By Sam St Jon

Together apart is a series of portraits and stories documenting the Illawarra’s resilience through our shared experiences during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Local Photographer Sam St Jon will be spending a week photographing and interviewing Shellharbour residents as part of the project.

During the week of 2 June, we will be releasing one photo / story a day.


Ashta grew up in Shellharbour. Normally she's a very social person, frequenting local cafes, restaurants and bars with her friends, catching up over coffee or wine. Since COVID took hold, she’s had to reimagine these outings and find new ways to support her family, friends and the local community.  

Ashta - ‘I have been making a conscious effort to support small local businesses in Shellharbour Village (my local) and surrounds. We have probably eaten out (delivery or pick up of course) more than ever and it has been wonderful to see how the businesses are readjusting to this new way of operating. At the point before non-essential outings were banned I raced out to the local florist, bought and delivered flowers to my friends in hope of bringing a smile to their faces as I knew they too were struggling in their own ways.  

Something that has been so positive to come out of this time is that I have really gotten to know my neighbours and am now happy to call them friends as well as connecting with extended family through group chats. We have all been taking care of each other in terms of offering of supplies etc when the grocery stores were running low. Love in its essence is a huge part of who we are as humans and it has never been more prominent to me, whether it’s through an empathetic look from a fellow shopper as I apologetically try to squeeze past with the 1.5m requirement, an air hug or virtual conversation with a loved one. I’m feeling the love!’ 


Kylie - ‘Normally I would be at my studio (Astarte Mind & Body) 6 days a week teaching Belly Dance, Pilates, Barre, PT sessions, and specialty art workshops. Unfortunately, we were forced to close our doors to the public on 23rd March, so it affected all of us greatly.

I have had to move all of my classes, dance projects, and rehearsals online for the time being. It's been a huge learning curve for myself and my studio community, but I am grateful that it has provided at least an option to continue teaching and providing options for exercise, learning, and wellbeing for everyone. Just even having that opportunity to connect as a group and community has been so important for everyone's mental health too.

I am currently directing my Jobkeeper and Superannuation towards the lease to keep the studio afloat while continuing to offer classes and workshops online. I am also in the process of organising a stay at home hafla (party) for my dance students via Zoom, and am also planning a live stream concert via Zoom and Facebook with my Steampunk Vagabonds troupe. It's helping everyone keep their focus, and giving us all something to work towards and look forward to.

Although it's certainly been a challenge having my business closed, and having to adapt so quickly to changing times, it's also pushed me to learn new platforms, provided me with new knowledge and skills, and offered new and unique personal and professional development opportunities. I believe every cloud has a silver lining if we are open to the possibilities and look for them.’


Alicia (right) - ‘I’ve has been working at home since the end of March when my workplace closed. Ruth (left) and Fishy (dog) still take their morning walk to coffee, but only a takeaway because of the restrictions, and Ruth still has to go in for her shifts as she can't work from home. We've seen less of our family and friends, which has been hard, and we're not going to be able to go on our planned family vacation to Thailand in July, but overall we feel pretty grateful that everyone has worked together to get through this.

Ruth has converted our garage into an art studio where she can spend some time out doing linocut and doing woodworking projects. I've been having lots of video chats with friends to stay connected. Fishy was loving having us home at first, but I think he is a bit sick of us now! He won't like it when we go back to normal though!’


Karen - ‘I am the vulnerable group so I have found with the restrictions easing, my life is more limited because society as a whole is not social distancing properly.

When lockdown started, it was necessary for me to still buy a few groceries because my partner has a disability so he was not able to stand in line for too long, I felt safer doing that then because people were being cautious.

Now, I am unable to do any of that because there are too many people in the shops, we have to do shopping online because I am worried about the crowds, if anything is missed, my partner needs to pick it up or we wait until next week. It is more limiting than I thought because the simple act of students returning to school has meant I can't take my daughter to buy new shoes, I had to go out of my way to go early to buy tights for my daughter because her dad didn't understand and they weren't available at the supermarket, they were not available online. Going at 8am still made me worry because although the number of people was not high, I had to ask the person behind me to stay the recommended 1.5m away from me. Every time. I moved away, they moved with me.

The community needs to be aware, COVID 19 hasn't gone away. It is now being managed. The vulnerable and at-risk members of the community are still finding they need to self isolate or at least have very minimal contact with others who are doing the same.’


Katie - ‘As all sport has been on hold we have been walking a lot. Discovering the different coastal walks in the area. The kids have been surfing and we have spent some time at the footy field kicking field goals. At home we have been doing a little tv binge-watching and catching up with some friends via zoom.

Our biggest challenge was balancing working from home and doing homeschooling for my primary school children. I was doing 10-12 hour days to get everything accomplished.

The children adapted well and enjoyed the opportunity to be at home and hang out together. They missed their friends but certainly bonded with one another. My husband was able to continue to work as normal so he adjusted well with extra time at home with not having to run around to sport. I struggled with the management of work and school but all other aspects were easy to adapt. I moved to Australia from Canada 17 years ago so I am used to not having regular contact with family and having to communicate via phone or video conferencing. It has been nice that my family in Canada is available more to video chat.

I am proud of my family. We have taken this in our stride and have come together as a family and supported each other. We are looking forward to watching the kids play sport again and the international boarders to reopen so we can reschedule our trip back to Canada.’


Brooke - ‘I’m immune suppressed so am considered high risk from COVID. We’ve been self-isolating for a long time and while we’re enjoying it, a beer over the fence with our neighbours has been our lifeline. I am very privileged to have a job (highschool teacher) that allows me to work from home and earn enough money so Matt could take a month off work and not risk contracting COVID. My job also means I was able to pull both my kids out of school and daycare and keep them at home, not just for our health but to ease the pressure on their teachers.

From a work perspective, everything has been challenging! I’ve never been more stressed as a teacher. It was very hard. I hope the general public can see how much effort and love and care we put into other peoples kids and that public perception changes a little.

We just felt very blessed to be Australian and have a safe home to isolate in, solid jobs, a great education system supporting our kids, a strong health care system, a beautiful natural environment to explore and great friendly neighbours.’


Roslyn - ‘We are retiree empty nesters so we relying heavily on each other during this time. Not seeing family has been the hardest, it's been over 3 months since we have seen our youngest daughter, her husband and our granddaughter which has been hard. Thank goodness for social media and facetime which means we can stay in touch. Also, not being able to go out for coffee, we have resorted to having our morning coffee in different areas of the house and garden for a change of scenery. Now at least we can take it to be beach and sit and enjoy the scenery.

I feel for our family and friends who have either had to go to work, especially a couple of our kids who work in hospitals that has been worrying, others had their hours reduced or lost their jobs completely so financially that has been very difficult for a lot of people. So given all of that, we have been blessed and cannot complain that we just had to stay at home and stay safe.’


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