TRUE OPINION: Western Australia’s seriously underfunded health system would not be able to cope with an outbreak of Covid, writes Irfan Yusuf, who is missing his home in Perth while currently locked out on the other side of Australia.
When I was a kid, I’d watch the news with mum and dad in their East Ryde home. We’d watch everything – the main stories, adverts, (three seconds of) world news, sport (cricket was always a favourite in our chronically South Asian family) and weather. Well, most of the weather. Usually we’d change channels before the weatherman stretched his arm to Perth.
You see, no one seemed to care about Perth in 1970’s and 80’s Sydney. It was just so far away. I’d never met anyone from Perth. The only time Perth meant anything to us was when we were flying back from an overseas destination and the video screen showed our plane hiting WA. Suddenly we all moaned that we still had another six or seven hours before we hit Sydney.
Flying to Perth was out of the question. Working and living in Perth was regarded as insane. I managed to finally make it to Perth in 2012 when a university centre flew me over to give guest lecture. I stayed there for three days. The flight there and back seemed to take longer than the stay.
One thing I remembered from that trip was that if you wanted anything from the supermarket, you had to get there by 6pm. Also someone telling me that there isn’t much worth seeing south of Fremantle. This didn’t worry me because I wasn’t planning to return to this God-forsaken part of Australia.
Well guess what. In February 2019 I managed to land a job in Perth. Well, not exactly Perth. Way south of Fremantle. A seaside resort town which was the closest thing in WA to Wollongong or Geelong. The weekend before, I found myself at the historic Perth Mosque. A mate of mine of Indian Hindu heritage told me to come on down. Lots of Maori and Noongar (the local indigenous mob) were there to pay their respects. The place was packed. A few days before, some crazy white supremacist from Australia has murdered people at Friday prayers in Christchurch. It felt like the whole Perth community had descended on the mosque to shower its tiny Muslim minority with love and protection.
This wasn’t the Perth I’d expected. People from “the East” too often portray Perth as an uber-white “boganville”, a place that makes Queensland look like Edinburgh, that lacks culture, where the newspaper has more advertisements than news and where political parties happily engage in race baiting. No doubt there is that element. I remember reading about the local government area where I lived in Perth boasting about how finally they had decided after much argument to fly the Aboriginal flag at Council chambers. I know of one allegedly progressive community service refusing to change their name even though it was the surname of some bloke who had carried out massacres of local Indigenous people.
But there is so much to this beautiful city than all that. Back in the days when flying was cheap and cheerful, you could head to Singapore or Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur for peanuts. You could be mesmerised by the sun setting on the ocean or the city lights reflecting on the Swan River at South Perth foreshore.
But try not to get too sick in Perth. I once found myself having to head to emergency. I was living in Mandurah. It was 11pm. A local friend asked his doctor wife what I should do.
“Drive straight to Fiona Stanley.” Fair enough, except that it is some 50km away. I somehow managed to drive there. I waited for four hours for someone to see me. Still, one scary experience in a substandard underfunded public health system is no reason to leave this gorgeous place that I had adopted as home.
I left Perth temporarily in December 2019. An elderly relative was having age-related cognitive issues. I expected to be back home in Perth within six months. Then Covid. The borders closed. Scomo took his time with the vaccines and was bodging up quarantine. WA instituted a hard border. That border was lifted temporarily but didn’t last long enough for me to get my Sydney affairs in order and fly back. NSW went back into lockdown. Then Victoria. Then the ACT.
During lockdown, I had another health scare. This time I didn’t drive 50 km to Fiona Stanley Hospital. Instead I was driven 15 minutes to Royal North Shore Hospital. Within five minutes I was before a triage nurse. Within 25 minutes I was talking to a doctor and having my bloods taken. Had I been in Melbourne, I would have had a similar situation. Remember, this was at the height of lockdown when hundreds of ICU beds were being used for Covid patients.
I could criticise the WA Premier for instituting a hard border and stopping someone like me from returning home. But the fact remains that WA has a public health system that has been underfunded by governments of all political persuasions. It’s easy for the folks at Newscorp and the Financial Review (and even the West Australian newspaper) to criticise Mark McGowan. But McGowan grew up in Newcastle and attended Coffs Harbour High School. His parents still live in NSW. He will be missing their company at Christmas just as I will be missing my friends in Canning Vale and Baldivis.
McGowan has been dealt a bad deal by previous governments with a poor public health system. If Delta hits, even Perth will find it hard to cope let alone more remote Indigenous communities. It sucks that I might have to wait until February 2022 or even longer to return. But that’s okay. A few months is better than losing 200 or so West Australian lives.