'Across the Fence'
Across the Fence is a photographic series that was created by Melbourne-based photographer Julie Ewing as a ‘community-spirited goodwill project’ in response to the first COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria that began in March 2020.
As households went into lockdown and social distancing rules came into effect, Julie saw an opportunity to document this unique time in history by photographing her friends and neighbours from a safe distance, across their front fences. She offered these photoshoots for free, gifted families with copies of the digital photographs and shared image galleries via a Facebook group to generate positivity and community discussion. ‘It’s FUN, it’s FREE and it FOLLOWS the social distancing rules’, advertised Julie on her Facebook group in April 2020, ‘this is a documentary style portrait of life under lockdown; a footprint in our history of an unprecedented time.’
As community interest in the project grew, Julie received requests to photograph households right across the Darebin region, including the suburbs of Northcote, Fairfield, Thornbury and Preston. ‘Everyone jumped on board’, recalls Julie: ‘I think the novelty of the lockdown situation was still new, the weather was still warm, and it was Autumn and very pretty outdoors.’ Over a period of six weeks, Julie photographed 120 households and then expanded her project to include 60 retail and hospitality businesses.
The following series of photographs documents a wide range of neighbourhood experiences and stories that Julie captured during the first COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne – from families and housemates gardening or playing music in their front lawns, to small shopfronts pivoting their businesses to offer socially-distanced shopping or take-away food. To learn more about the families, individuals and stories behind each photograph, please browse through the below gallery and click on images for more info.
Across the Fence Story Gallery
Julie Ewing, photographer
Photographer Julie Ewing taking a photo of Fairfield residents, mother Angela Velissaris and daughter Vicki Velissaris, at Angela’s home in Northcote. Julie is taking photos from a safe distance using a long camera lens, in line with the Victorian Government’s social distancing requirements that were in place at the time.
Mother and daughter
Vicki Velissaris and her daughter Angela Velissaris live on the same street in Northcote and are pictured standing in front of Angela’s home during COVID-19 lockdowns. Migrating from Greece in 1969, Vicki and her family had been living in Northcote for over 50 years and in that time had established deep connections with their local community, church and Greek clubs. When COVID-19 lockdowns were introduced, Angela commented that ‘everything came to a halt for us and we were unable to partake in our usual social activities.’ Despite being socially isolated, they remained connected to their friends, family and neighbours via phone, WhatsApp and FaceTime.
Housemates Larissa Fogden and Hannah Haines, both in their early thirties, were working in the family violence sector when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Australia. They began working from home as soon as Victoria’s lockdown measures came into place, and subsequently found themselves spending more time together in their garden, crafting and discussing political issues such as the Black Lives Matter protests and climate change. Despite finding lockdowns challenging, they reflected that ‘it’s been really nice to have each other’ and that ‘this little garden has been such a source of comfort and practice of reciprocity and connection.’
A slower pace
Family members Lianne McMillan, Phil Pringuer, Pippa Pringuer and Tom Pringuer at home with their dogs Lyra and Meeka. Although COVID-19 lockdowns posed many challenges for the family, Lianne McMillan commented that it gave them time to experience ‘a slower pace of life, more family time and a sense of gratitude for all that we do have.’ While in-person social activities came to a halt, the family remained connected to their local community by visiting local parks and communicating with friends and family via email, phone, Zoom and Facetime.
Shoe Image Fairfield
Siblings George and Andreana Lambrinakos posing in their family-owned shop, Shoe Image Fairfield, during the State of Victoria’s first COVID-19 lockdowns. George and Andreana’s parents first started this shoe business in 1969, and George became the store owner in 1995. When the COVID-19 lockdowns began in Victoria in March 2020, George and Andreana introduced in-store social distancing measures and hand sanitisation procedures, however their business was still heavily impacted by the drop in customers, with an estimated fall in revenue of 75%. Despite the challenges that COVID-19 brought to their retail business, George and Andreana were grateful for the support of their local community and local client base. ‘Customers continued to come from all over’, reflected George in May 2020, ‘and having our shop online helped a lot with this situation.’
More time together
Family members Georgie Kelly-Papak, Daniel Papak, Heidi Papak and Thomas Papak tending to their front garden and creating new garden beds during COVID-19 lockdowns. Georgie, an architect, and Daniel, a small businessowner, were both able to work from home when the lockdowns began in March 2020. ‘We were lucky that our jobs could be done remotely’, reflected Georgie in August 2020, ‘and working from home has meant that we have been able to spend more time together as a family.’
Support from friends and family
Family members Carolyn Smithers, Patrick Smithers, Hamish Smithers, Walter Smithers and Louis Smithers standing at home with their dogs Percy and Myrtle. Carolyn, a physio, had just had bilateral total knee replacements and was undergoing intensive home rehabilitation when lockdowns came into effect. ‘It was actually quite handy to have three of my sons home’, recalled Carolyn in August 2020, ‘I also felt very supported by friends who helped us after my surgery by dropping off meals. I loved feeling the community coming together and seeing the kindness and resilience of people, as well as the community rallying around businesses to support them.’
Lorraine Evans, aged 79, was living alone when the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced, and found the experience of lockdown very isolating. ‘I’m nearly 80 and I still drive’, wrote Lorraine in August 2020, ‘but the lockdown means that I’m mostly just sitting inside watching TV… I’ve found being alone all the time really hard.’ When Lorraine was contacted by local photographer Julie Ewing to have her portrait taken during lockdown, she was happy to be involved. ‘I was really excited to have my photo taken’, Lorraine reflected, ‘the last time that happened was when I got married!’
Neighbours enjoying a socially distant drink together during COVID-19 lockdowns. Pictured are Marie and Gerard Canty (in the household to the right) and Michael Falkinder, Dee Wardrop, Lucy Falkinder, Sam Falkinder and Gwenyth Falkinder (in the household to the left). ‘The restrictions of the COVID-19 lockdown mean we’ve been missing seeing our family and friends, especially my Mum and Dad in New Zealand’, reflected Dee Wardrop in August 2020: ‘It’s so good that we can still have a wine with Marie and Gerry over our fence and look out for each other. They’re the perfect neighbours and we’re very lucky.’
Married 36 years
Retired couple Linda and Mick O’Connor standing at home with their dogs Paige and Rocky on their 36th wedding anniversary, during a period of COVID-19 lockdowns. In August 2020 Linda reflected: ‘As we’re retired, isolation didn’t change our schedules so much as restrict social interactions, including with our two daughters. Our neighbours have been marvellous, though, everyone checking on each other and chatting more than usual. When we’re walking the Golden Retrievers, people stop to talk and have a pet... We’re so grateful for our home of 20 years, our neighbours and social contacts, and having a good meal and warm bed at night. We have each other and that’s everything.’
Connecting through music
Family members Anthony Boxshall, Sonya Mulholland, Oscar Mulhall, Magnus Mulhall, Scarlett Mulhall and Phineas Mulhall standing in front of their garage with musical instruments during COVID-19 lockdowns. Music was an important means through which this family, particularly the four children, coped with the challenges of lockdown.’ Magnus, aged 16, reflected that ‘music, throughout these housebound times, has almost been like a key to the hefty chains of lockdown. It has allowed me to express myself emotionally in a constructive and meaningful way and explore worlds beyond the confining four walls of my bedroom.’
'An extraordinary time!'
Family members Colin, Susan and Sam Chamberlain posing with surgical masks and gloves during COVID-19 lockdowns. When this photograph was taken in April 2020, mask wearing was not yet compulsory in Victoria, however for Susan, a fertility nurse, ‘wearing surgical masks was not unfamiliar to me.’ Working in the fertility sector, Susan reflected that ‘COVID-19 caused a heap of anxiety and raised questions about whether people should still try to conceive, and what the effects of COVID-19 on the unborn baby might be.’ Susan continued working through the first lockdown, but the uncertainties around the virus ‘made my employer and I very anxious.’
Home after hotel quarantine
Northcote residents Judi and Rob Castagnini sitting at home with their daughter Laura Castagnini during COVID-19 lockdowns. Laura, who had been living in London for six years, is wearing a gown that she received in hotel quarantine. She reflects: ‘In March I made a snap decision to leave London and it all happened very fast. All the airlines were in disarray and it was a panic-fuelled week of flights being cancelled and rebooked, and then I was unlucky to be the second batch of arrivals ordered into hotel quarantine. It was a relief to know that I needn't worry about infecting my family, but the experience of being locked inside a hotel with no fresh air was pretty horrible. It was a huge relief to arrive safely at my parent's house, and I spent a good couple of weeks resting and recovering. It was my first time living back home since I was a teenager, so it took a little time to adjust, but it gave us a very special chance to reconnect and enjoy each other's company.’
15 Pounds Café
Café owner John Kanellakos with barista Scott Royal serving take-away coffee behind the counter of John’s family-owned café, 15 Pounds. John reflected in June 2020: ‘COVID-19 completely changed our business model, from dine-in table service to take-away. We had to re-do websites, arrange delivery platforms, clear out all tables and chairs, create new menus and introduce new packaging and marketing, all overnight. My wife and I run our own business with an 18-month-old toddler which is very challenging.’ Despite these challenges, John and his family were overwhelmed by the support that they received from their local community and regular customers: ‘How grateful we are at 15 Pounds Café for the incredible community for supporting us through this distant weird journey’, they reflected in August 2020, ‘we are here for you, as you have been here for us. Thank you Fairfield!’
Chemotherapy in lockdown
When COVID-19 lockdowns were first introduced in Melbourne in March 2020, Simone Grace, pictured standing at her front gate, was undergoing intensive chemotherapy for Stage 3 Grade 3 Breast Cancer. ‘Having cancer treatment during this time has made me more vulnerable to get out and about’, reflected Simone, ‘I have been forced to stay indoors more and my routine of going to the market or shopping is something I now realise I very much enjoyed, and miss greatly…The human side of medical treatment has been robbed by COVID; we can’t see the smiles of the nurses or receive the hugs that we used to.’ Despite the challenges of undergoing chemotherapy during COVID-19 lockdowns, Simone reflected that there had been some silver linings to take from the experience: ‘The best thing has been spending more time with the boys; as a family we have really loved being together as life has slowed down. It is a good thing to be able to slow down, and to not rush about, so that you can appreciate things that matter: family, friends, the outdoors and just how beautiful nature is. I’ve learnt to eat well, worry less and not take things for granted, especially my health and freedom.’
Parenting and childcare
Family members Nichola, Ryan, Olivia and Dallas Benjamin, and their dogs Harley and Pixel, playing in their front yard during COVID-19 lockdowns. Olivia, aged 6, and Dallas, aged 2, are pictured balancing on an outdoor play gym. When interviewed in June 2020, mother and childcare worker Nichola Benjamin reflected that parenting during lockdown had some significant challenges, but also some silver linings: ‘We have spent a lot of time running around outside in our garden, and playing on the trampoline and play equipment. Despite things being really tough, we have a lot to be grateful for – we have our health, we have our family. We are blessed.’
A well-tended lockdown lawn
Fairfield resident Jason Hunter mowing the lawn during COVID-19 lockdowns. Also pictured in this photo are Jason’s wife Sharon, son Ben, daughter Mackenzie and dog Lou. Jason, a MICA flight paramedic with Air Ambulance Victoria, had adapted to working on the frontline during the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘He has been learning new modes of providing safe patient care’, reflected his wife Sharon in June 2020, ‘and also adapting to the potential risk to himself when working in the confines of a helicopter.’ Despite his stressful job, Jason became passionate about lawnmowing during the COVID-19 lockdowns, which became an in-house joke within the family. Sharon reflected in June 2020: ‘Jason has really embraced his love for the lawn. He loved his lawn before lockdown, but he has definitely upped the game and dedication during this period.’
N & S Happy Dry Cleaners
Elaine Teo at work at her dry cleaning business during the State of Victoria’s first COVID-19 lockdowns and associated ‘stay at home’ restrictions. At the time this photograph was taken, Elaine was running this dry cleaning business, N & S Happy Dry Cleaners, alongside her brother Robert. This family-owned business had been operating in Fairfield for 20 years, and Elaine and Robert had taken it over from their parents 13 years prior. In June 2020, Elaine reflected: ‘COVID-19 meant that we closed the store, but we have recently been able to open just 2 days per week. We miss our customers and we look forward to when this is all over so we can return to normal work again.’
1971 Triumph Bobber
Family members Monique Silk, Peter Howells, Louis Howells and Toby Howells standing in their front yard during COVID-19 lockdowns. The family are pictured standing with a 1971 Triumph Bobber motorbike and their pet dog Rex. The motorbike was custom-built by Peter over a number of years, and during COVID-19 lockdowns it remained a point of discussion – and a welcome distraction – for the family. Reflecting on the experience of lockdown, Monique Silk reflected that ‘it has been a challenge trying to keep the boys positive when at home so much.’ Despite the difficulties of lockdown, however, Monique reflected that she enjoyed ‘eating dinner together every night’ and ‘learnt not to take anything for granted.’
Anzac Day - 'Light Up the Dawn'
Fairfield residents Maria Geary and Les Kitchin pictured standing in front of their home on Anzac Day after participating in a dawn service on their street. Les Kitchin, who had served in the 5th Battalion during the Vietnam War in 1966-67, decided to help organise a ‘Light Up The Dawn’ service on his street. In April 2020, he – along with his partner Maria– reflected on their experience of commemorating Anzac Day differently during COVID-19: ‘This silent moving experience whilst listening to the Last Post was in contrast to previous years when we attended the Ivanhoe RSL service. Reunions with family and friends, as well as the city march to the Shrine of Remembrance with Vietnam War Veterans and mates from 5RAR were also cancelled. The Fairfield community spirit was alive and special though, so we felt proud – not realising sharing this moment was making history itself.’
Anzac Day - AFL match from home
Northcote residents Sharon Crofts and Simon Jackson dressed in Australian Rules Football (AFL) colours in celebration of the Collingwood-Essendon Anzac Day match that they would have usually attended on 25 April 2020. ‘My husband and I go to the Anzac Day game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) every year and it is a longstanding tradition’, reflected Sharon in August 2020, ‘Simon is a bombers supporter and I am a Magpies supporter, so we were feeling disappointed that we weren’t going to be able to go to the game. We have many Magpies supporters in our street, so we thought wearing our jumpers on the day would create some fun and atmosphere around the street, which is did. We also stood at our front gate at dawn with a candle for the Anzac Day dawn service, which was really moving.’
Married at home
Couple Kath Brackett and Anissa Thompson embrace in the moments after getting married at home on their front lawn during the State of Victoria’s first COVID-19 lockdowns and associated ‘stay at home’ restrictions. In June 2020, Kath and Anissa reflected on their experience of getting married in lockdown: ‘We decided to go ahead and get married as it was important, with the recent changes in law (2017) making it now legal. And celebrating 20 years was a big milestone too…Our sons helped us celebrate on the day. They are 17 and 13. We had a great day, and we are so pleased we went ahead when we did, as things only got worse with the pandemic after our wedding.’
Both John Owen Scully and Rebecca Cooper had been working for Flight Centre Fairfield for over 10 years when COVID-19 lockdowns were introduced in Victoria in March 2020. In June 2020, Rebecca Cooper reflected that ‘when the COVID-19 restrictions started coming down worldwide, we needed to act quickly to get customers home, otherwise they would have been stranded. We got customers home from India, Europe, Africa, Columbia, Mexico, the United States, Vietnam – you name it! In a way it felt nice to do this work. Nothing says “essential worker” like being able to say you helped people get home to their families in their time of need!’
Friday night drinks
Neighbours Sue and Jon Torwick (front) and Jane and Tony Curran (back) enjoying a socially distant Friday night drink during COVID-19 lockdowns. Despite missing their family, Sue and Jon Torwick were grateful for the company of their neighbours: ‘Tony and Jane were the first neighbours we met when we moved in 17 years ago, and have been constant support and amusement ever since. Catching up for Friday night drinks and debriefing while socially distancing has been a joy. Luckily our street is narrow and we can sit on either side of the road, together, apart.’
With the support of the Office for Suburban Development, 24 photographs from Julie Ewing’s Across the Fence series have been acquired into Museum Victoria’s State Collection, and will provide a lasting reminder of neighbourhood life in Melbourne’s suburbs during the first Victorian COVID-19 lockdown.
This story was collected and written by Catherine Forge in collaboration with Julie Ewing and members of the Across the Fence photographic series.