Pandemic tales

By Melissa McCullough Photos Yanni

Born in Singapore of Swedish parents and spending part of her childhood in South Korea, Mornington Peninsula travel editor and entertainment industry promoter Kristina McGhee spent her childhood travelling the world with her parents. Growing up, Kristina would be fascinated by the tales told, and of their amazing and diverse trips. This later instilled in her a continuing interest in peoples and cultures which led to her gaining a degree in Social Anthropology.

At the beginning of 2020 her Airbnb in Rye was constantly booked out and she spent her days cleaning it and preparing the linen for the new guests.  She was also a co-ordinator of foreign exchange high school students who had come to Australia from Italy, Sweden, Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, Finland and Norway. Arriving in July 2019, their 10 months abroad should have continued until the end of May 2020.

“There were bookings. There were students. There were gigs. There was travel to write about. The income was flowing. Life was normal”, says Kristina.

Then the corona virus hit Victoria.

Kristina recalls, “It took some time to get flights arranged for those students who decided to leave. The dilemma was that if they chose to stay it would mean their travel insurance would not cover their medical here plus their student visas would be invalid and eventually run out as all the schools were closing.” With the worry in their minds building, and after many tears and lots of uncertainty with flights, they all ended up going home.

“I was then faced with having no usual income. Promotions for the music and entertainment industry had stopped with all gigs cancelled and theatres closed, and I also couldn’t really work at writing travel itineraries as no one could travel”, said Kristina.

There was also a void left from not being able to do any of the things she would usually do to fill her days, which she quickly remedied with the aid of JobSeeker. These payments enabled her, like many Victorians, to pay her bills, and get into some pastimes that ‘regular life’ might not permit time for.

One memorable time was in August when, with four friends, she helped to organise an event called Spark in the Dark. “This event was spurred on by the sudden death of an American actor, singer and good friend who was only 53 and died from COVID-19.”  With only two weeks to set it up, Spark in the Dark was to honour all the frontline and health care workers. It was for all Victorians to light a candle or torch, turn all their lights off in their own homes, for one minute at 7.30pm on Saturday August 29, to say thank you.

“The response from the entire state was amazing. We received photos from all over. It showed us how many people were grateful for all of those who put their lives at risk daily, some of them wearing full PPE outfits for up to twelve hours a day.”

After hearing so many stories of frontline workers Kristina realised that there were so many aspects of this strange scenario that everyone was living through. Kristina says, “It is a moment in history that we are experiencing and hopefully may not have to experience ever again.” These tales inspired her to publish a book consisting of stories written by Australian friends describing how they felt during lockdown. With the help of a group of school friends, listed as co-authors, she managed to gather many interesting stories from all over the country. The idea then expanded to include contributions from her over­seas friends and family as well. The creators of the book had friends and family who were frontline workers. They knew people who had lost their businesses, people who were stuck in other countries, people who were scared, and some who did not believe the virus existed at all. As the stories came in, Kristina assembled the experiences into an edited anthology that will forever stand as a testament to the year that was 2020.

“I’m so excited that 2020 When the World Lost its Balance has come to fruition as a keepsake and a historical record for future generations”, said Kristina.

Like the stories in the collection, Kristina has forgone many occasions. She missed a cousin’s reunion in Sweden. She was supposed to be in Greece in August and then meeting her daughters in Barcelona in the September school holidays. But through it all she kept very busy.

She goes on to say, “Lockdown wasn’t so bad for me; and as I read through all of the stories, I realised more and more that I’m a very lucky one.”

2020 When the World Lost its Balance is currently available from selected bookshops and online from:

Peninsula Essence – December 2020