I had lunch out with friends in rural Victoria on the weekend. It was a beautiful spring day - a bike ride had led us to a café where patrons could sit outside, enjoy the weather and keep our COVID-19 risk low.
Our driver's licenses were perused. Our names, phone numbers and postcodes taken. Masks were on.
We spoke over drinks and burgers about how much we looked forward to such small delights as a meal out as COVID-19 numbers drop.
We agreed that we no longer took for granted the ability to see loved ones, or to travel (albeit carefully).
There was joy at the freedom, tempered by fear of further lockdowns. We spoke about still needing to do the right things - masks, distance, handwashing.
Our city cousins - while having a few more freedoms - are yet to see the same level of easing, and we feel for them. November 1 is looking like a potentially good day for them.
And, boy, has it been a year of good days and bad days in Victoria.
These days when the sun is shining, the world looks less bleak. Summer is closer and the hopes of a "COVID normal" Christmas shine like a beacon, a reward for the hard work done. In regional and rural areas restaurants with enough outdoor space have a nice buzz going, hairdressers are back, shops are open. We wait with bated breath to walk through the doors of our gyms.
A bad day was finding myself in Shepparton when a COVID-19 case linked to the Chadstone cluster led to most of the CBD becoming a ghost town. Business owners, so close to opening up further, shut doors and vented their anger. One more blow: how many more could they take?
But the town's spirit was something to behold. People lined up in their thousands to be tested, day after day. They were not going to let the bug best them, they would fight to protect hard-won gains and keep the easing on track.
In these times, that would be the best Christmas present for us all.
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