A mate from Sydney who is a tradie called me today for a chat.
“I haven’t worked in about six weeks”, he told me, adding that he had a couple of days work this week and that he has a couple of days coming up.
“But they want me to go out to Blacktown and other hot spots”, he said.
“Central is empty and there’s police everywhere”, he added.
He said he was pleased and maybe a little bit envious that I was well away from it all.
Well, not completely well away from it all.
People in Lismore, I told him, are wearing masks, even when they don’t necessarily need to. Lismore is probably a different case to some other towns in the region, such as Byron Bay and Mullumbimby, where there’s a significant anti-vaxxer movement, and Qanon-related skepticism around COVID.
“The pubs are still open”, I told him, adding to his envy, as he likes a drink. We met at our local pub back in Surry Hills.
He’s originally from Ireland. “The pubs back home are just starting to open up properly”, he said, adding, “But you need to show proof of vaccination”.
As of this week, I have “proof of vaccination”. On Wednesday, I had my second Astra Zeneca vaccination at the Lismore Clinic. Unlike last time, there were no side effects. In fact, I hardly felt the needle.
Going to the Lismore Clinic Medical Centre also gave me an insight into my later life. The busy waiting room was full of older people, though not significantly older than me.
And then I went to the Centrelink / Medicare office.
Do you get where I’m going with this?
For quite some time I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to link my MyGovID and Medicare accounts. I shared this problem with people on Twitter, and there were many who agreed with my post about how difficult it can be.
Though I’m very good with computers and stuff, I sometimes have problems with computer systems recognising my surname, due to the apostrophe. This time around, the problem was that some parts of my identification recognise that I have two middle names, and others don’t.
I had pretty much recognised that was the problem, and so I figured the best way to resolve it was to go into an office and have everything standardised.
I knew in an instant the woman assigned to me was that office’s answer to Carol from Little Britain, the extremely unhelpful person known for the catchphrase “Computers says no”.
As I’m away from home I wasn’t able to show all the necessary identification to make the changes, even though I have them electronically, and so she said I would have to ring the call centre. “But I can’t show them the paper identification either”, I implored her. I don’t know if she got my reference to “Computer says no” when I told her I would do that.
And from there I was back and forward to call centres, between MyGov, Medicare and the ATO.
Finally, I found someone who was extremely helpful. She explained the problem was my first piece of identification came from the Tax Office and that’s where the inconsistency was. “Let’s just start from scratch”, she said. Within minutes, she had resolved the problem.
If that sounds like a fairly mundane highlight of the week, there has been lots more happening.
I took a visit today to visit a friend’s mother who lives in Alstonville. I went to badge draws and meat trays at the Lismore Workers Club, and on Wednesday night, a few of us went to the monthly comedy night at a local pub, the same one I wrote about a few weeks ago.
“You were here last month”, the comedian MC said to me, recognising me as the but of her jokes as “Mr Surry Hills”. When she asked about the others, I told her we were all related, and our other connection was South Lismore. “So you’re all in-bred”, she joked.
Growing up I was well aware of a bit of inbreeding in some of the smaller local communities. Indeed, my own grandmother’s parents were first cousins. Two families, lots of children. That was on the Far South Coast over 100 years ago, and I remember once asking someone about how common this was in some of the smaller rural communities, I was told, “You knew exactly what you were getting when you married your cousin!”.
Though Lismore has around 50,000 people in the main town area, it’s still a small town in many ways. I recognise people in the street all the time and have people say hello to me and smile with familiarity. The bus driver that takes me to work now recognises me and knows exactly where I’m getting off the bus. And I’ve had a couple of lengthy discussions with the Lismore Workers Club Courtesy Bus Driver who knew Nancy from her many visits there to play the pokies.
One of my favourite anecdotes which illustrates this is from a family member who was out on the town a number of years ago and was being chatted up by a younger man. Eventually, they established the young man had actually gone to school with her son. And when they chatted further, they also realised the same man had been in a relationship (and had children) with one of our cousins.
The level of familiarity of being back in Lismore is both endearing and disturbing.