Home alone in lockdown

Maria Janac with a photo of her late husband George. 248564_02 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Lockdown’s end can’t come soon enough for Springvale retirement-village resident Maria Janac.

The 78-year-old widow lives alone, largely confined to her Lexington Gardens unit during Melbourne’s series of hard lockdowns.

In 2018, her husband for 57 years George passed away. She has no children, no family to visit.

Due to a stroke, she’s unable to go out for daily walks.

As a self-described people’s person, she still keeps in touch with friends on the phone but they are unable to visit one another due to Covid restrictions.

Her best friend lives 65 kilometres away in country Victoria.

“I’m just surviving this – but that’s it.”

Her most regular companion has been her support worker from Australian Multicultural Community Services.

They’ve helped her with meals, cleaning and weekly trips to the shops.

Mrs Janac was born in the former Yugoslavia in 1943 – a hard childhood deprived basics such as food or a car.

She remembers constantly “starving” as families lined up for bread and milk rations.

Sometimes she’d give her scarce food allotment to her younger brother.

“We’d spend two days just eating bread. Imagine how hard that was for a child.”

After her sixth grade in school, she left to work as a housekeeper.

Soon after marrying in 1964, she and George migrated to Australia without a word of English.

Initially, they communicated with hand gestures. They quickly picked up the language on the ship out to Australia, and later through watching TV – “especially the commercials”.

She speaks Hungarian, Serbian and English, while also understanding Polish and Russian.

In Australia, she worked at a range of delicatessans including in Endeavour Hills and Fountain Gate.

“I loved to be with people. You met a lot of a people.”

The couple loved the new-found spaces and affluence, moving from St Kilda, Tullamarine to a two-storey house with a view in the then-new suburbs of Endeavour Hills in the late 1970s.

“It was a beautiful place. We had a two storey house on top of the hill.

“Now I’m in a one-bedroom unit.”