Victorians Carla Styles and Stuart Annand were just past the Queensland border, near Goondiwindi, when their mad scramble home began to unravel.
The couple had decided to cut short a nine-week road trip across the country, fearing the worsening outbreaks across the eastern states might leave them stranded.
The Victorian government gave them a green-zone permit, entitling the couple to 24 hours of transit through Covid-hit New South Wales to get home to the small town of Fryerstown, in Victoria’s Goldfields region.
They planned a route that took them nowhere near Covid cases or areas of concern, and planned to split the journey across two days, sleeping in the car overnight.
But just before dusk last Sunday, less than an hour into the journey, their Landcruiser gave up the ghost.
“There were just terrible noises and the steering kept on dropping out, and we were really close and we managed to slow down and get into Moree,” Styles said.
The front bearings had collapsed. They needed a mechanic.
It took a while for Styles and Annand to realise they were stuck. The way back to Queensland was shut.
The 24-hour deadline to reach the Victorian border was now impossible to meet.
“I couldn’t fathom that it would be so difficult for them to deal with it – I just thought surely people have had mechanical problems,” she said. “It has to happen, there is a fair amount of traffic for people with green zone passes coming back to Queensland.”
Now, they have found themselves sleeping at a friend’s 26-hectare property in regional NSW, trapped between rigid bureaucracy and a near-total lack of information for people in their situation.
Styles and Annand rang the Covid-19 hotline on the night of their car troubles to get advice on how to proceed. They were told to apply for an “extreme zone” exemption, which are only being handed out in rare cases, and wait several days.
It has now been seven days and they have heard nothing.
Annand is desperate to get home to run his business. Styles is worried about her uncle, who lives with dementia. She is a carer for him and is his only close relative.
The couple have approached their local MP, Mary-Anne Thomas, seeking help.
“We’re lucky in that I think we’re welcome to stay on the property that we’re on,” Styles said. “But if we were to be rejected outright, which I don’t think we should be, would we have to find a place to live where we would be indoors? And have a shower and bathroom and a bedroom? Probably.
“I haven’t really entertained it too much, because I’m still in denial that we won’t get home in a week.”