Old Alex sat on that sunlit step in an unfanciful suburb called Oak Flats; flooded with light, exhausted, perhaps, to be fanciful about it all, as if he’d just written 1984 and was basking in creative satisfaction, and the glory. Except, of course, there was no glory, and George Orwell aka Eric Blair never lived to see the stunning success of his anti-totalitarian novel. He was suffering the effects of tuberculosis even as he wrote it. There is no glory in the grave.

That most curious of books, a book which would have never have found a mainstream publisher in the 21st Century, became the most referenced work in the English Canon in 2020; and even more so in 2021, the year he sat on that doorstep in Oak Flats.

The country was at the height of its totalitarian derangement, where every single aspect of life was controlled by the government. Half the country, 12 million people, were now officially in lockdown. His neighbours were encouraged to report him if he spent more than two
hours away from home. The mainstream media delivered a blizzard of Covid fear mongering, hour in, hour out, day in, day out. The population was confused, terrified and remarkably compliant. They turned on each other, on anyone who did not comply.

Politicians and Chief Health Officers placed themselves front and centre of the nightly news bulletins; and panic, everywhere there was panic. Hundreds of military personnel now patrolled the streets of Sydney, searching for anyone who might not have a legitimate excuse for being outside their home. The overweight New South Wales Police Commissioner announced with apparent delight that they had issued more than 600 fines for non-compliance the previous day, an abuse of the citizenry of which, as far as Old Alex was concerned, the dictatorial Commissioner and his political masters should have been absolutely ashamed. 

But of course, shame wasn’t in the lexicon. Nor was honesty, proportionality, decency, compassion.

The authoritarian derangement overtaking Australia was without precedent, and every sign of collapse came jumping out through the voices all around, the electronic blather that filled the air, a terrible threat whispered on a bed of deceit.

On his private newsfeed there was a steady stream of outrage and scepticism. Everywhere else there was a shuttered, terrible silence, an acquiescence he struggled to understand. Eighteen months on from the country’s first Covid death Australia was almost unrecognisable. The nation had seen the most violent demonstrations in its history and a brutality of policing only ever seen in the first days of colonisation when the natives were shot and the convicts whipped till blood filled their boots. Australians had been turned against Australians, divided by race, wealth, education, cognitive ability, and most recently vaccine status. Police blanketing the suburbs across Australia were now enforcing the equivalent of martial law.

All in the name of keeping Australians “safe”.

Australia had become a laughing stock around the world, a warning of the consequences of Covid overreach. The massaged image of Australia as an egalitarian and welcoming tourist destination populated with colourful animals and equally colourful people vanished as police bashed, arrested and pepper sprayed protestors. The courts would be clogged for years to
come; for none of this was done with consent. 

Where was the evidence that putting millions of people under house arrest, unable to visit friends and family, unable in many cases to work, to see elderly relatives in their dying days, destroying tens of thousands of businesses, throwing vast swathes of the population on to welfare, quadrupling the national debt, destroying the education of millions of Australian children, where was the evidence that these actions were an appropriate response to the coronavirus? 

Where was the evidence that instituting curfews on millions of Australians was effective or appropriate? Or proportionate? 

Even to question these multiple insanities was considered unpatriotic. The mainstream media in which he had worked all his life trumpeted the government’s propaganda, while real journalism died on the Covid altar.

Australia! This really was happening in the land of kangaroos, crocodiles and poisonous snakes, homesteads and sprawling sheep stations.