved a lot slower,” she said.

“People avoid wheelchairs anyway, they stand away from them, so isolation wasn’t a problem. Just generally I feel we’ve been much more easily accepted.”

Although she continued to shop for essentials during the lockdown, last week she made her first outing back to Darwin’s foreshore in six weeks.

“I didn’t think freedom was so important but to just feel that lovely breeze going through your hair, and the cool crystal water, it was just absolutely beautiful,” she said.

She hopes that despite regaining freedom, the community will remember what it is like to move more slowly and reflect on how lucky the Territory has been to have so few virus cases.

“It’s not over yet, by a long shot, so we can’t afford to be complacent. So I just hope that our borders stay shut for quite some time to come.”

Line chart showing Australia's current Covid-19 growth factor of 0.97 as of May 12, 2020

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