Watching the news, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
It was March 2020 and Stage 2 restrictions had just been announced in Victoria after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.
All indoor activities, such as eating at cafes, visiting the cinema and even going to the gym had been banned.
As a result, it meant my kids, Jesse, 12, and Jimi, 11, would need to be home-schooled and I’d need to close my photography studio down for the foreseeable future. A single mum, I began to panic.
How am I going to pay the bills? I wondered.
And, as I watched footage of people fighting over groceries and toilet paper on TV, I was lost for words.
It seemed like the world had gone mad. The fear and chaos created by the pandemic was turning people against each other.
I wanted to help uplift people, and lift my own spirits, too, but I wasn’t sure how.
Suddenly, I had an idea...
Scrolling through Facebook two days earlier, I’d seen a post from a mum at my son’s school.
She had shared how her sons had borrowed 72 library books prior to the lockdown.
Sending her a message, I asked if I could photograph her boys and their books – socially distanced, of course.
Afterwards, I shared the image on my own Facebook page. Just as I’d hoped, people said the happy photo helped them feel less isolated during such an unprecedented time.
Incredibly, my inbox was soon flooded with messages from people who wanted me to share how the pandemic was affecting them.
Chatting to my neighbour, Belinda Jackson, she admitted she was feeling the impact too.
Being a travel journalist for the past 15 years, her work had dried up because of the border restrictions.
‘I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ she fretted.
Her husband was working away and she was worried about how she was going to keep her daughter, Yasmine, nine, on track with her schoolwork and keep herself sane at the same time.
Telling her about my photo series, she offered to help edit everyone’s stories.
So, over the next few days, I visited dozens of people, including those whose jobs had been dramatically impacted, such as teachers, carers, doctors, marriage celebrants, personal trainers and even a lollipop lady.
There were also people who had taken advantage of being home more often, such as the family with a new puppy and the mother and daughter who’d taken up knitting.
But the stories that hit home most were those who’d lost loved ones during the pandemic and weren’t allowed to attend their funerals due to restrictions, such as Andrea, who sadly lost her father in June after he suffered a stroke.
Originally from Germany, she always banked on the fact her home country was just a 24-hour flight away if the worst was to happen.
But she was forced to say goodbye via a screen instead.
Posting more photos online, the response was immediate.
Though we were closed off from each other, by sharing the stories of others, people could see they weren’t the only ones who felt fearful.
‘You should make this into a book,’ one person said.
So, Belinda and I got to work, sifting through images and interviews I’d already done with about 60 people.
When Melbourne was forced into an even stricter lockdown in July, people felt more disconnected than before. We were only allowed to exercise outside for one hour a day and there was a curfew of 8pm.
So, Belinda phoned all our subjects to better reflect how they were dealing with life in lockdown.
Describing it as the ‘corona-coaster’, one woman joked, ‘One day, you’re feeling really good, the next, you’re clinging to a bottle of wine and rocking.’
Another lady, Noeline, said the last time she’d had to ration food was as a child in the Great Depression.
‘We had coupons for butter, sugar and tea,’ she recalled.
In October, Melbourne’s restrictions finally began to ease.
Despite being one of the most challenging experiences of our lives, I was amazed our lockdown project had bought our community closer together.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Belinda and I would just wave to each other.
Now, our kids have a close friendship, making us one, big, happy family.
When I first lost my job in March, it was easy to lose track of the hours, days and even weeks.
So, when Jude told me that she was documenting local people’s stories, I felt relieved someone was going to encapsulate the emotions of people.
Volunteering to help right away, I was so touched by so many of the stories.
It was clear from the beginning that by reading about and seeing how others were coping during the pandemic helped them feel less alone.
I’m so proud of Melburnians and Victorians for what we’ve achieved during these lockdowns.
Through our sacrifices, we’ve helped stop this virus from spreading throughout Australia and come out the other side even stronger than before.
Jude and Belinda’s book, ‘Together Apart: Life in Lockdown’, is available now at lockdownstories.com.au