The stuck Canberrans are coming home. But there are others left behind

Kim and Robyn Cartwright. They have a thousand sheep about to lamb back home near Crookwell. Picture: James Wiltshire/Border Mail
Kim and Robyn Cartwright. They have a thousand sheep about to lamb back home near Crookwell. Picture: James Wiltshire/Border Mail

There may well be movement in the bizarre situation on the border between Victoria and New South Wales.

At least some of those trapped last week by the sudden alteration of the rules for entering NSW will now be allowed to continue.

But it's not quite as simple for all the trapped people.

Residents of the ACT have been given permission to travel directly home, with one, pre-arranged pit-stop.

But others have not been given the green light.

Which groups were trapped?

There are broadly three categories:

  • People going through Victoria from Tasmania to get home to New South Wales.
  • People with homes in New South Wales but who work in the broader economy, including Victoria.
  • People trying to get to the ACT from Victoria but needing to transit through New South Wales.

Canberrans have been cleared to leave but the people whose final destination is in New South Wales remain in limbo.

Tasmanians in transit

Ruth Steel and her husband Philip had been living in Tasmania for three years after 18 years calling New South Wales home.

He's a scientist but the coronavirus meant that universities and research institutes in Tasmania were not recruiting, quite the contrary, so the couple decided to move lock, stock and barrel back to New South Wales.

She said they got the overnight ferry and drove ashore in Melbourne at 6.30 on Friday. They had the correct permit to re-enter NSW from Victoria.

So they drove straight to the border, with no diversions to anywhere near a COVID-19 hot-spot.

"We drove off the ship and straight to the border."

There was a police check just north of Melbourne but Ms Steel said all their papers were in order.

They drove on but 20 minutes before reaching the border in Wodonga, her husband got an email saying their entry permit had been cancelled.

They went to the check-point and the police told them they were were still awaiting advice so the couple should go away for an hour and return.

"The police intimated there was an issue."

When they returned they were told the permit had been cancelled.

So they were stuck - and are still stuck.


On the Friday night, they ordered a take-away which was delivered to their room but since then they have ordered supermarket deliveries to save money.

"We've been in this motel room since last Friday," Ruth Steel said. They are keeping in isolation so they can tell the authorities they are definitely clear of any infection.

"We're still in transit so we're maintaining isolation. We have not left the room since Friday," Philip Butterworth said.

He remained good humoured but called their plight "purgatory".

They are not alone

Other people destined for New South Wales have also been caught on the wrong side.

Kim and Robyn Cartwright have a thousand acre property near Crookwell on the Southern Tablelands north of Goulburn.

But he works across south-eastern Australia as an assessor and inspector of wool and sheep. His last job was in Omeo in the east of Victoria.

"We have to travel," he said. "It's a critical agricultural job."

By the time he and his wife got to the border, their permits had been revoked, so they are stuck in Wodonga - and with a thousand sheep about to lamb back home.

He said that they hadn't gone near any coronavirus hot-spots. The nature of the job means it is done largely in country Australia, often very remote country Australia.

They still have no idea how they can get home.

They are worried about the ewes, the imminent lambs and their own livelihood.

Local workers

The Victorian and NSW governments have created "bubbles" where some people with permits can move across the border relatively easily.

Wodonga on one side of the Murray River and Albury on the other are in effect one city, for example, so splitting it totally would be like creating a "Berlin Wall".

Albury Wodonga Health has an interstate workforce. Patients come from both sides of the border.

Some doctors come in from Melbourne. Permits are required and precautions are taken.

"While these doctors are not prevented from returning to their principal place of residence on days off, they must advise AWH management of any planned trips outside the 'border bubble'," the Director of Medical Services, Dr Glenn Davies, said.

Health is a clear case of an essential service where interstate permits are allocated.

But some permits are allocated for businesses, too, so that some motels have essential workers, like a chef, who travel from across the border.

And the Canberrans

A deal has been struck so they should start moving towards home today, with a deadline of Sunday.

They must refuel before starting and are not allowed to refuel on the way through New South Wales. There is one designated pit-stop near Gundagai.

When they get to Canberra, they have to stay home for 14 days and they can't return to NSW within that period.

Everyone this paper talked to was relieved to be going home - but there was also some anger.

"It's a complete failure of federalism," said one who didn't want to be named because she was a public servant.

"We're glad NSW has seen sense," said another, "but bitterly disappointed it took six days - particularly when it took only hours to rectify the bungle when it affected MPs in the same boat."

This story The stuck Canberrans are coming home. But there are others left behind first appeared on The Canberra Times.