Be honest, guys – we’re breaking the rules



We're a mob of sneaky bastards, aren't we?

You can see it everywhere you look - Aussies pushing the boundaries set by lockdown laws.

Whether it's having friends over on the sly, hiding wine in water bottles and going for "exercise" walks with a mate, or ignoring a sign that says "no access to beach" to go for a surf, it seems we've relaxed our response to the strong social-distancing rules since Easter.

We know the restrictions placed on the community as a result of the coronavirus are for our own good, and we will generally comply with government directives if they seem reasonable. But only up to a point. If we think we can get away with it, and it's not hurting anyone else, we will flout those laws. It's the Australian way. What else would you expect from a country where the national motto is "She'll be right"?

When I picked up a newspaper from the newsagent this week I asked her what she did on the weekend.

"My granddaughter came over to play," she revealed, in a low voice so no one else could hear. "I know it's illegal but what's the harm?" This woman hasn't got a gram of criminal DNA in her body. She's more likely to spend her day off making cakes for a Rotary fundraiser, but she's out there now, pushing the edges of the envelope.

Members of the public pictured exercising at Coogee Beach in Sydney as lifeguards look on. Picture: Richard Dobson
Members of the public pictured exercising at Coogee Beach in Sydney as lifeguards look on. Picture: Richard Dobson

A friend on the NSW north coast has a mate who came back from overseas and went into mandatory 14-day isolation. A mad-keen fisherman, the bloke cracked on the 12th day and snuck out a couple of hours before dawn to wet a line at his local beach.

The first tinges of the new day were lighting up the horizon when he decided to have one last cast before he scurried back to his flat to avoid being seen. That's when he hooked what he thought was going to be the fish of a lifetime. Up and down the beach he fought the fish, watching anxiously as the sun rose and, more worryingly for someone not supposed to be outside, a crowd gathered.

He decided he would wear the hefty fine if he was sprung. After all, this was the one. Imagine his dismay when the leviathan of his dreams turned out to be a small shark.

Keep an ear to the ground and you'll hear similar examples of civil disobedience, particularly as we enter our second successful week of flattening the curve. Just 13 new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed nationally yesterday, with four states recording no new cases.

You can sense people are taking the restrictions less seriously. I've heard of a young woman planning a date with someone she met online, teenagers gathering to play video games, single friends justifying a shared dinner on the grounds they're offering "essential care" and young women sunbathing in secret spots unseen by passers-by.

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Some Sydney beaches have reopened this week for exercise. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images
Some Sydney beaches have reopened this week for exercise. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

Clearly, the complacency has emerged because the social-distancing strategy is working well. Our metrics are favourable compared to just about everywhere else with infection rates dropping below 1 per cent in recent days. As Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday, the state's 4000 intensive care beds are unlikely to be needed.

But it goes deeper than that. From day one of human habitation in this island continent Australians have had an independent streak and put a high price on their freedom. Being "young and free" are the first characteristics our national anthem exalts.

We are abrasive when we run up against authority and rebel in small ways. When the powers-that-be draw a line in the sand, Aussies will step over it just to see what happens. There's evidence of this even when there isn't a pandemic. We'll travel a few kilometres over the speed limit because, well, it's more a guideline, isn't it? We'll nick the toilet paper from work. It's theft, but not really. We'll pay a tradie cash so we can get a better price and they can avoid the tax office. It's ripping off the country, but no one will know.

We are less compliant than the Singaporeans and North Koreans, less cohesive than New Zealanders but less indignant than the Americans. There, personal freedom is as prized as the right to bear arms and so they are taking to the streets, gun tucked into their jeans, demanding lockdown be terminated even though the death rate in the United States is terrifyingly high. You get the sense some would go to the local mall and cough all over each other just to stick a finger up at their administration.

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A sunbaker at Clovelly Beach in Sydney. Picture: Richard Dobson
A sunbaker at Clovelly Beach in Sydney. Picture: Richard Dobson

Fortunately, we're more measured. Stopped by a police officer we're more likely to plead ignorance or confusion around the inconsistencies. Yet as the health crisis has unfolded and everyone has been urged to do the right thing for Team Australia, there has been a noticeable rise in something Aussies do despise - dobbers.

The curtain twitchers have hit community Facebook pages with a vengeance, revelling in their new moral authority to point and shame. There they'll angrily arbitrate on everything from a bunch of backpackers having a drink-fuelled barbecue in a youth hostel courtyard to a suburban granny watching her grandchild play on the lawn during a brief non-contact but unauthorised visit.

Plenty would argue there's no difference between the sort of "no worries" attitude that leads some to gently push the envelope and belligerent anti-social behaviour. But if the rates of infection continue to decline there's no doubt more will take the law into their own, freshly sanitised, hands.

Angela Mollard is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @angelamollard


Originally published as Be honest, guys - we're breaking the rules

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