Competition – 500 words related to Covid-19 (31st March)

The challenge

The competition was write up to 500 words, prose or poetry, on any topic related to Covid-19 and the current situation. The prize was a framed mandala which has the theme of love within the Celtic design donated by Lyn Colenso. The judges were Dianne Parslow, Gillian Essex and Lyn Colenso.


The entrants and the winners
  1. Just Give Us A Week (by Brenda Smith) *** The winner ***
  2. Corona Clouded (by Judy Vizzari) *** Honorary mention ***
  3. Corona Virus Solitude (by Graeme Sweeney)
  4. Covid-19 – Early Days (by John Robertson)
  5. Ode To A Lonely Spatchcock (by Mary Boyd)
  6. Corona Crisis (by Neil Taylor)
  7. Echo From The Past (by Serena Sweeney)
  8. Corona Story (by Sue Lloyd)

Here is what one of the judges said about Brenda's winning entry: "I like the way that this story reflects the immense changes that occurred within one week but also how quickly people adapted to the change – even older people who had never done such things before."

And here is what another judge said: “I enjoyed the staging, showing how things escalated. I especially like the positive ending, not being put off by technology.

Here is what one of the judges said about Judy's second place entry: "By using a diary format, the writer paints a wonderful picture of how the week that changed everything crept up on her consciousness. There are some brilliant phrases here: beautiful Melbourne is its own masterpiece; a day that belies our invisible opponent; seeped into every cold, dark, moist corner; pain and permanently blackened fingernails, such are the gifts of gardening; and beds of lemon gold flower heads will dance in spring sunshine. I love the way this story ends – with a sense of hope."

Just Give Us A Week (by Brenda Smith) *** The Winner ***

My parents never mentioned Spanish Flu, even though that virus killed more people worldwide than World War 1. Now here we are in another historical time and I am keen to keep a personal journal.

March 15th, Monday. Loved the U3A talk Professor Louis Roller gave at the Living and Learning Centre, Eltham. The topic was ‘You and your Medicine’, part of the 2020 Speaker’s Program. Jo Osbourne and I decided to attend, even though that afternoon we had our regular U3A Class ‘First Nations’. At the end of the talk, we had a window of 15 minutes in which to drive over to Diamond Creek, Senior Citizens Hall. A quick dash and we walked into the class, only to find that all U3A classes were to be cancelled as of midnight. What a shock! Only classes in the open air (bowling, walking) could continue, but how? We all sat around and discussed the next 2 weeks of term. A walk though Wattle Glen was suggested, as no-one wanted the term to end before Easter. I was already thinking ahead, that our Painting and Drawing Class could be en plein air in Wingrove Park; plenty of room to spread out and the forecast was for 29 degrees. Rather like Van Gogh and Gauguin, setting out with their easels along the canals in Provence.

March 16th, Tuesday. Surprised to have a breakfast call cancelling my Life Memoirs Class. What am I going to do with my 1,000 word story this week? Also a surprising phone call from my daughter Helen in Perth, to say that her proposed Easter trip would probably be off; Qantas cancelling many of their scheduled flights.

March 17th. Our weekly ramble with the Diamond Valley Bushwalkers is cancelled. Does the fresh air count for nothing? In this wonderful sunny autumn weather, surely we can be more flexible. It seems to me that civilisation has suddenly turned upside down.

March 20. Hurrah for ‘Tuning into Opera’. Our tutors Lyn and Tom Richards have come up with a plan on their blog. Now social distancing makes it impossible to meet, we can download the fine production of the Ring Cycle by Opera North, Leeds. The New York Met also promises to stream free some of their outstanding productions. Lyn has already worked out the days and times the operas commence (we are 15 hours ahead). Things are looking up.

March 24th. Over this last weekend I find we are at Stage 1 and we now have a National Cabinet. Japan has postponed the Tokyo Olympic Games. I am delighted to receive an invitation to a Life Memoir meeting this week. It appears that our leader Serena Sweeney has mastered Zoom. I will get to read my story after all, virtually. What fun, I have never conferenced a meeting on computer before. So this is the future, I am in awe of our resourceful seniors and it’s only taken a week to change!

Corona Clouded (by Judy Vizzari) *** Honorary mention ***

STAGE 1 Sunday, 23 February, 2020: NGV 18th Century Gallery – Free Drawing Class

I’m sitting amongst several hundred would-be artists packed onto stools and even the floor, silently intent on drawing. Out front is our facilitator, enthusiastically discussing 18th Century painting techniques. He’s young, perhaps overawed by the size of his class and his microphone echoes so I can’t understand what he’s saying but luckily, he’s with a signer.

I’m inspired to draw a lily white marble statue, a woman who looks down dreamily from her plinth. Bad choice… eventually I leave.

Outside, St Kilda Road is packed with sight-seers and the sun is bathing the city in late afternoon’s liquid light. A busker soaks the air with her mellow refrain and I feel privileged to be here, beautiful Melbourne is its own masterpiece.

But there’s been talk of a virus up there in Wuhan city, China. They say it’s dangerous – very contagious, they call it ‘coronavirus‘. I rub shoulders with sightseers and a bell I don’t quite acknowledge rings in my blanketed distance.

STAGE 2 Thursday, 19 March 2020: A pleasant morning

Thursdays are good days, they’re my U3A days – I look forward to them, usually.

But today is different. A Coronavirus pandemic has been declared, there’s news of its spread overseas and warnings, lots of warnings about its containment in Australia.

Bad times are predicted. Our city is closing down, bit by bit, job by job.

On this Thursday I have an appointment, an interview and I think, ‘Stage 2 restrictions start in a few days – should I cancel?’ I don’t want this to be happening, I answer, ‘No.’

I’m driving down a near empty road to a vast community garden in Doncaster. My interviewee is waiting, cheerfully. We meet and throughout the sunny morning he provides insights into how multicultural gardeners grow food. This learning is fun but we know a bleak winter is coming.

STAGE 3 Sunday, 29 March 2020: Golden Promises

Yet another brilliant autumn day, a day that belies our invisible opponent. The virus is all around us now, in our supermarkets, on our hands, in the air we breathe, it’s taken over our news reports and seeped into every cold, dark, moist corner. We’re afraid to go out save to stock up on sometimes questionable ‘essentials’.

I was given a bag of jonquil bulbs last summer; there must be over 100 of them. It’s time to plant them. Their flowers will be lemon coloured, like those that grow wild in the fields up in Kangaroo Ground.

Pain and permanently blackened fingernails, such are the gifts of gardening. But there are benefits, too – when the purple Hardenbergia blooms then beds of lemon gold flower heads will dance in spring sunshine.

The fear of infection is here, the prospect of a dour winter is upon us and concern for our loved ones is real – this is a time like no other.

But it, too, will pass – I’m waiting for Spring.

Corona Virus Solitude (by Graeme Sweeney)


Two tenth floor balconies, eight feet apart. Two men doing their thirty day corona virus isolation.

Jack, returned from overseas. Girlfriend, Sophia, in hospital recovering from a leg amputation. She is a violinist who intuitively composes soothing music.

Mitch, released from jail and a year’s solitary confinement.

Both are disposed to talk. They are compatible.

Jack asks Mitch to help him get a feeling for the effect of isolation on the human spirit so that Sophia can compose soothing music for people in jail or in corona virus isolation or other challenging environments. Mitch agrees.

“What can I do?”

“You talk, I’ll type.”

“For starters. Lack of connection with people and life. Couldn’t see or hear or touch or smell people – couldn’t sense them, hear them laughing or crying or just making noises or breathing — couldn’t experience friendly pats on the back or hugs — couldn’t hear humanity’s sounds.

“Lack of contact with Nature – with the sky and clouds – with vistas of trees and horizons – with mountains and oceans and lakes and rivers and animals and everything that grows in the ground – with birds and animals, and especially with dogs and cats – with variable weather.

Is that enough to begin with?”

“Sure is. You’ve given us leads we can get stuck into.”

Balcony scene a week later

Jack, “I’ll summarise. We learnt a lot this week. People write and take lots of photos – and gladly share them. A girl doing a kindergarten course recorded twenty different sorts of sounds in different types of child care – and has sent them to us to use however we want. A scuba diver who is a professional photographer has sent us sounds – underwater, wind, seabirds, dolphins, whales, and a whole range of waves crashing onto shorelines down to wavelets coming into shore . A town planning student has recorded a wide range of city sounds – trains, buses, cars, crowds of people in shops, crowds on special shopping days, buskers, cathedral bells, building sites, vacuum cleaning and trolley pushing, sounds inside public transport. And lots more.”

Balcony scene ten days later.

‘Mitch, what do you think?”

“Played Sophia’s tape all through last night. She’s captured the wonders and joys and ordinarinesses of humanness. Had the best sleep ever. Didn’t dread waking up. I’m a person again.

I’ll try to get the prison authorities to allow everyone in solitary to listen to her tape as much as they like. If it could be played through the whole jail, if everyone released was given a copy to take away with them, if it could be sent to all Australian jails and remand centres, I reckon the rate of recidivism would be halved.”

“Mitch, I’ve had similar responses from one hotel housing Corona Virus isolationists – three isolationist homes – one busy childcare centre – two hospital emergency reception desks – a Centrelink office – a big retailer”. I’ll send copies for widespread distribution to the main Corona Virus oversight people.”

Friendships formed for life.

Covid-19 – Early Days (by John Robertson)

Clara was finding it hard to keep calm. She’d just driven to half a dozen different supermarkets trying to find some toilet paper. She was completely out and was in the unfortunate position of having one of those unmentionable conditions whereby when you’ve got to go, well you’ve GOT TO GO!!!!!! Normally, Clara would have more than adequate supplies of this essential sanitary requirement but an unfortunate incident earlier in the week had prevented her from holding her usual level of stocks. It eventuated this way. George, her husband and ever-loving grandfather to Cora and Suzy, had been babysitting these delightful 2 year old twins when he had come down with a violently unpleasant tummy bug which had struck with astonishing speed leaving poor George stuck in the smallest room of the house for an inordinate period of time. It’s not clear whether the adorable Cora and Suzy were the source of George’s malaise – that is beyond the boundaries of this sad story. Anyway Cora, because of her own condition, took refuge in her bedroom (with ensuite bathroom) and left George to his own devices until he was able to recover. Of course, by the time he did recover, 3 days had passed and, by then the damage, as yet undiscovered, had been done. As Cora sound realised, all stocks of the precious commodity were gone with the exception of 4 sheets on the last roll in their ensuite. It was only when George had recovered some bodily composure once again that Cora emerged from her self-isolation to discover the sad situation concerning the toilet tissue stocks, or lack thereof.

As she made her despondent way home, Cora was scratching her head trying to figure out what could be done about the predicament she found herself in. As soon as she was home, she took stock of the various items which could be used as a substitute:

1 roll of kitchen towel
1 box of tissues
14 paper napkins
23 sheets of A4 paper in the printer
Last Saturday’s Age
2 old phone books
6 sheets of sandpaper in the shed????

As she totalled up how long this might last – 3 weeks at a pinch as long as her “condition” remained in remission, 3 days otherwise.

Ah, well surely supermarket stocks will have recovered by then she surmised, when she heard George calling out from the front door – “Hello, Cora, hello Suzy. What a lovely surprise.”

Ode To A Lonely Spatchcock (by Mary Boyd)

I was after something finger lickin’
Maybe a crispy roasted chicken?
Alas, how deep was my despair
To find that all the shelves were bare.
Neither bird nor feather remained in sight
They’d all been plucked and taken flight.
But there I spy in a corner,
dejected –
A sole bird the crowd rejected.

Fine wine tonight to toast
and roast
The last of that feathered flock

My sad little spatchcock.

Corona Crisis (by Neil Taylor)

I scream, “go away“, but the beasts just close in and engulf me.

Their eyes, the first thing that alarmed me, wild, frantic, unblinking as they bore down. I was warned not to attend so early but disregarded the advice.

What could go wrong?” I told my friends.

Now the nightmare unfolds around me. I am first trapped in a narrow aisle then mercilessly trampled underfoot. Unlike in Pamplona at the San Fermin Festival and the running of the bulls, there are no Red Cross personnel here to help me.

The first wave has passed leaving me laying on the floor bruised and battered. A terrifying click clacking at the other end of the row strikes terror into my very soul. I know it is heralding yet another onslaught which is about to bear down on me.

The sound of a siren screaming and reflections of blue and red lights bouncing off buildings is was what I awoke to. A pair of paramedics are looking down at me but I can’t discern any of their features as they are fully garbed in white protective gowns, their faces covered with masks under a transparent shield.

We stop at the emergency entrance and the ambulance is met by two fully gowned orderlies with a gurney. I am gently transferred and wheeled into the hospital. There are red signs everywhere stating, caution corona virus patients must follow the red line. My carers disregard this instruction and follow a blue line and park me in a small cubicle in the casualty department.

After many hours a weary doctor attends. His diagnosis is eventually completed and I end up in a crisp white bed in the general ward, wrapped in bandages and fitted with multiple plaster casts.

Now with plenty of time to reflect. Visions of walking frames and walking sticks come to me, nightmares that will never leave.

I wonder if I really needed to call into Coles at 7.30am for that packet of tissues.

Echo From The Past (by Serena Sweeney)

Echoes from the past float over Victoria this Easter, a state in shock at the lock down caused by Covid-19. In 1919 the Australian troops returned unknowingly bringing the Spanish Flu with them.

Lexton is a small town in central Victoria, forty-five km from Ballarat on the road to Ararat and like many towns settled in the 1840s, has a hotel, general store, hall, football ground, church and school and a population of around one hundred and fifty.

At the time of the First World War the Naylor and Smith families were long established in the district. James Smith emigrated from Ireland, joined the Victorian Police Force in 1860, and settled in Lexton when he retired.

George Naylor, born in Tasmania in 1839, worked around the Victorian gold fields until he settled with his ten children in Lexton in 1880. In 1900 Tom Smith married Mary Naylor with both families very involved in local affairs. Mary also wrote a diary covering these years detailing the life of her family, those of her brothers and sisters, their families and the daily life of the town.

When the First World War was declared, George Naylor, Mary Smith’s unmarried brother aged forty-two enlisted. He said he went to the war so a man with a family could stay at home.

The Naylor family received the sad news that Gorge had been killed on the 4th February 1917, missing in action on the Western Front. The news devastated his family especially his father whose health was never the same after this news.

The war ended and the Australian soldiers returned home to a country with many families in mourning.

George senior’s health deteriorated after the loss of his son and in May 1919 he had a stroke. His two sons from Melbourne, Tom who had a Billiard Saloon in Chelsea and Jack a blacksmith from Epping visited their ailing father. Jack soon returned to Epping to see his family and arrange to spend more time with his father, but he never returned to Lexton.

The Spanish flu had started to spread to country Victoria when Mary Smith received the terrible news that Jack had succumbed in Epping. He was rushed to the Melbourne Base Hospital but died there after a few days illness. The loss of two brothers and a father in such a short space of time was a blow to the family with Jack leaving a sick wife and four small children. It was ‘too sad for words and leaves a blank in our lives never to be filled’ Mary wrote in her diary.

State borders were closed, the Exhibition Building in Melbourne was turned into a hospital, schools, churches and places of entertainment were closed and around four thousand Victorians died from the Spanish Influenza. Hidden behind those statistics are countless untold stories of the private grief of families and the long trail that grief left.

Mark Twain supposedly said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes“.

Corona Story (by Sue Lloyd)

Josh flew in the door, dumped his school bag, kicked off his runners and shouted, “MUM, MUM”.

“What one earth is it?” replied his mother coming into the hall with her arms full of ironing.

Jumping up and down with excitement, the words tumbled out. “Ben says it’s free, really, free. You must tell Dad. Quick before it isn’t free anymore.” He grabbed her iphone and thrust it at her, causing her to drop all the ironing.

“Josh, for goodness sake that’s enough. Now look what you made me do. Are you mad thinking I’ll ring your Dad at this hour of the day? He’d be furious.”

“Mum, pleeeese, it’s very important. It’s for you, he’s been thinking about getting one for ages.”

“What on earth are you talking about? You’re talking in riddles. Tell me what you mean.”

“I can’t. I promised I wouldn’t. If I tell it may not be free anymore. Everyone might get to hear about it. Ben says there’s two other free things as well. We must do something, really we must,” Josh pleaded, urgency in his voice and agitation evident in his wiry body.

“This has gone far enough. No more nonsense. Now help me pick up all this ironing and then you can go and clean your bedroom up.”

Sobbing in frustration he pleaded with his Mum. “What time’s Dad’s lunch. Can we ring him then?”

“Enough Josh.”

“Listen Mum, please just listen. If I tell you, will you tell Dad before it’s too late?”

“I suppose there’ll be no peace until I hear what you want to say. You really don’t give up do you? O.K. I’m listening.”

“Apart from Dad you mustn’t tell anyone. Ben heard someone talking. There’s a free Corona, that’s a car right? Dad’s said he wanted to get you a car but he couldn’t afford one. Well now maybe you could have one. That’s not all. He can get free Corona beer, that’s the sort he likes isn’t it? Since Mr. Jenkins cut his wages he hasn’t had much beer has he? And, listen Mum, there’s another free thing as well. Ben told me. You can get free money, it’s called Krona. I’m not sure how you spell, it sounds like Corona. Ben didn’t hear that part very well. But just think, a new car and some money to buy Dad’s beer. I’m sure it would be alright to ring Dad just this once. Maybe he could call on his way home and get one from the garage before every one catches on to the idea that it’s free. News about free things spreads like a virus.”