Australia Is Returning to Normal. What Does That Mean?


The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Isabella Kwai, a reporter with the Australia bureau.


Recently, as coronavirus restrictions began lifting, I met up with my good friend Sofia for a long walk along Sydney’s coastline. The weather had turned, finally, from a perennial summer to something chillier, but the ocean was full of the usual smattering of surfers and brave swimmers.

Except for guards warning people against loitering, it felt almost like we had traveled back to a pre-pandemic past — except that version is a fantasy that no longer exists.

With Australia having controlled the pandemic’s spread, for now, much of the country is putting in place a three-step plan to restore normalcy — allowing restaurants and cafes to reopen for small groups and school to resume at least a few days a week. We are better off than many, escaping much of the devastation that is still ravaging much of the world.

But it means we are confronting the beginning of a new reality: What does normal look like when the virus is still a threat, and when life has already unquestionably changed?

Then there are things that have been knocked off course and are difficult to quantify: friends and family indefinitely separated, rising incidents of anti-Chinese racism, and the emotional impact on all of us, particularly health care workers on the front lines.

But as I’ve spoken to doctors, cafe owners and friends who have lost their jobs, one thing has struck me deeply: the enduring ingenuity of the human spirit everywhere.

That walk with my friend Sofia may be one of our last. After weeks of agonizing back and forth, immigration pressures are forcing her to leave Australia, her home of six years, to return to Sweden — and to a different future than the one she had envisioned.

Still, I keep coming back to the moments I’ve been fortunate to share with her and everyone else as we fumbled our way through the lockdown — two friends saying their vows over Zoom as the Internet froze, the taste of the air after a day inside, how green the trees looked the first time we emerged from our homes.

Now, for the stories of the week.


I had traveled to Canada to visit my grandparents in the 1980s as a teen and learned the value of a good martini. This was my introduction to cocktails and I was excited to share my newfound knowledge on graduation night. I was dressed to impress, and thought I would even more so impress my date by ordering a martini at the bar. After a blank stare from the bartender, he returned soon after with a tall glass of Martini Cinzano on ice with no gin, no olives. I proceeded to describe how to make a martini like my grandfather made. The glaring response I got was a tall glass of ice filled with gin.

I am so excited to hear Australia is growing out of its hardened fist of just getting pissed and is appreciating what the cocktail can bring to life.

Kevin Cushing



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