It is raining as I park outside North Melbourne Pool on its first day of reopening after lockdown.
A bedraggled woman exits the pool with a towel around her head, trudging through puddles in thongs. I wind down my car window and ask how the water is. Her face lights up as she sighs, “Wonderful.”
Some outdoor pools in Melbourne were permitted to open in late September, provided swimmers booked in advance, adhered to social distancing and there were no more than 20 swimmers at a time. However, these pools were outside my 5km radius. I have been desperate for my local to reopen.
I sanitise my hands, have my temperature checked by leaning towards an iPad-style gadget that scans my face, then drop my clothes by the side of the pool. The change rooms are shut and there’s no time for modesty because visits are restricted to one hour.
The booking system means only the keenest swimmers are here on this chilly Monday morning. With capacity caps and a 24-hour-in-advance booking requirement, I imagine all of us must have set an alarm on Sunday morning to click “book” for the following day. Some pools are already booked out far in advance.
An older woman next to me rolls her wet bathers down the floor. She says she has a disability and that she’s missed swimming.
I remove my face mask and walk through the rain. The water is heated, thank god. The sky is low and cloudy. This sure isn’t Bondi.
The water is brilliantly, artificially blue against the grey sky. The rain mingles with steam, creating a haze and I feel euphoric. I notice the new green leaves on the trees. I make thankful little grunts as I swim, like a piglet given scraps.
There are around 10 swimmers in the pool and I’m the only one in my lane. This is lucky because I swerve around the lane like a drunk. Have I forgotten how to swim in lockdown?
When I lift my head from the water, I can hear trucks on Arden Street slushing through puddles. I watch seagulls while I do backstroke.
The lifeguard stands under an umbrella wearing many, many clothes. I lean out of the water and ask him what it’s like to be back at work. “Freezing,” he says.
When I get back in my car, the rain has stopped but the temperature gauge says 10C. The sky has not brightened but my day has. Considering how small my life has become lately – working at home, confined to a radius – this swim has been a major adventure.
“We can’t run out of lockdown,” Daniel Andrews told Victorians when he outlined his Covid recovery plan.
We can’t run out, but thankfully now, we can swim through it.