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 residents of the Collingwood housing estate Nicholas Arnott, Alvil Mackog (Loula) and their newborn son Robert. In May 2020, Nick and Loula were interviewed by photographer Bri Hammond about their experience of public housing and COVID-19 lockdowns. They reflected:

Nick: 'We met in November 2017 and little Robbie was born two months ago, right as the lockdown started. I suppose the lockdown was in some ways a blessing as it's meant that a lot of the crazies haven't come round, you know? The downside has been that my Mum was in Melbourne a week before he was born, and it was almost two months before she could actually see him until they relaxed the visitation stuff. So my Mum and my sister came around and met Loula and Robbie for the first time, a few weekends ago. They spent a few hours here, my Mum spent most of the time very close to tears, but still it was cool.'

Loula: 'I'm from South Sudan, I've been in Australia for 12 years. Robbie is my fifth baby; I have five boys aged 9, 7, 5, 3, and 2 months.'

Nick: 'I've been living in this flat since December 1st, 1999. When they got renovated I was up on the 20th floor for a little while, then I've been back here since. I actually moved back in here on my son's 18th birthday, so we celebrated his birthday in here, the same day that we finished putting all the furniture back in.'

In December 2020, Nick reflected again on the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly the importance of his local community and neighbourhood during this challenging time. 'The community has looked out for and helped each other more during the lockdown', he reflected, adding that 'it bought us together more as a family.' Nick also commented that 'the food program has been fantastic', in reference to the Lifting Spirits Food Security Program that was offered by the Belgium Avenue Neighbourhood House during COVID-19.

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Digital JPG file


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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