Moree families in limbo while children are stuck in Queensland boarding schools during border closure

Natalie, Maddison and Jason Pearce will be separated for potentially the next few months during the hard Queensland border closure. Photo: supplied

Natalie, Maddison and Jason Pearce will be separated for potentially the next few months during the hard Queensland border closure. Photo: supplied

Moree's Heidi Brooks has no idea when she'll next see her two children, Amelya and Will, who are currently stuck at their boarding schools on the Gold Coast, following the closure of the Queensland border on Saturday.

Heidi, who owns Ruby Soles shoe shop in Moree, was forced to close her business for a few days to make a last-minute trip to the Gold Coast to visit her children before the border closed on Saturday.

"I had to take off, otherwise I wouldn't have seen them," Heidi said.

"I don't know when I'll see them next. If they don't change the restrictions, they can't even come home for the holidays in September. If they do, they'll have to quarantine for the two weeks in order to go back to school. I just don't know how it will work.

"We're all in limbo."

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Heidi left Moree on Thursday morning, just before the border shut, and returned on Tuesday, choking back tears as she told The Moree Champion how difficult it was to leave Amelya (in year 11) and Will (in year 9), not knowing when she'd see them again.

"It was really hard," she said.

"They're stressed because I'm stressed."

Will and Amelya Brooks go to boarding school on the Gold Coast, and don't know when they'll next be able to return home without having to do hotel quarantine. Photo: Heidi Brooks

Will and Amelya Brooks go to boarding school on the Gold Coast, and don't know when they'll next be able to return home without having to do hotel quarantine. Photo: Heidi Brooks

Heidi and her husband Michael would usually visit their children at least twice a term, depending on sporting events or school functions. They had planned to visit this coming weekend for a school function, however Heidi was forced to go late last week instead before the border shut.

Michael unfortunately couldn't go with her due to work commitments, which means there's a chance he might not see Amelya and Will again until Christmas if they are unable to return home during the September school holidays.

"If they don't come home until the holidays, he won't have seen them for 10 weeks," Heidi said.

"But if they can't come home in the holidays, he won't see them until Christmas."

Heidi and Michael have applied for a border exemption and are waiting to hear if they have been approved, however because they don't live within one of the designated 'border zones', Heidi is worried that this time, their application won't be accepted.

Last time the border shut, people living within 200 kilometres of the Queensland border were able to apply for an exemption to travel for school, work or medical reasons.

This time, the hard closure means only people within the designated border zone, which excludes Moree, can travel within that zone.

"Even if you're from one of the border communities, that only allows you into the closest town - so we'd only be able to get into Goondiwindi," fellow Moree mum Natalie Pearce said.

Natalie's daughter Maddison (14) goes to boarding school in Toowoomba, and usually Natalie and her husband Jason would visit at least once a fortnight, depending on Maddison's sporting commitments.

However, because they are unable to apply for an exemption to get into Queensland, Natalie has made the difficult decision to relocate to Toowoomba to be near her daughter during this time.

"There are no exemptions for boarding school children," she said.

"Our daughter suffers from anxiety, so the thought of not knowing when we'd see her again hit her hard."

So Natalie sought approval from her place of employment at Joblink Plus to work remotely, and on Friday she relocated to Toowoomba where she will stay with family until the restrictions are lifted.

Jason has just started a new job, so he has to stay in Moree, which means the family will be separated for potentially months.

"If you're working from home you can only do a five-hour day, so I'm losing hours and money, although I'm very thankful they've given me the opportunity to do this," Natalie said.

"I have had to take leave without pay from my second job at the Gwydir Caravan Park cafe. This is a huge financial burden on our family in already a very tough situation.

"There is so much uncertainty and I have no idea when I can return to Moree.

"They are now saying that children may not be able to come home for the holidays. That being the case I can not return until at least the end of September.

"The Queensland government is holding us and our babies at ransom.

"A lot of families have no idea when they can see their children again. This is a very stressful time for a lot of people and mental health issues are going to go through the roof. I know mine has certainly been affected and I can't see an end in site."

While Natalie was fortunate to be in a position to relocate to Queensland during this time, that option isn't possible for many families, including the Brookses.

"Most people out here are farmers or agricultural-based, so we can't relocate; it's not quite that simple," Heidi said.

"Even if I was to relocate, we'd be living a double life. I've got a shop to run, so for me to leave, I'd have to pay someone to work, pay for accommodation - we can't afford that on top of boarding school fees.

"And my kids don't want to homeschool again. It's not the same. My daughter starts year 12 at the end of the term and she doesn't want to do that from home.

"If we had the answers it would make life a lot easier."

Another Moree mum, Bernadette Seery is also facing the prospect of months without seeing two of her three children, with her daughter in year 12 at St Margaret's Anglican Girls School in Brisbane and her son in year 7 at The Southport School at the Gold Coast.

"I'm now told I can't see them unless I apply for an exemption which can take up to two weeks to get a response," Ms Seery said.

"My kids are very used to us visiting every few weeks and then extra visits if they are unwell, homesick or have school events on.

"My heart is breaking; I don't understand how anyone can prevent us from seeing our children, it's ridiculous!

"If freight companies can hold an X pass so they can cross without exemption then we need a B pass that we apply for and carry at all times with higher fines if we do not adhere to COVID rules.

"I do understand the need to close borders but no one has considered the impact it will have on boarding school families. The mental health of these families should be paramount."