COVID DOWNUNDER

Life changed dramatically and immediately in Australia on March 21st when the government imposed reasonably strict lockdown and social distancing restrictions. As a result of these restrictions, Australia seems to have been spared the brunt of the impacts of COVID-19.As it stands, the first two weeks of Winter in New South Wales have seen no known community transfers of the virus and restrictions have been gradually easing over the last month.

COVID-19 arrived after an Australian summer of apocalyptic proportions. Bushfires ravaged extensive areas of the landscape and after months of flame and smoke, heavy rain and floods arrived. It was during the numb and dazed calm that followed that a new and inconceivably more sinister threat was emerging.

On a personal note, my role as Coordinator of the Royal Botanic Garden’s Youth Community Greening program changed overnight. The community program which sees us working with ‘at risk’ youth across the state stopped and all planned programs were put on hold. The plants, people and places were swapped for the laptop and home office.

Ordinarily, the thought of sitting in front of a screen for any extended period would fill me with dread. However, I’m extremely lucky to have a large decked area at home overlooking a native garden. Working from home turned out to be quite relaxing. I also live adjacent to the Illawarra Escarpment, a local nature reserve, so when the internet dropped out, I simply wandered off through the bush for further inspiration.

The focus of work went from providing hands on workshops and education programs to supporting people and groups who don’t have the luxury that I do. Numerous people lost their jobs during this time, but they also lost the opportunity to get outside and socialise in greenspaces, which is essential for many. During this time, the Community Greening team was busy creating digital resources and connecting with our communities and schools through Facebook live demonstrations, virtual challenges and providing advice through various social media platforms.

While this time has been horrific on many levels, it has given me a chance to reflect on the importance of the work we do and the significant role that nature and greenspaces play in so many of our lives. Time for reflection is vital for our health and perhaps this enforced period will have been a catalyst for people to consciously step back from their hectic lives going forward.

I’m looking forward to setting up ‘Silent Spaces’ in schools and community gardens across the state of NSW in Australia once things settle down.