After 404 days in solitary as a guest of Her Majesty, I was loath to spend a fortnight in institutional quarantine. No alternative. I had tested negative to COVID three times in eight months in Italy and was the proud possessor of a Vatican double vaccine passport. No use in Australia. I decided to return provided there was a balcony to escape into the outside air; so I paid $1600 to ensure this.
5 June. My plans were upended when I was captured at Sydney airport, my sleep apnoea machine confiscated and I was transported to a health facility staffed by nurses in Zetland. Unlike Italians, most Australians obey rules, despite our fantasy that we are in the tradition of the ‘wild colonial boys’ and the ‘best’ convicts. In crunch times we are with the law enforcers. So are the newcomers. Look at Danustan. John Howard understands this but I am not sure Whitlam or Keating ever did. 6 June. Della, the Sydney Seminary secretary had a Mass-kit delivered, while Mark and Sarah dropped off the Australian and the Daily Telegraph. With food and hot water in the shower, all bases were covered. 7 June. Struggling to establish a daily routine of prayer, exercise etc and disappointed by no access to AFL games. Dozed outside in the sun after lunch. Quiet.
8 June. My 80th birthday alone in quarantine. It could have been worse. I celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving. Hunted down my negative COVID result to apply for outside exercise. Nothing possible today. Decided it would not help to inform them that all prisoners had a right to an hour a day outside. Phone calls throughout the day. Four groups sang Happy Birthday and none should think of auditioning for the opera. Family T was the weakest with timing as well as intonation problems. Interviewed by Vatican Radio’s Fabio Colagrande on Italian version of my prison journal. He commented that my Islamic terrorist neighbour and I were praying to our two gods so I explained that only one God is available, described in different ways. 9 June. During my twenty-minute walk wearing a mask and touching nothing, an officious nurse followed every step, urging me not to stray and coming to the corner to ensure continuing surveillance when I was obscured briefly by bushes. I explained this zeal was intrusive. NSW had a crushing win in State of Origin.
10 June. Snow in the Blue Mountains. Strange that I am irritated more than in most of my jail time as my apartment is excellent, food adequate, staff cordial on our rare encounters, requests answered promptly and there is no profanity. ‘Fully belly tricks’ as my father used to say. 11 June. Woke at 4:00am and drifted back into a light sleep. More sluggish than usual. The day was cold and clear which lifts the spirits. The forces of godliness are on a roll in the Mass and breviary readings. Elijah dealt with the 450 prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel and Joshua has brought down the walls of Jericho. Both good omens as NSW Catholics resisted the attempt to nationalise their 150-year-old cemetery. I grew up under Bob Menzies when Liberals and Nationals did not pick unnecessary fights with Catholics. Still seems pretty basic but Wokes are strong in the bureaucracy and have a faction in each party. Felt better as I managed to get more reading done, although I am now adept at doing nothing.
12 June. Took some time to get to sleep last night. Not enough exercise. Interesting programme on the 60,000 Mayan buildings discovered, so far, by radar, hidden under Guatemalan jungle. Deepens the mystery of their demise. Probably from a long pre-industrial drought, perhaps in Medieval Warming. 13 June. Halfway point passed but not enjoying the experience. My daily newspapers, ordered a week ago, finally arrived.14 June. Am on the fourth floor of one of three seven-storey apartment blocks around a tapered courtyard 100 metres by 50. The sun only penetrates one side of the patio for a few hours after lunch. Not surprisingly, the isolation is more extreme than in jail. Food is delivered only once; no three roll calls with hand on the trap; no visits from chaplains, lawyers or friends. No twice daily exercise, almost no human interaction apart from brief medical checks. No Aussie Rules on my TV, no court cases to fight but no shame. My brother David phones each day. All well enough, including Margaret but especially Sonny and Billie. Gabriele and Anna’s new baby Sebastian George is still in hospital but the operation went well, he is out of the incubator and off the morphine. Waiting for him to poo.
16 June. Beautiful sunny day. Another tonic. Finished The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the struggle for global leadership by the veteran US Asia hand Clyde Prestowitz. Disturbing masterpiece, packed with information, analysis, and answers. The CCP’s grandiose ambitions and belligerence are spelt out, including their penetration into Australia, the weak link to be separated from the US as a vassal state of the new Middle Kingdom. Nixon and Kissinger played the China card to counter Russia, which was about to fall over. Successive US governments, until Trump, funded China’s rise with investments and purchases, education, expertise regularly stolen and a refusal to acknowledge the Chinese were flouting their obligations. Despite Tiananmen Square, the line was that the US package was bringing China to democracy. This blunder has few parallels in history. It is as though Rome financed and armed Carthage for the Second Punic War.
17 June. Sebastian has almost done his duty a couple of times. Progressing but a struggle. A few phone calls but quiet and tedious. My first dose of AFL with the Front Bar shown at 11:00pm. Aussie humour, a direct descendant of last century’s World of Sport, but better. I wonder what the Zetland nurses would make of it, nearly all ‘new Australians’. 18 June. Pleasant walk at 9:00am for 25 minutes, the only available slots, followed by my final COVID test. 19 June. Last day. Still strict, so not surprised to hear the NSW quarantine infection rate is one third of Victoria’s. Raining and windy. Tired, as I should be without my Resmed. No fuss exit at 7:30pm. The future will marvel at the medical success, and boggle at the cost. Many overseas think it is over the top. PS. 20 June. Slept like a log, a sign of good health one would hope, tired today.
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