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Fighting the battle within

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Melba Marginson
Melba Marginson is a former Commissioner of the Victorian Multicultural Commission. She is a multi-awarded community leader, having been conferred the “Australia’s 100 Women of Influence” by Westpac and Australian Financial Review in 2014 and the Meritorious Medal for Community Service by the Victorian Government in 2009. In 2001, she was inducted into Victoria’s First Women’s Honour Roll for ‘Achievement in Protecting Migrant Women from Violence by the Centenary of Federation.

I have now lived over half a century.  Unlike my parents, I have not experienced war.  But I have come close – when I was in my second year at university, the period of Martial Law began in the Philippines.  My generation will not forget that at 7:17 pm on September 23, 1972, then-President Ferdinand Marcos announced that the entire country was under martial law. Marcos had commanded the Philippine military to arrest his political opponents and close down all media and retail establishments.  Curfew was imposed throughout the country for most of the 14 years of Marcos’s one-man rule. From 12 midnight to 4 a.m. the next day, no one was allowed to leave their homes. 

Curfews are a method of control often used by authoritarian governments to quell unrest, but they can also be used to implement safety in the event of disaster or crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic is a crisis of public health – it has prompted governments worldwide to establish ‘lockdowns’, another form of curfew that includes the closure of regional and/or national borders over a continuing period of weeks or months.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a challenging experience for all of us, no matter what our situations are, or our cultural and religious backgrounds.”

Our normal lives have been suspended for months, with no end yet in sight. 

Many of us have lost loved ones and acquaintances to COVID-19.  We were unable to attend their funerals or grieve in the presence of family and friends. Their bodies were cremated in haste. If we were lucky, we had online tributes for them. Since March I’ve attended four virtual memorials for people in the Philippines who I loved and have now lost.

By being forced to slow down, this pandemic may help us to reevaluate what we value and aspire to. It can bring families together and change our outlook on life. But our faith in people is being tested by recent increases in coronavirus infections in Victoria. The quarantine fiasco has led to a daily rise in cases that have made Victoria a pariah amongst the states and territories of Australia. 

Melba Marginson (left) joins DHHS staff doorknocking in Broadmeadows

As a Multicultural Adviser volunteer of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, I joined other community leaders in door-knocking residents in hotspot suburbs. Along with DHHS staff, we followed up residents who received saliva test kits the day before. 

While most residents were willing to be tested, they needed to understand why they should get out of their way to be tested. They have kids to attend to, jobs to do, and other personal issues that prevent them from being compliant.

Romz Reyes gets tested at a pop up site in Brunswick West

The pandemic has demonstrated more than anything that effective communication is crucial to public cooperation. I have come to realize that, while we often say that we are happy to live in a multicultural society, it has its challenges too.

Unless the authorities and service providers work closely with multicultural community leaders and experts, important government messages will not cut through to the people who need them most. 

If and when we come out of this pandemic, I think we should not allow the government and authorities to lead us back to the old normal. There are so many things that need to be changed – rules, policies, processes, attitudes, thinking, and even the people we put in leadership positions. 

We need to create and embrace a new normal. We have begun doing that to ourselves in the confines of our homes during this pandemic.  All we need to do is to bring it out of our homes and into the public sphere. 

Melba Marginson

  • Former Commissioner, Victorian Multicultural Commission
  • 2014 Awardee, “Australia’s 100 Women of Influence”, Westpac and Australian Financial Review
  • Awarded the Meritorius Medal for Community Service by the Victorian Government, 2009.
  • Inducted into Victoria’s First Women’s Honour Roll for ‘Achievement in Protecting Migrant Women from Violence’, Centenary of Federation 2001.

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  1. Very well written article about the impact of the Corona Virus on Victoria by a community leader.


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