South Australia COVID-19 lockdown sparks race against time for mum to get son home from boarding school
When the South Australian Government announced the state would be going into a six-day lockdown, grazier Bree Wakefield had to act fast to get her boy home.
Her 13-year-old son Angus is at boarding school in Adelaide, while the family’s sheep and wheat property is in the far west of New South Wales, 75 kilometres north-east of Mildura.
Within hours of learning of the new South Australian lockdown, Ms Wakefield had hatched an elaborate plan to have Angus back in NSW by 12:00am Thursday, when the restrictions kicked in.
Angus had 10 minutes’ notice to pack a bag and his schoolwork so he could finish the term by studying on the property.
“We’re five hours from Adelaide so by the time we drove over to Adelaide and drove back we would not have crossed the South Australia border by midnight,” Ms Wakefield said.
“So I’ve been working with another friend who’s got a son at the same school as Angus and luckily her daughter’s at uni in Adelaide so … she has picked up the boys and is driving them to the South Australian border, where my friend Katie will pick them up and take them back to Broken Hill.”
Around 7:30pm on Wednesday, the group met Katie in Burra, South Australia, who then drove them the three-and-a-half hours back to Broken Hill where Angus stayed overnight.
Today, Ms Wakefield’s husband is doing an eight-hour round trip to pick up Angus and bring him home.
They think he will likely finish off the term studying remotely and hope he can do his final exams online.
This year was Angus’s first at boarding school.
He’s had to quarantine twice — the first time in his room in the boarding house and the second time at a family friend’s home — so he could go to school when the South Australian border was closed to New South Wales.
Ms Wakefield was prepared for another border closure or COVID-19 outbreak but admitted she did not expect a lockdown to happen so quickly.
“We’ve had so many cross-border issues this year and we know once those borders lock down our children may as well be going to boarding school in Europe, because it is so difficult to get them in and out of the state,” she said.
“It was a bit of a shock because I’d expected the COVID numbers to get much higher before they would go into something as drastic as a six-day complete lock down.
“We’ve had lots of phone calls to and from other families so we’ve been banging our heads together and going ‘what’s going to be best for the kids?’, and everyone that I’ve spoken to has decided to pull their kids out of Adelaide and bring them back.”
But Angus and his family are some of the lucky ones.
In addition to local students, South Australian boarding schools often accommodate children from rural communities in neighbouring states where Adelaide is the closest capital city.
They also have students from the Northern Territory.
The Westminster School in Adelaide has about 100 boarders, 20 of those are from interstate.
The school had asked parents to arrange for children to come home or stay with family elsewhere.
Principal Simon Shepherd told the ABC about 10 students from the Northern Territory cannot get home and do not have family to stay within South Australia.
The school is keeping the boarding house open for those students and they will do their classes there too.
“We will keep boarding running and we’ll take care of our kids in the best way we can,” he said.
“It has caused a bit of angst because some of them have already … come down and gone through two weeks coming into South Australia from the NT.
“[There are] kids who’ve been in communities when the community’s shut and they’ve had to get home and not been allowed back.
“So it has caused a little bit of angst that things happened so quickly — but they’re a pretty resilient mob, they’re good kids.”