I walked out of the Howard Springs quarantine facility, ready to start my new life in Australia.
Walking out of a 2-week solitary quarantine was quite the feeling of freedom and accomplishment. Although the end of the first week was difficult, it soon became easier and I knew it wouldn’t last much longer. I also had air-conditioning, a comfy bed, Wi-Fi and my computer to watch TV and listen to music, as well as my phone for staying in touch with family and friends. I was very thankful that it was now, and not 1918, when the Spanish Flu first came to Australia via the SS Mataram, when it arrived from Singapore and berthed in Darwin. That pandemic saw many things that we now face – social distancing, quarantine, masks and lockdowns – but we now have far more advanced medicine and vaccines. What was really affecting me wasn’t the isolation, nor was it the fact that I had to stay in such a small space for so long; it was the massive upheaval of my life that was weighing on my mind. I’d had just moved from Spain, my home for 14 years, and my partner, back to Australia to study with an unknown career and future. I can only imagine what a refugee or immigrant must feel like, packing up and moving to the other side of the world, by choice or otherwise, and maybe never seeing their birth country again. For me, it was the other way round as I’d spent more of my adult life living abroad than on home soil, so it was a strange moment in my life. Having said that, my life was incomparably easier than many refugees and in no way am I understating what millions have undergone, especially in recent years. To keep me motivated, I told myself that this was the best thing that I could be doing now, coming home to family, my language and my country, to start something new. I remembered reading about Julius Caesar, who was captured by pirates and held for 38 days below the decks of a trireme in the Mediterranean. It was him and a handful of his crewmates, kept in the dark, barely fed, but he remained focused, training and simmering his hatred, while plotting revenge. He was eventually ransomed off, left somewhere in northern Africa, but he came back stronger and nastier than ever, and ended up finding and destroying the pirates. I didn’t have master plans such as these, but I knew I would make it through the 14 days unscarred and with one more experience under my belt. I walked out of the Howard Springs quarantine facility, a (Covid) free man, on the morning of the 27th of December 2020, ready to start my new life in Australia.
I’d mostly packed the night before, but I got the remaining things ready and headed out into the heat of the Top End. We were marshalled onto buses, some directly headed for the airport, others to bus terminals and hotels. I’d booked a hotel for the next 3 nights, planning a little time exploring Darwin as I’d never been up here and was eager to see it. Accommodation in Australia has never been cheap, but I’d managed to find a deal through Qantas to stay at a real hotel within walking distance of the city centre. Although I’d been alone for 14 days, there was no way I was going to stay at a backpackers! The room was nice, big TV to watch the cricket on, and a view out over the ocean, so I could watch the storms coming in. My flight to Sydney in a few days, however, was expensive. The airlines knew when people would be let out of the quarantine facility and then jacked up the prices to match; a flight from Sydney to Darwin would cost me about $80-90, but the other way round was more like $500! Thanks for getting me home Qantas, but you shouldn’t be extorting people who have just fled Covid. I looked into renting a car, and making one almighty road trip to Sydney (4,000kms give or take!), either going straight down to Adelaide then turn left and straight over to Sydney, or via Longreach and the deepest parts of Queensland, but that was just a crazy dream. Flying was the only way to go, so I just had to front up the money. I dropped my things off in my room and headed straight down to the hotel bar to celebrate and have a nice cold beer! Although I hadn’t really missed alcohol at all, Howard Springs being an alcohol-free zone (possibly to discourage mingling drunk people spreading the virus), it was lovely having a beer in a pub in summer. It’s funny, but I guess if the temptation isn’t there, as I had no choice to drink even if I’d wanted to, then I didn’t find it hard going without. After my beer, I went to my room, got showered and dressed, then headed out to explore the city.