opinion

Let Father's Day over the 'Great Wall of Coolangatta' be Australia's wake up call.

I've spent a lot of time being angry during this Delta wave. 

Angry at the botched vaccine rollout and failure by our government to not set up a better system to replace hotel quarantine. 

Angry at protesters and anti-vaxxers and those who refuse to social distance and stay at home.

Angry at our state and territory leaders for their constant squabbling over domestic borders. 

Read: A message to Australia's state leaders: Read the room.

But looking at the Father's Day border reunion of hundreds of people (most without a mask) having picnics, exchanging presents and hugging their Dad over a giant orange barricade separating NSW from Queensland, I didn't feel anger. I just felt overwhelming sadness. 

It was a curious reaction for me, because there was a lot to be angry about that scene. The 'angry' spoke on Twitter at length about how irresponsible and selfish it was. About the fact that it could be responsible for a super spreader event. About how Queensland might end up back in lockdown thanks to the Father's Day rule bending. 

But I couldn't see past the heartbroken families trying to celebrate and create some kind of normalcy amongst the monotony of this fatiguing pandemic. 

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What I saw were families split by the "Great Wall of Coolangatta" hoping to feel whole again, even just for a present exchange or a brief picnic over a neon fence. 

This weekend the state emerged from a two-week pause on interstate arrivals, but the borders have been shut since July, and the exemption process to enter is among the toughest in the country.

While NSW has abandoned COVID-zero as its goal, Queensland has not. And they're doing their best to keep the virus out of the Sunshine State via strict border measures. 

Measures that saw a three-year-old stuck at his grandparent's house in NSW for two months, unable to return home to his parents in Queensland. 

Measures that saw a cancer patient unable to get back to QLD for treatment after attending her mother's funeral in NSW. 

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Measures that saw about 100 people, including NRL officials, wives, girlfriends and children of players arriving from Sydney, while hundreds of Australians were denied entry for arguably much more pressing matters. 

Australia isn't meant to be a country divided. We are one country, not eight. Our families and friends and businesses extend beyond our state or territory. 

For the communities of Tweed Heads and Coolangatta that's even more true when you realise one side of the road is Queensland and the other side is New South Wales. It's not like it's in the middle of nowhere, there are trees and buildings on one side, and over the wall it continues on. Those affected have been crying out for the border to be at least temporarily shifted, to allow them to create a more workable bubble.

"Nobody with a heart could look at what happened yesterday and not think that something has to be done and urgently," Tweed Heads Mayor Chris Cherry told the Today Show.

"These are our families' lives that are being affected like this. I know people are suffering all over the state and I don't want to take anything away from that, people are hurting everywhere, but this is an area that hasn't had COVID for more than 12 months."

The ABC reports police on foot walked both sides of the border on Sunday, handing out masks and asking for social distancing but wishing everyone a happy Father's Day. They didn't move people along, despite New South Wales being in a statewide lockdown. 

I was angry when I saw the protesters on the border a few weeks back demanding 'freedom' and refusing vaccines. There was a man on a horse that made me particularly irate.

FYI, I'm talking about this guy....post continues after video.


Video via 7News.
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But these people weren't marching. Or demanding. Or refusing the science. They were just bending the rules so they could see their dad in person. They might've seen that the Queensland government bent the rules for NRL families recently and thought: "stuff it. They got to bend the rules, why can't we?"

It was, in some ways, a silent protest. The impact of which will hopefully make its way into not just the offices of Annastacia Palaszkcuk and Gladys Berejiklian, but every one of our state and territory leaders. 

This constant bickering and 'stateriotism' is causing more pain and angst in Australia than the virus for a lot of families, and there needs to be a more uniform, humane approach to this conversation. 

Right now it's just one premier spitting vitriol at the other while declaring things like "We don't want to end up like Sydney!" 

But it is immovable rhetoric like that which results in stories like this from The Age - 'Sydney woman automatically denied visit to dying mother in WA.'

While we know stories of separation are common, seeing 200-odd people gathered for a 'celebration' with their loved ones in the middle of a cordoned off street demonstrated a surreal, sad reality. 

And that was just one border. One small group of people. 'Border bubbles' or lack thereof are causing major headaches for communities up and down this country. 

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While it's of the utmost importance that we first prioritise the safety of our communities and the availabilities of our crippled hospital systems as we fight Delta with a largely unvaccinated population, surely Father's Day showed us that the current border bickering needs a re-think. 

Most Australians are happy to abide by lockdowns and border closures and vaccine mandates. They are an important part of the current fight against Delta as we race to vaccinate more of the nation. But there has to be a more humane, more workable exemption system between our states and territories. 

There needs to a change in the rules for border towns. 

There needs to be a united plan to get us back to one Australia - a plan that our leaders can show compassion towards as Australians, not just state-leaders. 

Because quite frankly, seeing families eating Christmas lunch balanced on an orange border wall as NRL players and celebrities continue to skate past the 'rules' might just be enough to break Australia.

Let this be our wake-up call.

For more from Gemma Bath, keep up to date with her articles here, or follow her on Instagram,  @gembath.

Feature image: AAP/Jono Searle/Mamamia.

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