Melbourne residents have become somewhat accustomed to the world changing overnight. But for what felt like the first time, they went to bed on Tuesday knowing they would wake up to a better version of their city.
Australia’s second-biggest city has been under harsh lockdown since July and although many businesses and individuals suffered greatly there is no denying it was effective.
On 5 August, Victoria recorded 723 cases and the UK 891. On 26 October, the UK had 20,890 new cases, Victoria had none. It was then the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, announced the largest step in reopening for Melbourne so far, with non-essential stores, cafes, bars and restaurants able to open, and the “stay at home” orders lifted.
The first day out of lockdown in the city was long, but this time for all the right reasons.
The Angus & Bon New York steakhouse in Prahran wastes no time serving customers, swinging its doors open to late-night diners at the stroke of midnight.
Just like on New Year’s Eve, the soon-to-be patrons yell out the countdown, popping champagne and cutting a red ribbon when the clock hits 12.
Across town, others are celebrating in a very different way, queuing outside the mega craft store Spotlight and department store Kmart.
It’s the first time regular citizens have been allowed inside the stores since August. Click and collect services have been available throughout the pandemic but for many there is just no substitute for browsing discount home goods.
Hayley Kim gets into the Leroy Espresso cafe early to prep for the big reopening. Under the new laws, the medium-sized cafe can hold 20 customers indoors and 12 outside. It’s not much compared with its usual capacity, but it’s still 32 more customers than it was allowed yesterday.
“I’m excited and I’m nervous … I haven’t served a coffee in a real cup in more than six months. I haven’t done latte art in so long,” Kim says.
A few doors down at the Abby Road cafe some of the first cafe customers in Melbourne sit down at the stroke of 7am.
Bill Hardge says he woke up extra early to ensure he was the first customer this morning.
“It just makes me feel like a Melburnian again,” he says in a Texas accent that hasn’t faded in the 27 years he has lived in Australia.
“We really took tables for granted. I’m so happy to be able to sit down and just enjoy my breakfast.”
Greg, Garry, Michael, Nigel and the rest of their cycling group waste no time getting a latte after their morning ride.
“It is nice, and the weather is perfect,” Greg says, beaming at Melbourne’s grey skies.
Leroy’s manager Jade Slabber arrives, new trainee Archie in tow, and gets the tables prepped. It isn’t long before customers come rushing in.
Martin Wells and Craig Murphey sit at the newly set-up outdoor tables.
“I wonder if this is what bears feel like when they wake up from hibernation,” Wells jokes.
“Yes,” says Murphey, “And they go fill themselves up on pub food … It really does feel like waking up. It feels like we have all been in a long, long slumber.”
Dedicated patrons Cheryl and John Maleena pour in with other regulars.
“It’s like reuniting with your family,” Cheryl says. “We have really missed all the girls. It’s great to see them again.”
Nick Santoyl and Luke Castricum say they still feel like they are breaking the law sitting outside to enjoy breakfast together.
“It feels cheeky, like we are doing something illegal. You keep looking over your shoulder, like where are the police,” laughs Castricum.
Castricum has already noticed a different mood in the city.
“Everyone seems to be a lot happier this morning. People are talking to random people and the energy is much nicer.”
Another exciting reopening is Bunnings. Although tradies have been allowed in, regular citizens have been relegated to ordering online.
Many have been keen to reestablish their gardens but were hesitant to trust staff to pick out their plants via click and collect.
“It’s a desire to be able to at last fill in the gaps in the garden, and to escape the confines of the home,” says Andrew Craig, his trolley overflowing with herbs, plants and potting mix.
“Bunnings and nurseries and cafes: those are the main things for me.”
Martin O’Dell is ecstatic to be able to finally fix all the household items that have been slowly breaking down.
“The last three months have been really quite disastrous in the garden and around the house. I’ve come to pick things up and carry on,” he says.
“I’ve got things to prune, paving to clean, and walls to paint.”
Chadstone, one of Melbourne’s largest shopping centres, is packed by mid-morning with cars circling the carparks looking for a spot.
Inside is crowded with people lining up to enter stores that must abide by strict density limits.
More cautious Melburnians, after seeing pictures of the crowds, express their discontent online and vow not to visit shopping hubs until everything has “died down a bit”.
On the upper high-fashion level there were considerable queues.
Adrian stands outside the Gucci store waiting to be let in.
“I’ve been working all through lockdown, and I’m ready to get out and spend some of my money,” he says.
It isn’t all good news for traders in Chadstone. The Butcher Club, which became briefly infamous for being the origin of a large Covid-19 outbreak in September, is still struggling to attract customers, despite being deemed safe by the health department for weeks.
Things are really cranking in Yarraville by mid-evening. Two pubs are closed but the bars and restaurants near the Sun Theatre and pop-up park are chockers with lines spilling outside.
At Pizza d’Asporto, co-owner Anthony Acquaro is telling customers it’s a 30-minute wait for a table. Customers sitting down for a meal are thrilled and comply with the rules, he says.
“It’s been a really good response from our community, we’re really enjoying having them in and showing them part of our culture.
“It’s been pretty tough. Definitely tough. We struggled. Very happy to be on the other side of it.”
It had been a long and frantic few days for Station Hotel venue manager Steve Csutoros – but he’s not complaining.
Since Monday afternoon, he has been swamped with bookings. The two sittings he had open for every lunch and dinner have been snapped up until Tuesday.
The pub is seating 50 people outside, 10 in the bar, and 10 in the dining room.
“Everyone is wanting to get on the beers, as Dan would say.”