This week while Sydneysiders celebrate “picnic day” – restrictions being eased so they can meet up outside in groups of five, we get a taste of what feels like the promised land: a rosé in Rose Bay and cracking open a cold one with the boys.
But it’s not all of us. In the 12 local government areas of concern in the city’s west we will be allowed to sit down outside for the first time in weeks – but we are not allowed to meet up with anyone outside our household.
Our high vaccination rates seem to mean nothing here.
Those of us in the “pleb” LGAs face hefty fines if we try to enjoy a mentally relaxing hike with mates, despite the remarkably lower risk of transmission out in the open.
For a while now we’ve all had to deal with government shortcomings: not clamping down earlier, restricted vaccine supply and mixed messaging that has left people afraid to take the AstraZeneca vaccine.
But it’s become so much tougher for us in south-west Sydney. While a large proportion of cases are in our area and targeted restrictions have been used before, none have been as punitive as here. That we have less access to green space than many other people in Sydney makes it even tougher.
It’s difficult to explain how you and those around you feel when you have to mute your mic on Zoom to avoid the embarrassment of coworkers hearing the police helicopters flying above you, and are left out of the conversations when people share plans for their first gatherings under these new freedoms.
This isn’t about stripping freedoms from other LGAs, or a call for more policing and fines. On the contrary, this is a reflection on what we feel are double standards and differing experiences of lockdown.
Along with everyone else in Sydney we were promised freedoms when more jabs were in arms and our communities responded, hosting pop-up vaccination clinics and helping to get the word out. And people flocked to get vaccinated, leading Australia with the highest vaccination rate increases, despite a vaccine shortage. You’re welcome.
At a time when a mere trip to Coles is a cause for us all to dress to impress, everyone could do with a break. But forgive those of us in the 12 LGAs if we feel a little jaded every time we hear someone say we’re in the same boat.
During last year’s outbreaks, authorities spoke about trust, mateship and helping each other out. “We will get through this together, Australia,” Scott Morrison said. “We all have a role to play.”
But when Delta worked its way across Sydney to those of us unfortunate enough to be born on the other side of the “Red Rooster line”, that trust was exchanged for suspicion. Mateship was traded for requests to call Crime Stoppers.
The New South Wales government eventually ramped up its messaging, believing that it could reach more people if the right thing was said in the right language.
But I wonder if language and messaging were a consideration when the health minister, Brad Hazzard, made his remarks about those from “other backgrounds who don’t seem to think that it is necessary to comply with the law”, or when the government decided to send in the Australian defence force, the riot squad and highway patrols to ensure we were all “compliant”.
The militarised response and condescending language contrasted with what we all saw on social media: that you could flock to a beach without a mask. We’re not mad that others are at the beach – we’re mad that we aren’t allowed to enjoy the safe activity of relaxing outside as well.
It’s disingenuous to say we’re all in this together and simultaneously reject for months requests from the mayors from these mostly culturally and linguistically diverse communities to discuss their concerns. The NSW premier finally agreed to a meeting this week.
It’s also dishonest to say we’re in the same boat when a curfew, which by the deputy premier’s admission “does not work”, is not imposed elsewhere and wasn’t imposed in previous outbreaks in NSW. As John Barilaro himself said: “It does nothing more than hurt the wellbeing of that community.”
But the biggest kick in the teeth comes from knowing that transmission is occurring in essential workplaces but our restrictions don’t address that. Instead we have restrictions that the premier has gone on the record saying there is little to no public health evidence for, and were only granted at the request of police. We all feel so dejected to see Delta being treated like a criminal matter instead of a medical one.
So while we know that we will (eventually) be given back those freedoms, and this outbreak will come to an end, feeling like a second-class citizen won’t evaporate so quickly.
We will remember being annexed from the beautiful Sydney that everyone else dreams of travelling to. We’ll have all the businesses that closed down, youth who were told they were criminals for so long they began to believe it, a breakdown in connection and other scars to show for it.
So if anyone tells you we’re all in this together, make like Darryl Kerrigan from The Castle and “tell him he’s dreaming”.
Fayssal Merheb is a writer from southwest Sydney creating conversations around memes, music, pop culture and politics