This digital photograph was taken by Melbourne-based photographer Bri Hammond as part of her photographic series, 'Isolation Stories - Public Housing.' This series was produced in May 2020, in between lockdowns, and documents the experiences of residents living in the Collingwood and Richmond public housing estates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Depicted in this image is resident of the Richmond public housing estate Ana Martins standing by her doorway. In May 2020, Ana was interviewed by photographer Bri Hammond about her experience of public housing and COVID-19 lockdowns. Ana reflected:
'I came here from East Timor in 1975 when I was 28. I've been living in this apartment for 40 years. I never moved. When they fixed it up I told them I wanted to come back to this flat because it has a good view and it's up the top, nobody makes noise, so we can sleep well here. All my children grew up here. I have 3 children, my eldest is 38. I've been to England, Portugal, China and Macau. It's very nice but it's not like Australia. Australia is a lucky, lucky country. Australia is the best.
I've worked a lot of different jobs. I was a kitchen-hand in Chinese restaurant and the boss taught me how to cook Chinese food. Every week I made $100. $20 AUD in my country is like $1000. When I went back to Timor I told them "I've got money now, I'm rich", and I bought them lots of gifts. In my heart I'm very happy.
My grandfather was Australian Aboriginal. He lived in Timor where he was a boss, like a king, but not rich like the King of England, but it meant people respected us. We went everywhere, we travelled. When we walked outside we were safe and people knew who we were. In the 70s and 80s I couldn't go back to Timor because they were still fighting and I was scared to go there, but after that I have been back every year. This year I can't go because of the travel restrictions, maybe next year I can go back.
During the lockdown I've been staying home, but going to the supermarket and gardening. I do have lonely days, but every Thursday I do gardening with Cultivating Community. I grow yams, sweet potatoes, vegetables and chillies.'
Digital JPG file [note: this is the only file available from the photographer, who has retained
This photograph is one of 13 images that were acquired into Museums Victoria's Collecting the Curve Collection as part of the Museums in My Neighbourhood Project, with support from the Office of Suburban Development. These photographs offer a rare glimpse into life in public housing during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Melbourne, and provide a lasting reminder of the hardships, challenges, hopes, strengths and achievements of residents during this time.
Many public housing residents in the State of Victoria experienced extreme hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the Victorian Government's hard and immediate lockdown of nine public housing estates in Melbourne's inner-north in July 2020. Yet, through adversity and hardship, public housing residents also experienced community and neighborhood support, solidarity through grassroots networking, and participation in a range of activities such as food bank programs and arts initiatives. This photographic series shines a light on the community activities of the Belgium Avenue and Collingwood Neighbourhood Houses, and their vital role in providing food, arts, gardening, music and mental health support to residents during the early stages of COVID-19 lockdowns. Although these photographs represent a particular period of time, May 2020, Museums Victoria is continuing to explore ways to document the subsequent experiences of public housing residents in Victoria, including the impact of the hard lockdown of the Flemington and North Melbourne towers in July 2020.
These 13 photographs also provide an example of the important role that artists played in documenting and creatively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time these photographs were taken, photographer Bri Hammond was a lifestyle and commercial photographer, but all of her client work was immediately cancelled with the arrival of COVID-19, so she instead decided to focus her energies on documenting events as they unfolded: 'I knew that the pandemic was going to be a point of historical significance and I thought it was important to document it in some way,' she reflected in December 2020: 'I saw countless articles and social media posts of people getting into baking and other new hobbies, or complaining about lockdown when they had a big beautiful house, an income, and everything they needed. I wanted to share a different side of the lockdown story, one that's not oozing with privilege and comfort.'
With support from Yarra City Council, Bri was welcomed by Belgium Avenue and Collingwood Neighborhood Houses to meet and photograph individuals in their homes. She reflected in late 2020: 'I think that it's important to share the stories from the incredible individuals that live in public housing, to erase the stereotypes and stigmas that exist and lead to this unfair treatment. for me it was mostly about sharing these voices that are so often underrepresented in the media, to put names and faces to the people who live in public housing. I wanted to share the positive and important work that the Belgium Avenue and Collingwood Neighbourhood houses generously do to support the community, especially in hard times like 2020.'
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