A new book that captures the isolation, hope, frustration, humour and human need for contact during Melbourne's COVID-19 lockdown started as a conversation between two neighbours over their fence.
The partnership between portrait photographer Jude van Daalen and travel writer Belinda Jackson was forged through hundreds of phone calls, emails and text messages that went backwards and forwards through their home offices, just two metres apart but separated by a fence.
The strict restrictions meant the Altona pair couldn't visit each other's homes until the week before the book went to print.
Yet by co-authoring virtually, they have created a remarkable and honest account of this unparalleled time in Melbourne's history. Their black and white coffee table book features 60 portraits of people in their neighbourhood, mostly taken in their yards or over the fence, who allowed them into their lockdown experience.
"Like so many others I felt more isolated than I'd ever felt before," Jude said. "I needed connection, and taking these photographs was a way to reach into our community and bring people together."
Belinda admitted that helping tell the stories she realised "I wasn't the only one feeling stranded, even though, at times, it felt like it".
Noeline, 86, told the pair she could remember rationing from when she was a young child in the Great Depression.
"We had coupons for butter, sugar and tea," she said. "Mum would tuck a little card in my pocket and send me to the shop across the road. I didn't think I would ever experience food rationing again.
"When people started panic buying in the supermarkets in the first lockdown, they were like bloody animals. It's not a very nice thing to say, but the behaviour was disgusting.
"I was trying to buy toilet paper, and the lady who was stacking the shelves was having it torn out of her hands... You wouldn't believe it. When I was a kid, my mum used to cut up the Herald newspaper into squares and hang it on a piece of string to use as toilet paper."
The pair found painter Bill working on his entry for the 2021 Archibald Prize: former Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal, who he has painted before.
"What would I do if I won the $100,000 prize? We'd have trouble spending it," he said. "I'm 83 and my wife Anita's 70-something, and we can only do so much. But our ambition is to travel around Australia and see all our friends in other states. Not just talk about it, but do it!"
Together Apart: Life in Lockdown, $79. More HERE
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