Covering Covid-19 in Melbourne Australia

Some of you may have come across my Photo Essay ‘Melbourne under Covid’

Since March 2019 I’ve been covering the Corona Virus crisis here in Melbourne Australia. If I look back the moment it felt like the impact of Covid-19 and its entrance into our lives started around the time of the Australian Grand Prix or more specifically the cancellation of it, any event I was covering up until it’s cancellation.

Melbourne, Australia - March 13 2020: A press conference from Chase Carey, Andrew Westacott, Michael Masi and Paul Little is held following the cancellation of due to Covid 19 the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix on the Friday 13th of March . Photo by Asanka Brendon Ratnayake www.abrfoto.com
Melbourne, Australia – March 13 2020: A press conference from Chase Carey, Andrew Westacott, Michael Masi and Paul Little is held following the cancellation of due to Covid 19 the 2020 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix on the Friday 13th of March . Photo by Asanka Brendon Ratnayake www.abrfoto.com

Since then I’ve documented the closure of businesses, empty streets that followed, innovations and people adapting to the new realities. With every new restriction added a new way of life needed to be introduced. Thankfully compared to the rest of the world the human toll and adverse health impact anticipated by Covid 19 never arrived. On the 15th of May, restrictions were eased in Melbourne.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 30: Medical practioners conducting tests for Covid-19 at a drive through testing facility in a undercover carpark as cars are lined up with drivers awaiting to be tested at the Chadstone Shopping Center on April 30, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. COVID-19 testing is set to expand across Australia as the government looks to ease current lockdown restrictions. Asymptomatic or those with mild symptoms will also be tested to ensure there are no cases missed as Australian health authorities hope to keep confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases on the decline.   (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 30: Medical practioners conducting tests for Covid-19 at a drive through testing facility in a undercover carpark as cars are lined up with drivers awaiting to be tested at the Chadstone Shopping Center on April 30, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. COVID-19 testing is set to expand across Australia as the government looks to ease current lockdown restrictions. Asymptomatic or those with mild symptoms will also be tested to ensure there are no cases missed as Australian health authorities hope to keep confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases on the decline. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

As the the impact of the Corona Virus hits Melbourne and our lives change I’ll continue to document and archive the changes and update this Photo Essay, so stayed tuned.

You can view the original photo essay here

Asanka Brendon Ratnayake is a photojournalist and travel photographer based in Melbourne Australia covering Australia, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Follow him on instagram 

(C) Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

Photo Essay : The Castle Hotel calls last drinks

The big multinational swallowing up the local watering hole is a common story all over the modern world, on February 29 in 2016, it was Sri Lanka’s turn. 141 years after its opening, the iconic Castle Hotel and Bar in Colombo, served last drinks.

The colonial building is believed to be over 200 years old and started its life as a printing press. When interviewed by Groundviews.org Hotel manager H.D. Mervyn Wickremesinghe believed the building became the castle hotel in 1875 which catered to international guests. In recent decades, the Castle has become the community bar to the local working-class in the area of Slave Island.

Castle Hotel Slave Island
A customer walks into the castle hotel.  On the 28th of February 2016 the Castle Hotel called last drinks. While the building itself may survive with the likelihood of being turned in into offices the last arrack’s have been served and last songs sung. One of the Colombo’s most iconic drinking spots has been closed.
Street Cricket Colombo
Men playing street cricket outside the Castle Hotel on Slave Island. The Castle hotel which operates primarily as a pub, very basic hotel rooms are also available upstairs. Next door to the Castle Hotel is a large apartment development being conducted by the Tata Group. After the acquisition of land by the Indian multinational conglomerate,  the hotels future has been uncertain.
Castle Hotel Slave Island
A person sits at a table in the foyer as a drunk man lays down passed out inside the Castle hotel entrance.

Of all the bars and pubs in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo there are few that match the character, history and working class realities of the emerging Sri Lanka than this iconic venue.
The colonial grand façade, imposing a Y-Shaped staircase at its foyer entrance, gives insight to the Castle Hotel’s ‘hey day’ which would have catered to foreign guests and troops during the World Wars.

Since then, the upkeep of the hotel has been in a decline and its character and charm representative of its predominantly working-class clientele. Loyal customers from snake charmers, tuk tuk drivers, low level office clerks and ironically, even the labourers working on the site that would eventually see the end of the bar, would be found having a drink at the Castle on most nights.

Monkey tamer and snake charmer
A snake being held by its charmer looks at a Monkey which is sitting on its owners lap as their owners have a drink and socialise inside the Castle Hotel.
Castle Hotel bar counter
Men lining up for drinks at the bar counter drinking at the Castle Hotel.
Castle Hotel Slave Island
Men sitting at a table drinking inside the Castle hotel which operates primarily as a pub or local drinking den, hotel rooms are also available.

The future of the hotel has been uncertain after Indian multinational conglomerate ‘The Tata Group’ purchased the highly valuable land to develop modern offices and apartment complexes. There were talks the hotel would remain in its current form, however, it was always going to be a matter of time before the last drinks would be served.

Beers were cheap, arrack plentiful and short bites, spicy. The resident stray cat would hunt around for scraps on the floor. Like any good pub, stories were shared, grievances voiced and opinions were made known in the presence of complete strangers. Drunks, alcoholics and general louts would be ushered out with some decorum and respect, when they had one too many.

Castle Hotel Slave Island
A man smokes a cigarette as he drinks beer at a table with friends inside the Castle hotel.
The Castle Hotel
Two men share a having a drink inside the Castle Hotel
Castle Hotel Slave Island
A man orders an arrack (local drink) at the counter inside the Castle hotel which operates primarily as a pub but hotel rooms are also available upstairs. Slave Island is home to numerous small houses occupied by some of colombo’s working class, as gentrification & development encroaches land in the now highly valuable slave island is slowly pushing out locals from the area. Slave Island is a suburb in Colombo, Sri Lanka located directly south of the Fort area of Colombo
Castle Hotel Slave Island
A man skols or drinks down a large large bottle of beer as a drunk man wearing a sarong walks past inside the Castle hotel

It recent years, this humble venue gained a reputation online as a ‘dodgy pub’ – though in my experience, you are more likely to find dodgier clientele and shady customers (for lack of better words) in the bars and clubs of Colombo’s 5-star hotels.

The Castle didn’t pretend to be something it wasn’t and it was, by far, more representative of Sri Lanka than the Westernised hotels down the road. Its guests were treated with respect and without the judgement they may experience outside.

As modern Sri Lanka rides the economic wave of a post-war economy, the consequence of gentrification emerges.

At the Castle hotel, what you saw was what you got, it was real and it was gritty, but it was honest.

Castle Hotel Slave Island
An empty room with a disconnected old TV set sits on a table inside the Castle hotel which operates primarily as a pub, hotel rooms are also available.
Castle Hotel Slave Island
A man walks into the main entrance of the Colonial styled Castle Hotel

Words and photography by Asanka Brendon Ratnayake.

Asanka Brendon Ratnayake is a photojournalist and travel photographer based in Melbourne Australia covering Australia, Asia and the indian subcontinent. Follow him on instagram 

(C) Asanka Brendon Ratnayake