Unintended consequences

By Major Brendan Nottle

My grandmother was quite elderly when I was young, so my memories of her are vague, apart from two enduring and detailed recollections involving her.

The first was whenever she prepared lunch for us, it was always the same gastronomic delight – white bread smothered with dripping. It’s a wonder I didn’t have a heart attack at the tender age of six.

The second memory was that our grandmother would often fly into a fit of rage whenever we turned the lights on in the loungeroom without closing the curtains first. My grandmother was clearly a product of the era in which she lived. As a single mother to four young children living during the Great Depression of the 1930s, she had become inculcated with this deep sense of, “making every penny count” hence the cheap and hearty lunch option of bread and dripping.

My grandmother also lived during World War Two, with three of her four children serving in the Australian Defence Forces. Hence, her vigilance around making sure the curtains were closed before the house lights were turned on, “just in case the enemy was nigh”. This notion that we are often a product of the era that we live in has got me thinking about the unintended consequences of living through a pandemic.

Just recently, our family, like so many other families, gathered together in a cafe together for the first time in many, many months. One of the things that struck me was that our 20-month-old granddaughter reached into her Grandma’s handbag and pulled out a pair of cleaning gloves. This sight of this was odd but clearly a sign of the times. Suddenly, our granddaughter put the cleaning gloves on, picked up a serviette and began cleaning every chair in the cafe for the next 45 minutes. Her efforts were so meticulous that the head waiter offered her a job! Our granddaughter then picked up my glasses case and used it to “sign in” our family via the cafe’s QR Code!

It was all innocent fun, until I spoke with a psychologist who said that her and her colleagues have seen an increase in the number of children they are seeing who are battling obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In most of these cases, the child is driven by an overwhelming fear that the COVID-19 virus is lurking virtually everywhere. This appears to be another sign of the times in which we live.

Another concern about the period in which we live is what the impact of a lack of physical contact will have on us, especially our children. We have socially distanced, but in doing so, we, and many of our kids, have missed out on hugs and cuddles, handshakes and affectionate and appropriate physical contact. We have to ask the question, what will the unintended consequences be on us, our kids and future generations?

With six lockdowns being imposed on our city, the CBD had become akin to a ghost town. It has been encouraging in recent times to see businesses reopening and crowds of people starting to grace the city’s streets and laneways, albeit in fits and spurts. However, many of us have stopped accessing the city for work and shopping. We have worked from home for nearly two years, and we have become used to shopping locally. What will be the unintended consequence of this behaviour on our CBD?

The state government announced a $50 billion suburban rail link during the last election. Work on making this vision a reality continues unabated. Suburbs like Ringwood, Box Hill, Dandenong, Frankston, Laverton and Mernda continue to grow as potential mini-CBDs. The suburban rail link has created a perception that it is part of a plan to de-centralise the city. The question has to be asked is this the case and if so, what is the future for the city? Is the plan to see the city return to pre-COVID conditions or is there a vision for something different? Or is there no future vision? Is what happens to the CBD being left to the unintended consequences of the construction of the suburban rail link?

I do not believe we should be fearful of what lies ahead for the CBD. Rather, we should be thinking deeply and strategically about what sort of city we want going forward rather than leaving the outcome to be decided by the unintended consequences for a vision for outer suburban Melbourne •

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