My job is unique, but not in a sense that it is unusual for small-town, regional Australia. More just in the sense that it’s out-of-the-ordinary.
This morning, though, as I drive through the gates, half held closed with a traffic cone to indicate limited operations, down the long, gravel driveway to the office building set by the familiar grass runways, my proverbial second home feels more like a portal to another world than ever.
I can feel the constrict of the impending pandemic tightening like fingers at the throat, and while I remain calm and endeavour not to let it get to me, Tassie’s closed its borders to all non-essential travel within the last 24 hours and I am keen to take the opportunity to squeeze in by private plane this afternoon. The plan is for Mumma to pick me up from the aero club and transport me, like a package, straight up to isolation – me having donned a mask, gifted a few days before by someone who somehow had a spare one.
Jono and I touch down in the Travelair around five in the afternoon. ‘That’s good,’ I think, ‘Mum finishes work at half past.’
As we climb out and Jono reaches for the fuel pump, a ute approaches the fence and two quarantine officers, kitted out to the nines in suits, gloves and glasses, prepare to meet me on the other side of the high fence. They’re joined, minutes later, by two police officers and another ARO, younger than the bloke I spoke to on the phone a day earlier, who had let me know we’d be right to come in – provided I was planning on following the mandatory state-to-state quarantine rules.
Jono looks at me, smiles and starts filling the plane. “Good luck,” he whistles encouragingly, as I swallow hard and lead my bag around the plane to the gate. Nothing worries that guy.
The quarantine officers were kind, clearly small airport staff who were having to quickly adapt to drastic, new procedures. They handed me a form to fill out and I tried to concentrate on that, panicking slightly when I realised I didn’t even know the address of the place Mum was planning on storing me for the next fourteen days. I’m actually trembling, and I have to stop myself so as to write neatly. ‘Don’t be silly, you haven’t done anything wrong!‘
I tried to call Mum – no answer.
I apologised to the officers, who were now just standing around waiting for me. One of the policemen started taking a copy of my details in the meantime, and I noticed the other had entered the tarmac area to speak to Jono. I really worried that he wasn’t going to be allowed on to Hobart to pick up his parents and bring them back home to Victoria, but I needn’t have. Presently he taxied out, with strict instructions not to leave the tarmac in Hobart.
I tried Mum again – finally! But she didn’t know the number – just the name of the property. The airport people and the police seemed happy with that. Fair enough.
They make me drop my form straight into a big, black quarantine garbage bag and spent the next five minutes almost comically removing garments and protective gear, step-by-step. I accept a squirt of hand sanitiser and, before I know it, they’ve gone and I’m completely alone, sitting in afternoon sunlight on the grass by the aero club.
It’s funny, I reflect, how the whole thing made me feel. With a background like mine (and having left home at seventeen) I’m not used to the concept of really being at the mercy of something or someone – whether it is a superior, or a foreign governing body, or anything like that. During the uncomfortable moments I was under scrutiny – especially waiting for the information regarding my address – I was hyper-aware (even though I was not in trouble, per se) of my actions and what they meant to the region that I was entering. At the time, I really tried to imagine how genuine refugees must feel and cope, and it was decidedly even more uncomfortable than reading No Friend but the Mountains (Behruiz Boochani). It is not a nice place to sit, or be made to. We have it so lucky.
Later, cruising into the hills with the windows down, I can hear kookaburras through the sunroof and Mum tells me that Nan, of all people, keeps asking if it’s alright to go to the bakery for takeaway coffees. I make funny, twitchy faces when the mask feels odd and slips down my cheek a bit. This is weird, life is weird right now, but I am also so fortunate. I have the perfect opportunity to conduct an immaculate isolation, and experiment on myself. Too perfect, really, and I wonder if it is even going to be any kind of difficult to stay isolated for fourteen days – unless I actually do carry the virus and start showing symptoms. I’m the most pathetic human being when I’m sick.
I guess it’s not ordinary. I might as well write about it.