A steel shadow structure went up on Friday over the Gold Coast highway at Tugun, where police and soldiers were crossing the border checkpoint between New South Wales and Queensland.
The permanent shelter was placed a day after the Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, made comments suggesting the temporary border closure could continue after Christmas.
A roadside monument to a pandemic whose end is not yet in sight.
“It’s the uncertainty … that’s as big a problem as anything,” says Emma Visman, who moved from Queensland to the northern NSW town of Ballina last year.
Visman’s partner, a Fifo worker in the Northern Territory, has been unable to return home in recent months. Most of her family and friends are across the border in Queensland.
“I understand why the border is closed, but there is no clear message about it” [when we might be able to re-enter Queensland],” she says. “Every message we get is so vague. They basically expect you to deal with this for a long period of time.
“I am fully vaccinated and follow the rules. What I’m most upset about is that last year, when we were all locked up for the first time, we had this kind of solidarity as a country.
“This year it feels like you’re stuck in this situation, the attitude is that it’s a shame.”
The latest fear over the Queensland-New South Wales border has partly stemmed from a national focus on Victoria and NSW, where Covid cases remain high. The ways to lift lockdown restrictions in those states are linked to vaccination rates.
Queensland has its own step-by-step plan, but the plan doesn’t list vaccination coverage or when borders might open.
Palaszczuk said people should “take a deep breath” this week and wait until next Friday — the next national cabinet meeting — before she can provide more details on when the roadblocks will be removed.
When asked if interstate travel would be possible by Christmas, Palaszczuk said, “Go and ask New South Wales and Victoria.”
“The reason we have put in place strict border measures is because there is currently a massive outbreak in New South Wales and Victoria and their hospitals are going to be overwhelmed,” Palaszczuk said.
“I think everyone here needs to take a really deep breath because what we’re trying to do is protect this state and keep the people of Queensland healthy and out of hospitals.”
She also rejected the idea of allowing international travel.
“Where are you going? Are you going to India?”
“I think the federal government should be very clear about which countries Australians can travel to, okay?”
Queensland’s success in curbing Covid outbreaks and relative freedoms in the state is hard-lined and general popular border policy.
Even as media pressure mounts — the front page of the Courier-Mail on Friday called Palaszczuk the Christmas “Grinch” — the prime minister and her conservative chief health officer, Jeanette Young, have stood firm.
In the process, genuine concerns about state border management – including a lack of communication, planning, compassion and common sense – have become entangled in an increasingly polarized debate.
Those directly affected by border closures say they have become increasingly frustrated.
The mother of Emma Bisshop, a Melbourne woman, is in a retirement home in Cairns. She had hoped to travel north for Christmas.
“We are well aware that time with mom is precious,” she says.
“I have actually been very grateful that she is protected from Covid. I’m glad Queensland has closed its borders. We have our vaccinations so we can visit her, but the hardest part is not knowing when — or if — that might even happen.”
Hilary Jacobs, the president of the Greater Southern Gold Coast Chamber of Commerce, says it’s “clear that people are getting tired” of the border closure.
“Queensland’s population has been a migratory population,” she says. “Many Queenslanders started their lives in the Southern States or just retired to Queensland, and as a result many of those people have not been able to see their extended families, their children. [or] grandchildren. They miss the vital growing up years of their family.
“The biggest problem for business in Queensland right now is that overnight we have no idea where we are going.
“What we do need to understand is what will be the triggers for fully recovering from the border bubble, or not needing the bubble at all? When can we take bookings from interstate travelers safely, and when can we have confidence?”