Monday, November 23, 2020
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My gran is 81 and diabetic. When the Melbourne towers lockdown happened her carers disappeared | Melissa Whelan

I have lived on the Flemington estate most of my life [and] my family have all lived around this area for years.

My gran lives in one of the other towers on the estate. She was the receptionist for the local tenants’ association for years and years, so [she’s] part of the community.

Now she is 81 and frail and diabetic. She doesn’t like to talk about all her health issues, but she had carers coming in before this, and when the lockdown happened they disappeared and nobody could contact them. I was worried she wouldn’t get food.

I got support from Ellen Sandell [the Greens member of parliament for the state seat of Melbourne]. She sent people out from her office to look for people like us who needed help, and she was texting me as well to see if we had help for gran yet. She was chasing the Department of Health and Human Services up and then texting me. She was putting requests through to the premier’s office.

Then I rang the hotline for residents they set up, and that seemed to work to some extent. I got a call back from a lady who was prioritising needs, and she said gran was at the top of the list.

Then I got another call last night from a DHSS worker, and she said she had just cooked a meal for gran herself, with her own hands. They gave her spaghetti bolognese and a cake. And they are trying to get her carers back, but it’s not clear what’s happening with that because they couldn’t contact the agency over the weekend.

I am disabled too. I live with my son, James, who is 15. He is autistic and has an intellectual disability, and he goes to a special needs school. He is really smart – I know how smart he is, but nobody else does because he won’t talk to them. He is frustrated with the lockdown. I think he needs to be outside. He is stimming constantly.

We are both asthmatic, and I am disabled. I had a bad motorcycle accident back in 2002 and I have irreparable damage to my leg. So that’s why I started studying. It’s a one-day-a-week class online, and I could manage that. And apart from that I am a full-time career for my gran and my son, and I work when I can.

I was in Woolies on Saturday afternoon when I got a text message telling me I had to go home and be locked in. I had just popped out to buy milk and bread, because I had only $7 until I got paid. So I rang a friend and she transferred another $50 and I was able to get a few more things.

I watched the premier’s press conference this morning, and was a bit disturbed to hear him say that we had had our food delivered, and milk and bread and boxes of toys. Not in this building.

All I have had is two police officers knocking on my door at 10pm last night to give me the detention order and two masks for me and my son to go downstairs today for testing, but the testing isn’t at our building yet, and it is almost half way through the day. I can hear the loudspeaker going in one of the other buildings, so I think they are still finishing there.

So far in this building it is the community volunteers who have looked after us, not the government. Last night the Sikh volunteers came up with trolleys of meals, all rice and vegetables so anyone could eat them. They said they could give out only two meals to each flat, which was fine for me and my son but some of my neighbours have eight people in a flat.

I am worried for my neighbours. I am hearing ridiculous stories about people not being able to get formula for babies. There needs to be understanding of each family, and tailored help. I agree there needs to be testing. They need to get all of us tested really quickly. But this lockdown is stupid. What’s going to happen in the future? Once they have tested us and some of us have it and some of us don’t? What if there is another case in a fortnight? Will I be locked down again? That isn’t fair.

The main place where we are at risk is the elevators. The walkways are open and like wind tunnels and the foyers are well ventilated. So why not have a rule that we have to wear masks in the elevators, instead of locking us down?

The lifts break down constantly. They started a refurbishment project just before this. They got one lift done, and the virus came and they stopped, leaving us with just one lift regularly, because the other one is always breaking down.

How are they going to make this building work for the weeks ahead? When the kids go back to school, if we are socially distancing in the lifts we will have to wait six hours in a queue to get home.

I don’t know what their plan is because I think they don’t have a plan.

The people who live in this estate always try to look out for each other when things happen. We have a large African community, but when there is trouble all those barriers disappear and we are just brothers and sisters.

I’m strong. I’m from good stock.

My mum was driven and my father was the cheekiest man you ever met – an Irishman. So I learned to cope with humour and logic. I know we will be all right in the end, that we will get out of this somehow. But I worry for my neighbours.

As told to Margaret Simons

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