Australia may have experienced the full effect of the corona outbreak a few weeks later than Europe, but toilet paper was still gone from the shelves with rapid speed even before then. One Tweet predicted this buying craze would go into history as “The Great Toilet Paper War of 2020”. I don’t think I will ever forget that Meme again. Despite the bizarre buying crazes, it was quite unsettling to hear the news coming from Europe. Even more unsettling was to see how many Australians disregarded social distancing measures, congregating at Bondi beach and – weirdly enough – flogging to Bunnings (a hardware store chain). That felt incredibly frustrating.
At that point, my family’s visit to Brisbane had already been cancelled due to the quarantine requirements for foreign visitors. A few days later, entry into the country was prohibited entirely. With a temporary student visa, this means that I am not able to see my family– simply because I would not get back into the country for the foreseeable future.
Still, I consider myself to be among the lucky ones in this crisis as I hold a scholarship. In contrast, some international students are trapped outside the country due to the border closure and risk losing their visa. Some have lost the job necessary to finance their studies. Some of the PhD Students who just finished their degrees now can’t find employment. Even many of the academics I am working with worry about their positions and future research projects, since universities have been hard hit by the lack of incoming students.
For me, the crisis has changed my days in some ways, since I am not able to go to my office anymore or access any libraries. But attending seminars, listening to external researchers presenting their projects and exchanging with other PhD candidates is still possible – just very different. And being forced to connect in new, digital ways has certainly brought our PhD cohort closer together. We even send each other books, basically setting up our own loan system while libraries remain closed.
Since I am still very new to Australia, observing how Australians deal with past and current hardships for first people (the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) is also really interesting for me. One of the first things I noted when I arrived here is that at any public gathering or event, Australians start with acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land and that first people are still disadvantaged in many ways. Unfortunately, remote communities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are particularly affected by COVID-19. This is because there are higher levels of chronic illness, and access to health care is not readily available.  Furthermore, the food shortage caused by “hamster buying” (not only toilet paper) has cut off essential supplies to remote areas. I still have a lot to learn about the indigenous people but I think it is an important issue to be more aware of and draw attention to. After all, it puts my own struggles at university and traveling in perspective.
1 The Great Toilet Paper war of 2020 (2020), from: https://twitter.com/AUS_otanko_Ns/status/1236106978939645952?s=20
2 The conversation (2020), Australian universities could lose $19 billion in the next 3 years. Our economy will suffer with them, from: https://theconversation.com/australian-universities-could-lose-19-billion-in-the-next-3-years-our-economy-will-suffer-with-them-136251
3 AGDH (2019), “Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and remote communities”, from: https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/advice-for-people-at-risk-of-coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-advice-for-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-peoples-and-remote-communities
4 Naccho (2020), “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates and Information”, from: https://www.naccho.org.au/home/aboriginal-health-alerts-coronavirus-covid-19/
5 AGDH (2020), “Coronavirus (COVID-19)”, https://www.niaa.gov.au/indigenous-affairs/coronavirus-covid-19
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