Patrick Jensen has spent most of his working life at one of Wollongong's busiest and best-known restaurants, where the kitchen runs hot and the orders come fast and plentiful.
Things move more slowly at Dapto Centrelink.
The 23-year-old chef is the 11th person in line on Baan Baan Street late Tuesday morning, as the sky flits between sun and rain and a new world order is dawning with similar strangeness for those queued outside.
"My boss tried everything he could to try and make it work through the outbreak," Mr Jensen, until now a chef at The Lagoon Seafood Restaurant, told the Mercury. "But I lost my job."
"It hasn't quite sunk in yet. No one really thought it would get this bad when it started. I guess you always think, 'it's not going to affect us'.
"I've always worked; I've never been on Centrelink. I've been asking around everywhere [for work]. There's nothing."
Mr Jensen's was one of the many unlikely faces in Illawarra Centrelink queues on Tuesday. Staffers heard not the usual stories of chequered work histories; these were valued employees until a few days or hours ago, and many expect to be re-hired - one day.
"There's so much uncertainty," said Lesley Landmark, a remedial masseuse now unemployed after 20 years in the industry.
Her joblessness - and a worrying decline in work for her builder husband - were certain to delay the couple's retirement plans, she said. Homeowners were now "scared to go ahead" with renovations that would have kept her husband in steady work.
Tyson Neill, 21 of Horsley, came to the queue with rent to pay and a two-year-old son to support. He's made a comfortable life out of working on the wharves at Port Kembla for the past two and a half years. But when COVID-19 precautions stopped the ships from coming in, what work was left went to the full-timers.
"I've got a young one - it's expensive stuff," he said. "Without any income, we'd last maybe another month with food and stuff. You can't even get any food at the moment either. We ran out of toilet paper. Lucky my grandmother had some, so she gave us a few rolls."
David Doward, 58, Kanahooka, has offered to babysit his grandchildren after his job as a fitter wound up prematurely on Wednesday. He's worked in the industry for 18 years, picking up one job after the other, but now, "there's nothing else to go to".
Many of those in Tuesday's queues had never used Centrelink services before, and attended only to get a Customer Reference Number - an essential code that will then allow them to apply for benefits online.
They stood 1.5-metres apart, but the sight of so many people out during a pandemic sparked the ire of Whitlam MP Stephen Jones, who has written to Government Services minister Stuart Robert, calling for the entire process to be moved online.
"This is madness during a pandemic. It poses a threat to public safety and to Centrelink staff. I cannot understand why this was not anticipated and dealt with," he wrote, in a letter viewed by the Mercury.
Mr Jones also questioned why a large workforce of public servants at a nearby government office had not been taken off debt recovery jobs and redeployed to tackle the "enormous back of house workload" surrounding the newly unemployed.
"I am advised that many of these staff have the skills and could be quickly redeployed to relieve pressure and reduce queues on front line staff. How can chasing down debt be more important than dealing with the immediate needs of my constituents? The debt will still be there when the crisis has passed and it can be pursued then. The needs of unemployed people are urgent and must be dealt with now."
Another of Tuesday's queue-goers, Ben Howchin, doesn't complain about the wait for service. The 32-year-old - until now a long-serving assistant assistant superintendent at The Grange golf club - tells the Mercury, "if you have to line up for a couple of hours to get paid, you just have to do it".
"My parents have always taught me not to panic," he said.
"Because if you panic and get all worked up, you could do more physical and mental damage to yourself than the virus ever would. You just have to put one foot in front of the other."
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