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Hard border: ‘The walls close in’ for West Australians on the wrong side of state’s iron ore curtain

“The walls just seem to be closing in and no one’s listening,” Dominic said.

“I had my son on the phone today, it’s his 30th birthday tomorrow. I’m stuck over here. I have a three-year-old grandson.

“I haven’t been to any of his birthday parties, which I thought I would’ve this year.

“We’ve got four kids over there and three grandkids, the oldest is 10 and the youngest one is three. They only see us in the square box every time we Facetime.”

Keith, Fleta and their 15-month-old son Kaden counted themselves lucky.

They were granted permission to cross the hard border from the Northern Territory after repeated knock-backs from WA Police.

Stranded in their RV, running out of money and living on superannuation they were forced to withdraw because they couldn’t get home, they were getting desperate. Although they have no idea why they were rejected and then suddenly approved, they think police took pity on them because of their baby.

Living hand-to-mouth on the wrong side of the hard border was frustrating, especially when they knew there had only been 34 COVID-19 cases in the NT, all of them had recovered, and there was no evidence of community transmission.

They are only now in quarantine at a family property in the Kimberley before heading home in the state’s south.

“I’m on Mark McGowan’s Facebook and I can see all the comments coming through, and I’m just mortified,” Keith said.

A social media post was how many West Australians discovered the state's border had been closed.

A social media post was how many West Australians discovered the state’s border had been closed.Credit:WA Government

“I thought people were being really strongly opinionated and at the end of the day, the whole ‘we are one, we’re all Australians’, we’ve got to be looking out for each other.

“It’s fine if you’re inside the state, but if you’re outside the state it’s a different story.”

Keith, who is an IT professional, and Fleta, a teacher, were confident they would quickly find work. But they worried about the people they met in limbo on the wrong side of the border.

The way West Australians were being treated was “awful, hideous”, Keith said.

He described meeting retirees living at roadside rest stops who couldn’t get permission to come home.

“There was one lady, she was in a Hyundai,” he said.

“She got to the border late in the afternoon, she had to sleep in the car overnight and then go through the whole interview process the next day and then they sent her back and they wouldn’t let her through. It was just hideous.”

She was angry and frustrated and didn’t understand why she couldn’t go home.

Stephen, a 41-year-old housekeeping manager for a resort near Fitzroy Crossing, flew to Melbourne to attend his step-father’s funeral at the end of March.

He didn’t realise the Premier had closed WA’s borders, even to West Australians, until the night before he was scheduled to fly home.

“When I was supposed to fly back, I didn’t know you had to get the G2G pass, and the night before I was supposed to fly I got a phone call from the WA police saying that if I travel over there I will be fined,” he said.

He has been stranded in Melbourne ever since. Police have rejected his pleas to return home 15 times.

“I just kept applying and I tried to go a bit higher so I went to the Police Commissioner and he had a look at my applications as well and he said they were right to not approve me,” he said.

“I don’t know why. Each time I would apply they’d keep asking for more and more information so I would give it to them, but nothing happens.”

Stephen is paying off a car which is in Fitzroy Crossing along with everything else he owns. He doesn’t know how long his work will keep his job open for him.

He said it was “very hard and disheartening” to hear the tough rhetoric from the Premier, who famously told “people over east” that “we don’t want you here”.

“I don’t mind doing the two weeks quarantine and all that, but it’s just being able to go over at all,” Stephen said.

“The main thing is, why do you keep rejecting us and letting other people travel?”

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He said he was so desperate he was considering getting legal advice.

They all say they don’t need exemptions based on compassionate grounds. Thankfully, there are no gravely ill relatives, no funerals to attend, no emergency medical procedures. Just jobs and families and lives they are desperate to return to.

They all say they are angry and frustrated when they see high-profile business people and celebrities coming into the state.

The hard border was dividing families. Dominic, who is proud he was born at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Subiaco, said he’d had an argument with a nephew, who was an ardent supporter of the restrictions.

“He’s saying ‘close the borders’, well hang on a minute, mate, I’m West Australian,” he said.

“I’m older than you, I’ve been a West Australian longer than you and he’s 30 something and I was 55 when I left WA to come here.

“I’ve been a West Australian longer than you, mate.”

Dominic said he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and he was running out of options.

“It is frustrating because I voted for Mark McGowan at the last election, we travelled to two or three different places here in Victoria to find somewhere that would do absentee votes,” he said.

“It is frustrating because we’re West Australians. We have a house over there. We still have WA licenses.

“We just want to come home.”

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