By JOHN DOOLEY
THE frustrating complications associated with a raft of anomalies created for residents of border communities reached new heights this week with further tightening of travel between towns on the Murray River between NSW and Victoria and nearby regions.
An 11th hour rethink by authorities, however, has meant exceptions for people living outside the newly designated ‘blue zone’, needing to purchase ‘essential’ goods, will be granted a permit and be able to cross the river to make those purchases in Mildura.
News of the decision was greeted with relief by Pooncairie’s Val Kitson who said she wasn’t surprised the rules had been changed.
“It was like last time. I said to people wait and see I think they will come to their senses and change things and they have done that again,” she said.
“I wasn’t overly stressed about it – it’s not just about me – there’s a lot of other people that are affected by these restrictions too.”
For Val and her husband George, who own the Pooncarie General Store, the initial decision to restrict their access to Mildura came as a crushing blow.
As if they haven’t been through enough in recent times, weathering a long drought and no water in the Darling River, and then COVID-19 lockdowns, all affecting the normal influx of tourists to their township.
Had the decision stood, the couple would have had another headache to contend with, effectively meaning Val wouldn’t have been able to travel down Mildura as she would normally do each week to buy stock for their business.
Speaking before the rule rethink, Val was scathing in her criticism of bureaucrats in offices in Sydney, who she said have no idea of how border communities operate.
“These restrictions make it extremely hard for me with a shop in Pooncarie trying to service the outback and trying to get stock for it,” an exasperated Val said.
“The people making the rules haven’t been out here to see what border towns are like. They’re siting in their offices in Sydney or Canberra or wherever they are, making up the rules, and they have no idea.”
Val pointed to the Member for Murray, Helen Dalton’s comments on her Facebook page, stating that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian needs to come out to places like Pooncarie and have a look at the way border towns operate.
“It’s just crazy, absolutely crazy. I hope they’re going to change it so I can still come to Mildura,” Val said.
“I shop in Mildura every week. It’s gut wrenching what they are doing to us.”
On a positve note Val said that visitor numbers had increased in the area in June, when travel restrictions were eased, and with water back in the Darling River, things were starting to look up.
“We’ve been very busy, crazy busy in fact, and it has only eased up a bit since the school holidays ended, but it has been really good and now we have this to contend with,” she said.
“We’ve turned a corner in a big way. This is a good business. It’s the only one with fuel and groceries, so having to cope with this was going to make it hard.
“As it is, it’s a 120km trip to Mildura and it’s 230km to Broken Hill, so that option isn’t workable.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous the way that they think. Even if the virus was up here, people have to learn to live with it and do the right thing, and if we have to mask up – we have to mask up.”
When the ‘Weekly spoke to Mrs Dalton, she was urging the NSW Government to expand the area that NSW residents can travel for essential purposes.
“I’ve been bombarded with constituents whose daily lives are being destroyed,” she said. “The NSW premier does not realise how dependent NSW country towns are on Victorian services.
“The border closure has caused chaos. It’s split up families, savaged businesses, and left people needing vital medical treatment in limbo.”
Fortunately the good news came on Wednesday afternoon that somebody in the NSW Government had listened to her and other’s pleas for commonsense to prevail.