Glad I'm here and not there

  • Rural paddock with barbed wire fence
La Trobe University
Dr Pam Harvey, Senior Lecturer, University Department of Rural Health

The mornings are the same as usual. I’m up at dawn, check my emails and plan my day, then take the kelpie for a walk. We go up the rain-wrecked dirt road – she carries her soccer ball in her mouth – and into the bush where there’s a recently-filled dam lush with blue cranes and water hens. Along the way, if we’re lucky, we see the pair of wedge-tailed eagles that have lived around here (surely not the same ones?) for decades. They are often so close I can see the markings on their wings and a crest of feathers on the head of the male. If we’re unlucky, we see death. Today, a roadkill mama kangaroo lies under the trees with her naked, foot-long joey stretched out in near-perfection beside her.

The day changes. Once home, with ducks and chooks fed, I head for the shower and dress in my new odd combination of ‘Zoom-ready’ work clothes – collared jumper with or without jaunty scarf, and old jeans. No one sees my feet anymore and Ugg boots are extraordinarily comfortable. My study is my new workplace, and it’s decked-out with screens, a brown-blanket over the window to block the light, and my son’s old gaming headphones. No longer do I think of getting hat-hair. Headphone hair – a reverse Princess Leia – is the new norm.

We’re all teaching on Zoom. Considering that linking with city work colleagues has always necessitated videoconferencing, it was trickier than I thought. Teaching has become even more of a performance with the knowledge that your head is on view and every grimace matters. It’s really important to show students that we can do this, we can keep going, we can learn even if we aren’t face-to-face. I think they’re very tolerant and quite masterful. Sometimes they wear hats and bright shirts and change their virtual backgrounds and I love it. It shows their engagement despite the weirdness of trying to do practical sessions online. I think they are developing an excellent tolerance for uncertainty that will aid them in future work as health professionals.

In the late afternoon, I walk again. The chill settles on the paddocks and the dog is less enthusiastic than in the morning – she knows it’s nearly ‘sleep-by-the-fire’ time. It’s a kilometre to the mailbox, just enough of a walk to stretch the legs and ease my back stiffness. Sometimes I even get to wave to the neighbours if they rattle by in their utes. At home, we light the fire and close the curtains on the guinea fowl roosting in the wisteria tree.

I may be working from home, but I hardly feel isolated. The bush is behind the house and it’s still the same, noisy with birds and scrounging wildlife. I think of my friends in the city and I despair for them cooped up in their houses. Here, the autumn smells delicious. I’ve always known where I’d rather be.

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