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Joe Hildebrand: Gladys Berejiklian has angered Sydneysiders with lockdown

Gladys Berejiklian’s lockdown has angered Sydneysiders, who value their freedoms and accept that life is a game of risk, writes Joe Hildebrand.

Amid Melbourne’s brutal and lengthy lockdown last year, I wrote that my hometown had been caught in a tale of two cities.

There were the lockdown luvvies, mainly in affluent and inner-city suburbs, who delighted in posting self-congratulatory “We can do this!” type messages on social media alongside the ubiquitous doughnut emojis.

Then there were the frustrated and desperate residents in the poorer and migrant-heavy northern and outer southeastern suburbs – where I grew up – who were clearly just jack of the whole damn thing and wanted to go to work, see their families and live their lives.

In Sydney, this time around, we have seen a remarkably similar pattern. Despite being the source of the outbreak, the well-heeled residents of Bondi and the Eastern Suburbs were also highly compliant in containing it. Most were able to work from home, and language barriers were all but non-existent.

Sure, they still loved to strut on the beach, but that is a genetic predisposition for that part of the world. And such activity is not high-risk. Thus the contact tracers were still neck and neck with the hyper-contagious Delta variant as long as it was centered there.

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But it was a very different story when the virus jumped the tracks to southwest Sydney – across the road from my neck of the woods. Instead of blue blood, these people had blue collars. They did not have the luxury of working from home, nor did they have the luxury of not working at all.

There was also the issue of language barriers – as we saw with the troubled and tragic case of the removalists – and the intense emotional connections to extended family among migrant communities that perhaps some white-picket-fenced WASPs find easier to suppress.

And so the first point to make is that the people of southwest Sydney should not be pilloried for the second-phase spread that finally overwhelmed NSW’s once world-beating contact tracers. On the contrary, the main drivers appear to have been an irrepressible work ethic and commitment to family – qualities that would otherwise be celebrated in Australia.

But the second point, and perhaps the more significant one, is that there is a fundamental difference in how Sydney and Melbourne view Covid-19 and all its accompanying carnage – both biological and man-made.

Sydney is a city built on risk. It was a risk for the first white settlers to come here – not to mention the ones who came 40,000 years earlier – and it has been a battleground for survival ever since.

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It is the most aggressive, competitive, and outward-looking city in Australia. It is not a place where you go to be safe; it is a place where you go to make it or break it – and maybe get broken. It is, in short, a pretty tough spot.

And so, there is little tolerance for the paternalistic and protectionist zeal that other states have so enthusiastically embraced when it comes to tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

As others locked down and shut their borders at the slightest hint of an outbreak, there was a sense of pride and expectation that NSW would not do the same, and this is why Premier Gladys Berejiklian now finds herself in a spot of bother.

Gemma Broadhurst
Gemma Broadhurst is a 23-year-old computing student who enjoys extreme ironing, hockey and duck herding. She is kind and entertaining, but can also be very standoffish and a bit evil.She is an Australian Christian. She is currently at college. studying computing. She is allergic to milk. She has a severe phobia of chickens

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