Melbourne reopens as trackies cast off and the determined hit the streets

“Everyone I’ve spoken to just wants to get out of the house,” Bennett said. “The bookings that we have taken have been pretty crazy, so I would say people are just interested in getting out there.”

Besides unexpected construction work, his team has been busy heating up the pizza oven, which had to be replaced over lockdown, and prepping food including five kilograms of mussels and three kilograms of lentil patties.

After 77 days of the most recent lockdown, the end of stay-at-home orders seemed to come in a rush.Credit:Luis Ascui

Melbourne’s resolutely optimistic lord mayor, Sally Capp, doesn’t talk in terms of lockdowns any more but instead refers to Melbourne’s sixth “bounce back”.

“Every day we are frenetically working on initiatives and programs that will literally bring back the buzz and give people confidence about a sense of future for Melbourne within Melbourne, as part of Melbourne,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can for our community to make the most of that reopening after the toughest time in living memory.”

The City of Melbourne is trying to activate empty shopfronts and will relaunch Melbourne Money, a scheme under which diners can claim money back for eating out at CBD restaurants.

Public servant Lachlan Williams doesn’t need any encouragement and has already booked meals at three restaurants, an osteopath appointment and a city staycation.

“I’m now starting to feel like I’ve over-egged this and am not yet ready for society,” he said.

He is “excited but a little apprehensive” about lockdown lifting and says while he’s aware he has been privileged to be able to work from home during the pandemic, it will be a big change being out and about.

“I have not been a total recluse, but having to go back to a world of hard pants, as they are being called, is definitely a not insignificant adjustment.”

The Hilton Little Collins street is ready for local staycationers. Roy Tolentino and Lina White spent Thursday polishing the front windows, cleaning the toilets and dusting guest rooms that have been sitting empty.

They are part of the housekeeping team and say it has been lonely at the hotel without guests.

Lina White and Roy Tolentino have worked hard to get the Hilton Little Collins Street ready to reopen.Credit:Simon Schluter

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, so while we were working we were talking about what we did in the lockdown,” Mr Tolentino said.

The hotel has been open for 110 days out of the 214 days since it first opened in March and will only be at about 35 per cent occupancy for the weekend but has strong demand for November.

Other Melburnians have less glamorous ambitions for the city’s reopening. Jessica Tief’s first outing is set to be to the tip, where she is hoping to get “rid of all the crap and recycling material I’ve managed to accumulate from having to order things in throughout lockdown”.

Ms Tief said she was also looking forward to gyms eventually reopening as there were only so many times she could walk around Princes Park and Royal Park.

Ms White and Mr Tolentino at work. Credit:Simon Schluter

“I think there has been this low hum of excitement as people can go out and picnic, and now they can go and hit the bars it is really going to go off,” she said. “I should probably say I’m looking forward to seeing my family, but really it’s things like just being able to go to a nursery and pick out plants and get potting mix.”

Some Melburnians have more mixed feelings.

Jo Wallace, who is chronically ill and partially disabled, said she was somewhat anxious about lockdown ending.

“I have the same excitement as everyone else, and obviously, it is great for mental health to see some of my family again, but at the same time it is really weird,” she said.

Ms Wallace said lockdown sometimes resembled what her life was like all the time, so it was hard to see people complaining about it.

She worries much of the online accessibility of a pandemic world which is vital to people with illness and disabilities will disappear.

“I am going straight back to my beautician tomorrow, I’m not going to lie, but I think I will take the crowds very slowly and just retreat back if it is looking a bit too crazy,” she said.

Queen Victoria Market is once again going to be a hive of activity. Outdoor specialty retail sheds and laneways are set to join food traders by reopening on the weekend after being closed for 78 days.

Danny Lewin and his son are the owners of the Danny’s Knitwear stall and have been pulling stock out of the metal containers it has been stored in and cleaning all the dust away from their Australian and New Zealand-made knits in preparation for the weekend.

The pair plan to be set up early on Saturday morning for business but are not sure what to expect.

“We all want to go back; what are we going to go back to is a very good question,” Mr Lewin said.

He has run the market stall for 42 years and survived during lockdown with some online sales.

The market has been popular for food shoppers during the pandemic and Mr Lewin hopes customers will continue through to the retail section.

“We have been stop and start for two years now. We are very excited about going back, but it is just the fear of the unknown.”

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