The shared lunch and laughs are over, even in this rural village

The community lunch every Thursday was the most important social event in the lives of Dot Lanyon and her friends in the village of Dartmoor, population 322, in Victoria’s far south-west.

Mrs Lanyon, 77, is among about a dozen elderly people who were treated to lunch each week by a group of volunteers.

Dot Lanyon, 77, will have to miss out on her weekly lunch with others in her small community.

“I just loved every Thursday and getting all the gossip and having a laugh,” said Mrs Lanyon, who lives alone with her fox terrier, Tashie.

But the lunch and the shared laughs are no more.

Like so many comforting rhythms of life in Australia’s isolated rural communities, Dartmoor’s get-togethers have been defeated by the coronavirus emergency.

Volunteers and citizens of the Dartmoor district have been advised by the Bush Nursing Centre to observe strict social distancing and to stay indoors whenever possible.

The Bush Nursing Centre’s popular mini-bus has been taken off the road, too, to prevent the spread of the virus.

The bus took Dartmoor’s elders 50 kilometres west to Mount Gambier each fortnight for shopping trips and to attend appointments with doctors, dentists and eye specialists.

But Mount Gambier suddenly seems a city too far – it is on the other side of the South Australian border.

The South Australian government announced at the weekend it would close its borders because of the coronavirus.

Interstate travellers, apart from essential transport operators, would be required to self-isolate for 14 days if they crossed into South Australia. And after 4pm on Tuesday, anyone who entered would need to sign a declaration about their health and where they would stay during their isolation.

However, the South Australian Premier, Steven Marshall, offered an exemption for those living in border towns, like Dartmoor.

They would be allowed to cross into South Australia without restriction, but only if there were no outbreaks of coronavirus in their district.

Preventing the spread of the virus was the primary focus of current decision-making, according to the manager of the Bush Nursing Centres at Dartmoor and Balmoral, Lisa Hutchins.

The loss of the weekly group lunch and the use of the mini-bus were clearly upsetting to residents, “but we want as many people as possible to stay behind closed doors,” Ms Hutchins said.

“We’re very innovative in the bush – we are putting together weekly packs including such things as quizzes and puzzles; we’re offering reassurance through personal and phone support; and without the volunteers being able to come and cook, we’re working with local businesses with an eye to delivering meals and supplies to people’s doors,” she said.

The advice to the district’s band of volunteers to observe distancing will hit the area particularly hard.

Dartmoor volunteers beautify their little town by weeding the garden in the main street nature strip, keeping the barbecue clean for visitors at the village green, and tending the local cemetery.

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Nearby, the cemetery at tiny Drik Drik is mowed by volunteers, and when there was a burial a couple of years ago, volunteers dug the grave.

But such work is unlikely to survive the time of coronavirus.

“I suppose I’ll just walk down to the shop and pick up the milk and the papers from now on,” said Dot Lanyon. “At least I’ve got my serials on the TV.”

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