When Australia first flipped the switch into isolation mode, it seemed like everyone wanted to undertake a self-improvement project.
Get fit. Learn a language. Cultivate a sourdough starter and other new activities we felt we should embark upon for self improvement.
But as we’ve settled into a new routine and started to see more than glimmers of light at the other end of the tunnel – we have ditched the more puritanical projects and started to have a little fun. Like stargazing and also smoking – meats, that is.
It’s becoming the new favourite pastime of countless Australians who, suddenly finding themselves at home all day, have decided the best distraction is keeping one eye on a fire that’s ever so gently cooking a very large piece of meat.
Perhaps it was that trip to Texas a few years ago, or maybe it was the many nights on the sofa watching the weirdly compelling Foxtel series BBQ Pitmasters that influenced me.
And when it was clear that we were going to be in this for the long haul, my wife and I bought a very large, very red ceramic “egg” barbecue – which can not only get searingly hot, but can also hold a low temperature just above 100 degrees to gently smoke big, tough cuts of meat like brisket for hours.
And we weren’t alone.
Soon we found out that News Corp columnist Tim Blair had done something similar, and before we knew it we were holding barbecue competitions via Houseparty – with the appearance of the meat, sadly, being the only criteria we could enjoy judging one another on.
“We have seen an increase in popularity of smokers over the past month with customers spending more time at home cooking and enjoying their backyards,” said Matthew Hoffmann, national BBQ and outdoor heating buyer at Bunnings.
He said the hardware chain’s research revealed that 40 per cent of Australians are looking to beautify their outdoor spaces in coming months.
Being on lockdown has also led to a spike in examining the skies above.
In the last few weeks we have had Comet Swan in the sky and Eta Aquarids meteor shower last week.
“We have seen an increase in sales of beginner telescopes ranging from simple push to scopes to fully automated, Wi-Fi controlled scopes,” said Don Whiteman of telescope suppliers Bintel.
“Accessories like eyepieces, astronomy cameras and filters have also had good sales. Trading has been similar to what Christmas would be. It has allowed us to keep all of our staff employed.”
It’s part of a bigger trend of what might be called “living well is the best revenge” with Australians making the most of being at home.
“Lockdown has brought out a nation of green thumbs with eBay sales of plants, seeds and bulbs up 125 per cent year-on-year and weed and pest control up 106 per cent,” Sophie Onikul of eBay Australia said.
Even politicians are getting in on the act. Liberal MP Andrew Hastie bought a smoker after a Christmas trip to see his in-laws in the US.
Hastie notes that this sort of earthy, slow cooking is an attractive alternative to busyness.
“But ultimately, it’s about the meat, and it tastes great!” he said.