Castlemaine embraces freedom as regions emerge from COVID lockdown

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Castlemaine locals rushed to embrace their restored rights to eat in cafes and browse in shops as regional Victoria spent its first day released from the lockdown that is still gripping Melbourne.

Businesses and residents said on Tuesday they were surprised they had been granted freedom so soon, and admitted to some nervousness that COVID-19 restrictions could be imposed again just as quickly.

Castlemaine cafe owner Bruce Pauly with a message to returning customers. Credit:Justin McManus

Throughout the pandemic, Castlemaine cafe owner Bruce Pauly has committed to staying open every day, serving the town from a window when only takeaway was allowed.

He opened his doors with relief and joy on Tuesday morning.

“It’s a great buzz,” Mr Pauly said, describing the moment people arrived to enjoy meals inside. “It’s a whole sense of freedom. People feel like all of a sudden they’re released and things are OK. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Cafes in Castlemaine appeared to be doing a brisk trade on Tuesday morning, although the streets were quiet. Shops were reopening as retailers sought to reclaim trade lost over the past week.

There is no ring of steel this time and businesses are again feeling the pressure of ensuring customers are not from Melbourne.

Mr Pauly, who owns Bruce’s Kitchen, said checking customers’ addresses was an imposition on staff, but he was unwilling to risk inadvertently serving a city dweller and facing a fine for breaking the rules. On Tuesday he apologised to customers as he asked for proof of ID. But he said Castlemaine residents understood it was necessary and had complied with the request whenever asked.

“Everybody in the town was fine. They almost had their licences out at the door. Everybody respected what we had to do.”

Mr Pauly said he was dedicated to providing a daily caffeine fix, even during lockdown, because it was crucial for Castlemaine residents’ mental wellbeing and gave them at least a brief social encounter.

Robyn Tressider and Margaret Sutton enjoy their breakfast in Castlemaine.Credit:Justin McManus

Inside the cafe, Robyn Tresidder was seated with friends, tucking into eggs, toast and coffee in a corner booth.

“We’re devotees of going out for breakfast,” she said. “We get very excited when lockdown is finished, and the blue sky is out as well.”

Her friend, Margaret Sutton, was also enjoying the reprieve from lockdown, even though this one had lasted less than a week.

“We haven’t really been as badly hit as Melbourne,” she said.

There is still anxiety in Castlemaine about COVID-19 spreading from Melbourne and plunging regional Victoria into another lockdown.

Soldier and Scholar bookshop owner Joyce Sanders serves a customer on the first morning after lockdown six. Credit:Justin McManus

Joyce Sanders, the owner of second-hand bookshop Soldier and Scholar, said she was fearful of Melburnians breaking the rules and bringing the virus with them.

“We’re a tourist spot where people are travelling around. We can get Melbourne people,” she said. “We can get Sydney people. It is scary for us.”

Ms Sanders said reopening on Tuesday was a confusing experience because her business had been forced to shut so many times for lockdowns.

Business Mount Alexander secretary Genevieve Ward said business operators had not expected to be released from lockdown so soon.

“It was definitely a surprise,” she said. “Because of the last lockdown being so close to this one, businesses were more ready to open up quickly.”

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