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This week, after more than 100 days in lockdown, NSW residents were officially allowed back into restaurants, bars, shops and gyms.

‘I just want to look at you’: The sisters reunited after lockdown



This week, after more than 100 days in lockdown, NSW residents were officially allowed back into restaurants, bars, shops and gyms. 

But for many, the end of lockdown wasn’t about being able to drink beer in a pub again but the chance to see family after months of isolation.

Today, 7am producer Kara Jensen-Mackinnon speaks to two sisters finally reunited after lockdown about what opening up means to them.  

 

Guest: Producer at 7am, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon

Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

 

This week, after more than 100 days in lockdown, NSW residents were officially allowed back into restaurants, bars, shops and gyms. 

 

But for many, the end of lockdown wasn’t about being able to drink beer in a pub again,  but the chance to see family, after months of isolation.

 

Today, 7am producer Kara Jensen-Mackinnon speaks to two sisters finally reunited after lockdown, about what opening up means to them.  

It’s Thursday, October 14. 

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
Kara, you, like everyone in Greater Sydney, have just come out of months of lockdown. What has that been like for you and who have you been talking to?

KARA:
Yeah so, on Monday after about 100 something days of lockdown, we were officially allowed to leave our little five kilometre bubbles for non-essential reasons. And even though the weather was terrible and it was absolutely pouring for a lot of people, it meant going straight to the pub. 

Archival tape -- Men at the bar:
“Cheers!”

Archival tape -- Men at the bar: Women at the bar:
“2, 1 yay!” 

KARA:
So even our newly minted premier Dominic Perrottet, delivered his morning press conference at the pub, drinking beers with a bunch of senior ministers at nine o'clock in the morning, which was a little strange. 

Archival tape -- Dominic Perrottet:
“Welcome everyone to Watsons, and I want to thank Michael Watson for hosting us here today!” 

KARA:
I think that this lockdown has been so hard on all of us, and that's why the idea of Freedom Day is so appealing, but as we're opening up, I've been thinking about the more vulnerable members of society, particularly the elderly, because there have been the most impacted by these restrictions. And and for them, opening up isn't so clear-cut as just headed down to the pub.  

Gloria:
Okay so that’s okay?

Kara:
Yep, that’s cool just don’t wave it around too much. But otherwise that’s perfect.

KARA:
And because we don't often hear from the elderly, I wanted to speak to some people directly to see how they're feeling about lockdown ending and you know how it's going to change their lives so I chatted to two sisters who I feel like Australia's very own golden girls called Betty 

Betty:
My name is Elizabeth Mastello… or Betty haha

KARA:
and Gloria. 

Gloria:
So my name's Gloria Nestor, and I live in a retirement village in Toongabbie 

KARA:
Betty and Gloria grew up in Leichhardt, in Sydney's inner west and have been inseparable, their whole lives. 

But, they haven't been able to see each other for the better part of a year, which for them has been really difficult because they've spent their whole lives together. 

RUBY:
Mm so what has that been like for them, Kara - not being able to spend time around each other for this kind of length of time? What have they been doing? Have they been spending their days?    

KARA:
So Betty lives in aged care and Gloria lives in a retirement home, and both of them live alone. So as you can imagine, lockdowns made things pretty lonely. 

Gloria:
The hardest thing was not seeing family, and that cuts to the core, and it's hit every one of us. We're all upset about that. So once we get then I can cuddle my youngest. All my grandchildren just need to squeeze the air out of them. So that'll be nice

KARA:
because they're subject to super heavy restrictions. They've been living pretty solitary lives. They have their meals dropped at their door a couple of times a day. They're not allowed to catch the bus to town. They have no little day trips, their community halls being closed, which means that there's no social events for them to go and hang out with their friends. 

Betty told me that she's especially missed being able to play bingo and the community hall with her friends. And Gloria, who made a point of telling me that she hates bingo, is actually missing Friday afternoon happy hour. 

Gloria:
And we had Friday not happy hour here. That's always lovely. I don't mind sitting down ther e...

KARA:
but they've kept themselves kind of busy.

Gloria:
I’m busy every day and I've got a job to do every day, which is lovely. You know, I have purpose, which is important at my age.

KARA:
Because they miss each other so much. They have been chatting on the phone every day. 

Gloria:
Betty and I usually speak every day, twice a day, sometimes We normally talk about what we'll watch that day and what channel it's on, and and she always just says, I just want to see you alive. That's all… 

KARA:
And they tell me that despite the fact they're in lockdown, they've got a lot of gossip to catch up on. Apparently, in Betty's facility, she said that there's 100 people and 14 of them are called Margaret, and so they often talk at length about what the Margarets are up to. 

So it sounds like it's been a lot like our experience of lockdown, but with a lot less Netflix. But you know, that said, the life and times of 14 Margaret sounds kind of like a Netflix show anyway. 

RUBY:
Ha, yeah it could be. And so Kara - as the New South Wales government has announced its targets and as the state has gotten closer and closer to restrictions easing, what has that been like for Gloria and for her sister Betty? What have they been thinking about and how have they been feeling about the prospect of opening up?

KARA:
Well, both Betty and Gloria are pretty nervous about opening up, actually. 

Gloria:
We felt safe to be locked in. That hasn't been hard, it hasn't been difficult at all. It's more it's hard and now thinking we've got freedom and having to go out. Now we’re nervous. 

KARA:
They said that this is the sentiment of a lot of people that they live with. 

Gloria:
It's safe here, we've all been vaccinated, so it's safe, but I don't want to be walking past someone that hasn't been vaccinated and and. I just I think it's it's a scary world out there now, you know. 

KARA:
They've missed out on a lot. They've had their grandkids 21st birthdays. There have been some of their friends funerals that they've missed. They've missed some weddings. And Gloria told me that she was most sad to have missed Betty's 90th birthday.

Gloria:
I think with all of this from the people that I've spoken to, it's mostly just haircut and grandchildren and family. And I see my sister to cry and I see my sister hopefully some time. So that'll be lovely. 

KARA:
So I’ve been chatting to Gloria and Betty for a little while now, and because they haven’t seen each other for the better part of a year and neither one of them can drive, I decided when things opened up I would reunite them. 

Kara:
I am just on my way to pick up Gloria, who is in Old Toongabbie, this is literally the furthest i’ve driven in about four months which is crazy.  

KARA:
So on Monday, when we were finally allowed to leave our houses and our five kilometre bubbles, I headed out to Old Toongabbie in Sydney's western suburbs, picked up Gloria and the whole car ride she spoke about how excited she was to see Betty.  

Gloria:
Because as Betty Betty raised my brother and I when we were young, she did. She looked after us so much and took us to the movies, did everything for us. And and she, she and I have been close all our lives and her daughters and sons are like my children. 

KARA:
And then as we got closer to Betty’s house, I didn’t even need Google maps because Gloria knew the way off by heart and started directing me. 

Gloria:
We've just go to now, just follow straight up this road. And through that roundabout.   And then it's the second big driveway on the right. And I'm so excited my stomach's turning over. So now we now turn right into here and now when we get in here, just just go to the left and then quickly to the right, and then we'll go straight up to her unit. I'll bet she's sitting at the front waiting. It doesn't matter how early, how late we arrive, she'll always be sitting out there really waiting for us. 

Oh, there she is. Look, she said. The door always had that fabulous. Oh, I can't wait. Oh, quick, I'll be stopping there. Oh, thank you. 

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment. 

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RUBY:
Kara, what was it like for Gloria and her sister, Betty to see each other again? Can you describe that reunion?

KARA:
It was so nice, it was so nice, even though it was absolutely pouring with rain. We drove up and Betty was sitting there waiting for us outside in her wheelchair and Gloria ran up to her and gave her the biggest hug.

Gloria:
Here she is. I knew she'd be out on the veranda waiting. How long do you recognise me? How are you? And how are you going, my darling girl? Hello, sweetheart. I can't cuddle you yet because I don’t have a mask, had to give them a hug. I'll give you cuddle in a minute. You're about to. 

KARA:
And she started crying, Betty was crying. I was also crying.   

KARA:
And then we went inside and they just sat there for the longest time and just looked at each other's faces and held hands. 

Gloria:
I’m just going to sit. I just want to look at you.  

Betty:
You gotta put the brake on Gloria!

KARA:
And it was funny because, you know, they said it had just been so long since they'd seen each other's faces. And I thought about the fact that for me in lockdown, you know, I've missed a lot of my friends and family, but because of Instagram and Zoom and various other social media sites like you can see everyone's face every day. Whereas for them, they haven't actually seen each other for months and months.

So Gloria put on the tea, Betty put out, you know, three types of cake on the table for us to have. And then they just started telling each other stories and laughing.

Betty:
when we used to go out, I'd be a bit slow moving. She’d poke me with my walking stick, of course, in the rear end, Oh, she got me. Oh gosh, so we killed ourselves laughing... because she's a wonderful girl. 

KARA:
And it was just so nice. Like, I feel like it was probably the nicest way to spend the first day out of lockdown. 

<<getting in the car / sounds of driving tape ambi>>

KARA:
Gloria said something that stuck with me in the car on the way home, and she said that she and a lot of her friends just feel a lot older. 

Gloria:
We’ve lost energy. And we've lost just that, the want of going out and doing things that that's gone. 

KARA:
She said that it was the socialising and being able to see her friends and see her family, you know, often was what kept her alive and kept her kind of zesty, being able to go to the community hall and do all those things. And she said without it, the more time she just spent sitting by herself in her little apartment, the older she feels . That felt sad, because she said you know, she’s ever really felt old before… but these last 18 months have made her aware of how old she is. 

RUBY:
Hmm. So that was Monday, which was a few days ago, now what happens next for Gloria and for Betty? To what extent did their lives go back to normal now?

KARA:
Yeah, I think this is the hard thing. I mean, when we came out of lockdown last year, there wasn't any Covid I mean everyone was kind of a little nervous and socially awkward, but it actually wasn't very dangerous, whereas this time is different. Covid is here and we're living with it, and we're told basically every day by health officers and premiers that the case numbers will go up as we come out of lockdown. And so both Betty and Gloria said that they were pretty scared actually to start coming out again. 

Gloria:
No, I don’t want to go out in the big world just just to see the family. And that's what I really want, you know.

KARA:
But they also said that the thing that keeps them going is knowing that they only have so much time left and so they want to be making the most of it.

Gloria:
We're all getting older, and every day you miss is a day you miss being with them.  So that's where I am at sure most people, most people are saying the same thing. 

KARA:
This whole notion of Freedom Day is pretty tricky. I think all of us are just so conscious of how much time we've lost, which is why we're all so eager to get back out there and, you know, hit the clubs and go to the restaurants and go overseas as soon as we can. But we forget that for a lot of people, opening up is scary. And while you know most of us can make up for lost time, if you're older, you can't do that. You've only got so much time left. And and it was so clear speaking to them that they were very conscious that they couldn't get that time back. 

Gloria:
I was worried that we wouldn’t see each other anymore… So this has been precious test to see her and spend time and a couple of days just to see see them, hopefully be able to see them a lot more now that now that we are, we are out of it, out of lockdown and enter and we can just resume life as we know it and not be separated as much as we have been. 

KARA:
Probably for me, the most telling thing is that on Freedom Day, Gloria and Betty weren't looking forward to hitting the pub and drinking beers. They were most looking forward to squeezing their grandkids and seeing their families faces again, which is what I feel like we should all really be looking forward to. 

Kara:
And what has it been like seeing Gloria today?

It's been absolutely fabulous. We had the best time. We laughed at our cuddles with her cries, and then we just laughed. So, no, it's been great.

Betty:
It's been great. Absolutely wonderful. We thank you very much.

 

RUBY:
Also in the news today…

 

The NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has flagged that restrictions in the state could further ease, sooner than planned… with the state on track to reach its next vaccination target as early as Sunday. On Tuesday, NSW recorded 444 new cases of Covid-19 and four more deaths.

 

And Victoria has recorded its deadliest day of the current delta outbreak. 13 people with Covid-19 passed away, and 1,571 new cases of the virus were recorded on Wednesday. There are currently 706 coronavirus patients in Victorian hospitals. 

 

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see ya tomorrow.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am

Guest