Wednesday, August 17

‘The plan is to drink all day’: sunny Melbourne celebrates its freedom day. First stop: brunch! | Melbourne

For the first time in a long time, there are a lot of people on the streets of Melbourne as the sun rises over the city.

Just hours after the closure was lifted, cafe workers are out in the crisp morning air, dragging chairs and tables in front of shops, anticipating hordes of brunch-hungry patrons.

One coffee shop aficionado, James Gearman, knows exactly how he wants to spend his first 24 hours of freedom. “The plan is to drink all day,” he laughs.

But before the celebrations can really begin, he has ventured out to the Journeyman cafe on Chapel Street to correct a significant mistake.

“I can’t cook eggs,” he says, pointing to his half-finished breakfast. “So this is the first egg I have locked up. It’s a relief, I think it’s good for everyone. “

On the other side of the table sits George, who does not want to give his last name. He says he has taken the day off to kick-start his new normal Covid lifestyle.

“Today I’m just going to visit people, catch up,” he says. “Drink, eat, have fun, have fun.

“We would say as soon as we woke up how nice it felt to see people running past all the cafes where people were entering. Everybody is happy. Everyone is positive, everyone has a smile on their face. “

At 8 a.m., even Melbourne’s notoriously fickle weather seems to be entering the celebrations, the end of the lockdown coming just as the first hints of summer creep through the air.

“It’s a good day and it feels like Christmas, you know? Everybody is really festive, ”says Sophie McCann, sitting a few tables below. “It just feels good.”

Many were counting down the minutes until the lockdown was lifted, but for McCann and his partner, Ed Von Moger, Victoria’s freedom day was a surprise.

“We didn’t know the venues were open now,” she says. “I said, ‘Oh, let’s go have a coffee,’ and when we got there we realized, ‘Oh, we can sit down.’ I suppose there will be many surprises. “

As thousands of people throughout the city sit and sunbathe while their breakfasts are cooked, the story is different behind the counter.

With just a week’s notice before reopening, many cafe owners are delighted, but struggle, and find themselves understaffed as lines stretch out the door.

Melbourne celebrates as city ends 262 days of lockdown - video
Melbourne celebrates as city ends 262 days of lockdown – video

At 9 am, Chez Mademoiselle, a small cafe on Greville Street in Prahran, is already at number 135.

“That’s at least 200 coffees … But you know what, you just have to make it happen,” says his manager, Kevin Tribet, with a nervous laugh.

“We’re very excited to reopen but, you know, finding out on Sunday and reopening on Friday doesn’t give you much time to find staff and everything. But you have to do what you have to do to keep your business alive. “

Across the street at Kings Domain Barber Shop, the lock locks are getting thicker and faster, and the shop is booked every day for the next month.

“I have five barbers … all barbers do 20 haircuts a day so we will be open from 9 am to 8 pm, Monday through Saturday until the Melbourne Cup,” says owner Joe Kurdyla. “He’s going to be busy …

Barber Joe Kurdyla at Kings Domain Barber Shop in Prahran.
‘We will be back to normal’: Joe Kurdyla at Kings Domain Barber Shop in Prahran. Photograph: James Ross / AAP

“So far, everyone who has come is so excited to see us, so excited to get a haircut. I think, you know, some people will probably be a little nervous, but we’ll get used to it. We will return to normality. “

Just after 9 a.m., Victoria’s health department reports 2,189 locally acquired Covid cases and a grim new record of 16 deaths. While the state’s new coronavirus strategy focuses more on vaccination rates than infections, many are still nervous about what conditions will be like in the revived city.


“I think people are a little stressed out,” says Paul Barfett, who, for the first time in months, is able to sit in a cafe during his break from work at a nearby hospital.

“I think ending this confinement could help alleviate some of that thinking. Give it a little balance.

“Within the healthcare sector, people have been so focused on managing Covid problems and there was nothing to make up for that. Now just being able to sit in a cafe or go to dinner and catch up with friends gives people a little happiness. “

Linda Richardson, Sophie Corazza and Zoe Bohlsen at Chez Mademoiselle in Prahran
“It was strange getting on a full tram”: Linda Richardson with Sophie Corazza and Zoe Bohlsen at Chez Mademoiselle in Prahran. Photograph: James Ross / EPA

A table on top, Friends Linda Richardson, Zoe Bohlsen and Sophie Corazza say they are still relaxing in their new freedoms.

“It was strange getting on a full tram,” says Richardson. “Everyone was safe, everyone was wearing masks, but that was a strange experience.”

Even as bars, pubs and clubs are gearing up for a big Friday night, Corazza says she’s not ready for it yet.

“I haven’t gotten that far,” he laughs. “We will socialize slowly, slowly. Develop the skills again. One step at a time.”

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