Category Archives: Melbourne

Covid-19: Month 5

I didn’t write anything about the Covid pandemic in May and June since there was really nothing to say. Then in my July 15th piece, “After the shock of July 10th’s 288 new cases, one couldn’t help be scared at the thought of this number continuing to escalate. The next day, 216 (phew). But it’s not over: 270 yesterday, 238 today.” But any optimism at that point was misplaced as this chart shows.

coronavirus-cases-victoria-jul-aug-2020

Coronavirus cases Victoria Jul/Aug-2020

Back in 1989 when I started my software business the internet as we know it didn’t exist. It was some while before I got a credit card merchant account – in those days merchant facilities were only granted after careful scrutiny of your accounts and an inspection of your premises. Thus my one source of orders was people sending them by mail with an accompanying cheque or purchase order, and the day’s mood was set – for better or worse – when the post landed on the mat.

It’s felt a bit like this during the last month, waiting each morning for the latest new case count. On July 27 we saw our first ‘5’, 523, then were relieved to see a couple of days fall, only to be shocked by a one day rise from 384 to 723, beaten by 725 a week later. Kipling’s stanza re dealing with triumph and disaster came to mind as at the daily press conference our Premier and chief medical officer reminded us that not too much should be read into the latest number. Coupled with the new case rate was the steady rise in deaths, mainly among the elderly in residential care homes, their families distress being the greater because of the restrictions on funerals.

Not surprisingly early August saw severe new restrictions including compulsory mask when outside, a curfew from 8pm until 5am. and the closure of many business premises. Thankfully the vast majority of people seem to be complying with these rules – the doubtful being encouraged by hefty fines – and the daily welcome or unwelcome surprise has been replaced by numbers following a steady trend. But of course the only number that will really satisfy is zero, and New Zealand’s recent experience has shown us that a long run of zeroes doesn’t guarantee anything.

I suspect that things still won’t be back to normal by Christmas, am waiting to be told that my February cruise is cancelled, and am by no means sure that I’ll be making my annual visit to UK next July. Time will tell.

Covid-19: Month 4

On April 8th I wrote a post, Covid-19 Month 1. I envisaged adding an update each month, and in no time three months have passed! This partly reflects me being in a very fortunate position compared with most and partly because until a few weeks ago it looked as if here in Australia we’d tamed the virus, even if we hadn’t eliminated it.

Each Sunday I have a Skype chat with my sister: inevitably the conversation turned to the latest figures and the school maxim of ‘compare and contrast’; from the second half of April through to late June we rarely had more than twenty new cases a day (mostly from quarantined returning residents), with deaths being counted in ones and twos, in contrast with the UK. On 6 June, both New South Wales and Victoria reported no new cases for the previous 24 hours, with Queensland and Western Australia reporting one new case each. As I write this the numbers are (Aus/UK), cases: 10,251/291,000; deaths: 108/44,968. Even allowing for a population ratio of 1:3, the UK figure are still horrific. Is this because we’re so spread out? Scarcely: most of us live in a handful of big cities.

So with these happy numbers we started to look forward to returning to normality. More shops were open, restaurants were allowed to reopen, albeit with limited occupancy, and I felt safe taking the occasional tram ride. For my birthday, I invited my fellow church home group members for dinner at a local restaurant: it was the first face-to-face meeting we’d held in more than three months.

Then …..

New coronavirus cases in Victoria July 2020

New coronavirus cases in Victoria

… it all went wrong. A judicial inquiry is being held to determine the exact causes, but as of now it appears that the private security firm engaged to guard the hotels being used to quarantine returning residents failed on several fronts. Were the allocated staff adequately trained and did they understand what was required of them? Apparently not. Did they exercise any common sense? From the lurid tales of them fraternising with those who were being quarantined, definitely not. What was the security firm’s management doing? And what responsibility rests with those in government (politicians and civil servants) who set this arrangement up. We shall find out. But the bar chart above tells all: these ‘security guards’ took the virus home, then spread it through their communities.

So now we’re back on stage 3 lockdown – no visitors allowed, restaurants closed and army-manned roadblocks isolating metro Melbourne (where most cases are) from the rest of Victoria, and Victoria from New South Wales. We’re only allowed to leave home for essential shopping, daily exercise, medical treatment and study/work (those unable to work from home). After the shock of July 10th’s 288 new cases, one couldn’t help be scared at the thought of this number continuing to escalate. The next day, 216 (phew). But it’s not over: 270 yesterday, 238 today and a small but growing outbreak in NSW. For the next week we’ll all be watching the daily numbers. Our experience is a warning to people everywhere not to be complacent.

If you’ve come here from Docklands News ….

Perhaps you’ve arrived here via the link in Docklands News where I’m this month’s Docklander! If so, you’ll probably find one or more of the following more interesting than the most recent posts on computer hardware. I hope so.

Thanks for dropping by and I’ll try not to get too dizzy with fame!

Covid-19: Month 1

1919 flu pandemic cartoon

1919 flu pandemic cartoon

What a month! Of course coronavirus has been around since the start of the year but here it only started to impact on my life a month ago. Back in November Mary Sheehan gave a talk to the Box Hill Historical Society on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919. Schools were closed, many turned into temporary hospitals as was the Royal Exhibition Building. The only public gatherings allowed were church services, on condition that worshippers wore masks, thus the cartoon shown here, caption: “These are not anarchists en-route to a rendezvous. They are really nice people going to attend a church service.” Unlike Covid-19, the 1919 pandemic hit 20-40 year olds hardest.

Fast forward to 2020. February 29th saw friends get married: a large open-air gathering. On the Labor Day long weekend (March 7th-9th) we at the Newport Railway Museum partnered with Steamrail for their biennial open days. On a typical Saturday we get 70-100 visitors; over the three day weekend more than 2,000 visitors passed through our gates. The following Saturday we opened as usual, the last time until this is over.

That weekend saw the end of normal church gatherings – unlike 1919, no exemption for churches. Our Sunday services put together by a handful of people (including our seriously gifted tech team) are now live screened – check out City on a Hill Digital, with our weekly church home group meeting taking place over Zoom. That week all the other groups I belong to suspended their normal activities. On Monday morning I met up with an old school friend visiting from UK at the Docklands Library coffee shop. At 2.00p.m. all city libraries were closed.

Moreland Hotel interior

Moreland Hotel interior

That Monday afternoon I drove to the airport to collect one of my cousins + husband from UK who had arranged to stay with me for the week starting March 16th after visiting WA. Their plan to return home via USA had already been changed, but they were still planning to go on to Queensland and Sydney. I met them at the airport and we had a good meal at the Moreland Hotel with its quite extraordinary interior. It wasn’t long before they got a message from one of their daughters, telling them that things were deteriorating, they needed to get home asap, and she’d booked them on a  Wednesday night flight.

A near deserted Sovereign Hill, 18 March 2020

A near deserted Sovereign Hill, 18 March 2020

To make the most of their short visit, on Tuesday we took the ferry to Williamstown, then on Wednesday the train to Ballarat, to visit the Sovereign Hill open air museum, then still open (it closed a few days later). Not surprisingly it was very quiet.

Then back to Docklands for dinner before I saw them on to the airport bus. I was due to have other UK friends visit in April with the high spot of their visit being a road trip to Broken Hill and back but, needless to say, that’s cancelled.

So the new (for now) normality has taken over. Lots of time to work, some online contact, minimal interaction with others. Outdoor exercise is still allowed so I take a daily walk to get to my 6,000 step target – harder work now, since pre-virus a good portion of this was generally attained without trying, trips to supermarket (even if I didn’t really need anything), library coffee shop, Men’s Shed walk on Mondays, church mums and bubs group on Tuesdays etc.

But compared with so many I am truly fortunate: a spacious home, a business that so far has been unaffected by events, and good health. Here in Australia we’re currently counting the daily death toll in single figures; back in the UK it’s hundreds: with all my family there, including my mother, siblings and niece and partner working on the NHS front line, I’m far from complacent. To all those working hard to keep things going, and especially those on the front line, thank you.

 

So why has my church grown so much?

‘My’ church (OK, it’s God’s church), City on a Hill, started with in 2007 as Docklands Church, meeting at the James Squire Brewhouse in Melbourne Docklands. When I moved to Melbourne we’d been meeting for a year and numbered around a hundred people. Not too long after we started an evening service to take the pressure off the morning service (both, now all, our services are virtually identical, so you go to whichever suits you best).

By 2010 we could not accommodate everyone who wanted to come and with no suitable affordable space available in Docklands the decision was made to relocate to Hoyts cinema, Melbourne Central, at which point we changed our name to City on a Hill. Taking 130 people to a 400-seat cinema seemed (in ‘Yes Minister’ speak) a brave decision but before too long we were at capacity so moved to holding two morning services. In 2014 we started a Melbourne West congregation, and in 2017 a Melbourne East congregation. In September 2019 the continuing pressure on numbers led to us starting a Docklands service at the new Hoyts complex.

What a difference to my experience in the UK where the Congregational/United Reformed church of which I was part has been in decline for a hundred years. Why? What’s the secret

Inspired leadership must be the big one: more than a few church (and business) leaders have excelled in the one-person startup stage but have then come unstuck when it comes to building a team. We are blessed with a wonderful leadership team that has grown with the church.

Great teaching: Week after week our pastors serve up great messages that take a Bible passage and show us its application to our lives. In a digital age will people listen to 40-minute sermons?. Yes, they’re a key reason why people (nearly all in their 20s and 30s) come. Check out COAH podcasts

Consistency: I came from a church that for 30+ years had a half-time (shared) minister, with church members or visiting preachers conducting the other services, each bringing their own gifts to the pulpit. In addition we had a good number of special services. As a regular attender I really appreciated the variety. At COAH virtually every service follows much the same pattern: worship (possibly including a short interview), Bible reading, sermon, closing worship. But the big plus of this is that if you invite a friend, you know what will be served up. And people bring friends who very often stay.

Culture: The downside of this is a largely monocultural church, nearly all (not me!) being young professionals. You’d struggle to find a retired person in our number! One of our leaders once admitted: “There’s no way I’d bring my parents here: they’d hate it!”. ‘it’ probably referring to the music type and volume. This challenges me: I spent decades believing in a ‘something for everyone’ church, but perhaps having a number of complementary churches with their own distinct way of being church is better?

Governance: My previous UK church held to its Congregational roots, in that the ultimate decision making body was the church members meeting and I found it challenging to move to a church with top-down decision making – it being announced on a Sunday that ….. Both have their advantages and disadvantages – consensus and wider ownership of decisions v. being able to make quick decisions and not being held back by the inertia of some.

Buildings: Having studied building at university it was all but inevitable that I would 30+ years as a member of our church building committee, working to keep our mid-Victorian buildings in order. Now we meet in cinema and instead of endlessly grappling with heating, cleaning, leaking gutters etc etc, we just pay rent. So liberating, though it must be admitted that the setup and teardown each Sunday involves a lot of volunteer effort.

But with all this said, the key thing is that it’s God who gives (or withholds) the growth:

  • Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain (Psalm 127, 1)
  • I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Cor. 3, 6-7)

Or as Arthur Campbell Ainger put it in a hymn I love well:

  • All that we do is nothing worth, unless God blesses the deed;
    vainly we hope for the harvest-tide, till God gives life to the seed;

Thankfully, in our case he has. May this continue.

My church is 12!

Last Sunday my church – City on a Hill – celebrated its twelfth birthday. In person I’ve been part of the church for eleven of these twelve years but was in the loop from the beginning.

Our name, City on a Hill, comes from Matthew’s Gospel , chapter 5 verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” [ESV]. We started off as Docklands Church: St James Old Cathedral and St Jude’s Church had the vision of planting a church in Docklands, which then had a population of around 5,000 – it’s probably now three times that. Guy Mason was chosen to head up this project; we first met when I was visiting Melbourne in Easter 2007 and he’d just been appointed. Over coffee he outlined his vision, which was then light on detail but over the next six months a plan came together and on 28th October 2007 regular Sunday services began at the James Squire Brewhouse, kindly placed at our disposal by the then owners.

A year later I moved to Docklands. There was no doubt as to which church I would join. On my first Sunday I met lots of new people – the church had grown to around 100 – many names recognised from the emails I’d read over the months. Before long I’d been enlisted for setup – rearranging all the furniture for our service, then the mad scramble afterwards to make the pub ready for the lunch trade.

So why are we now City on a Hill? Word of this new church spread and our numbers increased to such a degree that we could not accommodate everyone. There was no suitable venue in Docklands so we had to move out, thus the need for a new name. On 9th May 2010 we held our first service at Hoyts Cinema, Melbourne Central. Taking over a 400-seat cinema when we had around 130 people looked (in ‘Yes Minister’ parlance) a courageous step but before too long we had to move to having two morning services, at 0900 and 1030 as well as our 1800 evening service.

And that was only the beginning: in addition to Melbourne Central we now have Melbourne West, Melbourne East, Geelong and Brisbane congregations, with Surf Coast and Gold Coast coming soon. And, coming full circle, we started a 1030 Docklands service at the new Hoyts Cinema this September. In total, several thousand people. Our stated vision is fifty churches in ten cities. Wait and see.

In my next piece I’ll venture a few thoughts as to why we’ve grown as we have.

A tale of two chairs

When I emigrated from UK to Melbourne in 2008, I came with a suitcase of clothes, followed soon after by two PCs sent by airfreight and then in due course 16 cartons of books, DVDs and souvenirs. Otherwise it was a case of starting from scratch.

For furniture I went to IKEA, not far from home though a tedious half-hour drive fighting Melbourne’s traffic lights and congestion. During my first two weeks here I went there nearly every day, buying another piece or two and then returning home to assemble it. In due course my apartment could have passed as an mini IKEA showroom – I’ve just had a tally up and I’ve got 31 pieces of IKEA furniture; the only items from elsewhere are my office desk and chair.

Two IKEA Ingolf chairs

Two IKEA Ingolf chairs

Initially to reduce clutter I bought just four Ingolf dining chairs to go with my (extendable) circular dining table, then one more as a bedroom chair. On the rare occasions when I needed to seat six I borrowed the bedroom chair and pressed my office chair into service.

Then last year I decided that it would be good to have six matching chairs when required. Thankfully when I checked the IKEA website the same chair was still on sale – one of the ways in which IKEA make money is by amortising their design costs over vast numbers of units: Poäng armchairs go back to 1978, Billy bookcases to 1979 – so off to buy one.

When I set to work assembling it, what was interesting was to see that in the intervening ten years the cost engineers had been to work. The picture shows old and new, superficially the same. What has changed is the weight – down from 6.7kg to 4.0kg (for bulk freight 160/ton now 250/ton) – and the way the chair is assembled. The older one comes with a ready made back/legs and front rail/legs and assembly involved linking these with two front/back rails. The new one came in an h-shaped box (which interlocks with another) containing two assembled sides, cross rails and X-rails. An interesting bit of cost engineering.

The Blue Lake

David Sornig

David Sornig, author

Ten days ago I had the pleasure of attending the official launch of David Sornig’s new book, Blue Lake. The lake, also known less flatteringly as the West Melbourne Swamp, was situated just north of where I live in Melbourne’s Docklands. In pre-settlement times it was a meeting place and rich hunting ground for Aboriginals, but over time it became a dumping ground and a place to situate noxious trades, then between the wars it then became the home of the notorious Dudley Flats, a shanty town where the lowest of the the low lived. It’s now been taken over by the dockland and urban freeways.

David Sornig tells the story through three residents: Elsie Williams, a singer of Afro-Caribbean descent, once billed as “the Coloured Nightingale”; Lauder Rogge, a German-born sailor who, though a naturalised Australian, was interned during World War I; and Jack Peacock, a stunt rider, horse trader and scrap dealer who made a good living on Dudley Flats.

I’m currently about one third through the book and it’s proving an interesting read.

In hospital – some random thoughts

The theme of my 60th birthday speech a few years back was ‘Life’s not fair’. I noted that I had enjoyed far more of life’s good things than most people, including good health and the extraordinary ‘achievement’ of having reached 60 without a single night in hospital (before you ask, I wasn’t born in one). But I’ve made up for this since, starting with a stay in the public Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2014.

Last month I spent two weeks in hospital, a week in Melbourne Private Hospital, then a week in rehab at Epworth Camberwell. How did this compare to my limited experience (as a visitor only) of English hospitals?

Firstly the UK and Australia have different attitudes to private health insurance. In UK private health insurance is generally offered as a perk by employers; few individuals buy it. Around 10% of the population are covered according to the Telegraph web site. Premiums are subject to 12% insurance premium tax and if your employer pays the premium, this is taxable as a fringe benefit .

Here in Australia it’s the opposite – roughly half the population have private health insurance^ even though they’re covered by our NHS-like Medicare. The private system is seen as taking load off the public system so if you don’t have private health insurance you may have to pay additional income tax (Medicare Levy Surcharge 1-1.5%). In addition the government pays part (33% in my case) of your premium as a rebate. Interestingly insurance companies are not allowed to cherry pick – e.g. All 63 year olds taking out the same policy with a particular insurer must be charged the same premium regardless of their medical history.

Bed space at Epworth Camberwell

Bed space at Epworth Camberwell

So staying in a private hospital is nothing exceptional in Australia. My rooms in each hospital, twin occupancy, weren’t that special, though TV and wifi were free. I could not fault the treatment I received. Without exception, the staff were excellent. As in UK hospitals, a good few of them were from overseas, working on contract.

But, unlike UK hospitals which in my limited experience are overheated during the winter, my rooms were cold and I had to ask for an extra blanket!

Melbourne Private Hospital chicken salad

Melbourne Private Hospital chicken salad

The food was good too (not a comment often heard from UK hospital patients), excellent at MPH, though surprisingly I struggled to find low-fat options on the menu. Useful hint for anyone under orders to lie flat on their back (for 48 hours in my case): pick toast for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch and dinner – you can eat them lying down without help!

But of course the best thing that happens in hospital is being told that you’re now ready to be discharged. In my case this was on my birthday, a great birthday present!