May 31, 2020, 14:00 PM

It takes conviction and dedication to jump on a bus every Sunday evening and travel across the State to earn a decent salary. Most of us wouldn’t do it for less than several thousand dollars – and even then, we’d expect food and accommodation thrown in.

But that was before COVID-19 landed, and changed all our expectations.

Suzanne Kerr is the face of a new generation of unemployed Victorians whose aspirations have changed dramatically in the past few months.

Seven weeks after being stood down from a housekeeping job at Mansfield’s Delatite Hotel, Suzanne has fled from forced penury to come and work on one of Citywide’s street cleaning teams in the City of Port Phillip.

“Every Sunday, I get on the bus and travel three hours to Melbourne,” she says. “I stay at a hostel in the city, which is cheap and clean, and because of the restrictions we all have our own rooms.

“There’d be no point coming all this way if I was going to spend all my wages on rent!”

Suzanne admits she had mixed feelings about travelling nearly 200 kilometres to do a job paying a basic wage.

“Coming all this way to work is not fantastic, but I couldn’t sit around any longer at home. You need to keep your mind and body going, and at least this job’s making a positive contribution to the community.

“It’s out of my comfort zone – but sometimes you just have to go there, don’t you?”

Suzanne, 45, lives on a farm outside Mansfield with her partner Jack, as well as 31 cows and 300 sheep. In order to support their drought-afflicted animals, Jack has been forced to take work on a neighbouring farm – while Suzanne now does her weekly pilgrimage to Melbourne.

“We make a bit of income from the farm, but not enough to support ourselves,” says Suzanne. “And there’s no work in Mansfield, where so much is based around the snow season and interstate tourism – and both of those are up in the air at the moment.

“Even if the borders open up, with the restrictions on gatherings, most of the pubs will probably stay closed. No one really knows what’s going to happen.”

Suzanne is one of 210 people employed by Citywide, through the Working for Victoria Fund, to clean outdoor seating, traffic lights, and other ‘public touchpoints’ in Melbourne’s five most populous local government areas.

“They’re a really friendly and easy-going bunch to work with,” says Suzanne. “Although I must admit, some of them look at me like I’m quite mad when I tell them where I live!”

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Simon Mossman - Group Corporate Communications 
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