The New World

One evening twenty five years ago, I was sitting in the upstairs bar of the Century Tavern on George St. I looked over the street, full of buses and taxis and people heading home and neon and bars and diners and wondered at the sheer size and complexity of the world we had built. And how fragile it all could be.


The world became ever more complex, ever more interconnnected, ever more wealthy. Hundreds of millions of people worked their way out of poverty. I first visited Vietnam in 1994, last in 2012 and the difference was astounding. I was happy for them.


Five or six weeks ago we heard about covid-19. One city in China. Well, like avian flu or SARS, it’ll pass, what did you think of that rookie in the pre-season match? And then we heard about Italy.


Sunday arvo I started writing a piece about Round One. Sunday eve I read about the postponement. Extracts from that draft:


“Greetings Tipsters
Pro sport has long fulfilled an important function in society, it gives people a break from their daily cares and woes.


Australian Football matches in Melbourne were played at 2pm on Saturday because the working class finished work at midday.


Off to the footy, lads, we need a relief.


Today, we need that relief more than ever and I am glad to see the NRL and AFL on telly. I don’t see much difference from the lack of a crowd, it‘s still football. Maybe better, it’s good to hear the players yelling at each other.


Wasp amps were an Australian version of Marshalls, one of many companies that built and sold gtr amps in the 60s and 70s. Plessey manufactured many of the components. All gone now.


I had mixed thoughts about the end of local automotive manufacturing. On one side, why should the government pump billions into multinational corporations? Whilst me and my gardening/landscaping colleagues get nothing. On the other side, it maintained a level of mechanical trades work.


Universities sucked money away from trades colleges because arts professors are better at writing funding requests than plumbers. Next time your dunny backs up, who ya gonna call? I know several tradesmen past the retiring age, they’re still working cos if they didn’t, there’d be no-one else to fill the gap.


Australia is an huge country, with a minimal population concentrated on the south-east coastline and an enormous amount of raw resources in the vast, beautiful desert that makes up most of our nation. It ain’t that long since we were self-sufficient, we could easily be again as long as you want to get used to seasonal produce and hanging on to your Playstation for a bit longer than you’d prefer. Much like it was thirty years ago.


I saw a headline ‘Think about people, not economics.” Jeez, economics IS people. Wealth equals health, poverty means crap food, unemployment means depresssion, alcoholism, suicide.


Us western civ types have become so fat and lazy, we’ve forgotten that our forebears lived through, in thirty years, world war part 1, an economic collapse, world war part 2.”


The economic repercussions may, in the long term, be worse than the virus – assuming it doesn’t mutate. The entire worldwide airline industry is on the point of collapse. Southampton docks, usually crowded and busy, are silent and empty. The vast complex of global trade is grinding to a halt. I know a lot of folks who are musicians, run cafes, manage pubs. They’re in deep trouble. And I gotta wonder about kids maybe missing the best part of an entire school year. Sure, for some it’ll work out fine, but not all.


It’s one thing to read a headline about a million suddenly unemployed, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to talk to a mate in his 40s who’s signed up for the dole for the first time in his life whilst his wife is within a week or two of losing her job and he’s exhausted but can’t sleep cos he’s wired anxious about the kids and the mortgage. Heard about the rent riots of the early 1930s? There were street battles in Newtown. I hope it don’t get to that, maybe society is a little kinder, a little gentler, maybe banks and landlords might figure that it’s better in the long run to give folks a break.


Maybe, at some point, we will all pull together. I’m not convinced. The most elemental instinct is survival. Hence brawls in supermarkets over dunny paper. I’ve read about people pulling together in the Great Depression or, more recently, in refugee camps. Those people already knew hardship. We don’t.


Half of my usual attitude, deeply cynical and guardedly optimistic, has been shaken. I read a lot of history, I know that we always make it through the worst of times and usually come out the better. The Black Plague, f’rinstance, led to a better life for peasants because labour became more valuable. Being a gardener, I can keep working, I don’t hang around people too much, Perky Girl took long service leave and has March and April off work. We’re okay. Mum is 83 and daren’t leave the flat.


Mum told me how all household cleaning can be done with a combination of vinegar and ammonia. Wanna sanitise your hands? Isopropyl alcohol, you can buy it by the gallon, baby oil and a few other bits, the recipe’s online.


Shit happens, eh? Yeah, always.


I wish you all the very best in these trying times, folks. May we yet meet in a crowd.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About Earl O'Neill

Freelance gardener, I've thousands of books, thousands of records, one fast motorcycle and one gorgeous smart funny sexy woman. Life's pretty darn neat.


  1. Good luck Earl and all the best.

    I have a view that the general public was a bit slow to get on to the extent of this problem as we have all become immune to media exaggeration. At the start it was just another page filler medical story from China. But this time the cry wolf is for real.

  2. Colin Ritchie says

    Terrific read Earl. It’s so overwhelming with what is happening at the moment, I just can’t get my head around everything. Like my worst nightmare, it’s so surreal! Cheers.

  3. Earl O'Neill says

    Having writ this, I feel a bit embarassed, like I’m only adding to the lunacy. It’s something of a psychic spew. Which makes the Almanac the, uh, dunny at the Taxi Club? Not that I ever did.

  4. Yep, it is a new world, Earl.
    And just all so inter-connected now.
    Take care.

  5. Great read Earl. Love your stuff.

    Another crisis is festering alongside the coronavirus: Trump’s “jockeying” to damage control his chances for re-election. One of his latest remarks was ‘the cure being worse than the problem.’ Wow. Worse for who? Wall St? Trump Inc? Fairdinkum, Trump has the inhumanity of the Hindenburg! And today he’s tweeting sh*t about everyone getting back to work by Easter. That’s 2 weeks! What terrifies me is that it’ll gain traction with his troglodytes, whereupon octogenarians and sickly people will be thrown under a bus, notwithstanding the toll it’ll take on doctors and nurses. Sh*t we live in dystopian times.

  6. Thanks Earl.
    I guess a house of cards is still a house.
    On we go.

  7. Wise words Earl. Had to lay anyone off at Trans-Dementia Inc? Didn’t you have a Chinese lass in the office who was good with numbers to do the books?

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I know I shouldn’t, but this came to mind Earl

  9. Thanks Earl. The closer it gets to Tuesday’s release for me, the less I’m looking forward to it. I’m 50 cans of baked beans, a concrete bunker and a shotgun away from stayin’ put.

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