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 Collingwood housing estate Izzy Brown sitting indoors in her apartment with one of her four children. In May 2020, Izzy was interviewed by photographer Bri Hammond about her life and her experience of COVID-19 lockdowns. Izzy reflected:
'I've lived on the Collingwood housing estate now for three years; it's actually the longest I think I've lived anywhere. Previous to that I did a lot of travelling around the world. I've had many adventures. I have a project called United Struggle Project, which is a music, arts and theatre based collective. We do a lot of social justice theatre, art and music. I'm also in a political hip-hop group called Combat Wombat.
I have four kids, Amper Sonic, Nunei, Sambewa and Bassi. I've been a full-time Mum for 16 years, so the lockdown hasn't been anything too out of the ordinary for me. I am really concerned about my friends overseas who are living in a lot poorer conditions and don't have access to the medical and welfare that we have here. I guess that's my biggest concern in the pandemic, how they'll survive isolation when for a lot of people isolation means starvation.
During this time for us in Australia, most of us are living quite comfortably. We've got access to community and support, but for refugees, people in detention and people in prison, life is a lot harder and they're at a lot more risk than the rest of the population.'
In December 2020, Izzy reflected again on the COVID-19 pandemic, and how supportive her local community and Neighbourhood House were during lockdown. 'The local residents helped each other a lot', she reflected, 'I was very involved in the Collingwood Neighbourhood House - they feed me and provide a platform for artistic endeavours. They are great.'
Despite the positive community and neighbourhood support she received, however, Izzy expressed her concerns about the presence of 'too much cops in the hood.' Police presence on public housing estates was of particular concern for many residents and community members in the aftermath of the 'hard lockdown' of nine public housing towers in Melbourne's inner north-west in July 2020. This abrupt lockdown was announced by the Premier of Victoria Dan Andrews on 4 July 2020 as a result of 23 new positive coronavirus cases in more than 12 households being identified. The lockdown was enforced by a heavy police presence of over 500 police officers, having an immediate impact on the lives of over 3,000 public housing residents. Although the Collingwood and Richmond housing commissions were not directly impacted by this hard lockdown, the increased policing of public housing estates during the COVID-19 pandemic was of concern for many residents.
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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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