An Aboriginal mission is among dozens of tiny communities left isolated by the Victoria-New South Wales border lockdown.
- Residents, health workers and MPs say they weren’t warned of the hard closure of a crucial bridge that links two small communities
- Locals are worried that emergency services will have difficulty reaching them
- An MP from the region says the NSW Government did not adequately consult with impacted communities
Cummeragunja, in NSW, was completely cut off from Barmah, its sister town in Victoria, after authorities blocked off the only bridge connecting the communities.
The smaller communities say they received no warning of the hard closures.
“The river crossing between Cummeragunja and Barmah is vital,” Cummeragunja health worker Belinda Day said.
NSW Police have funnelled traffic towards 34 major border crossings, leaving smaller interstate corridors, including Barmah, Wahgunyah, Tintaldra, Towong, Piangil and Gonn Crossing, blocked off.
Barmah sits east of the border, requiring vehicles to cross into NSW and then back again into Victoria to enter Echuca.
But its connection point – the bridge to Cummergunja – was shut down, without warning, three hours before the midnight curfew.
“No-one was told they were going to shut it completely, we thought it was going to be manned,” Barmah publican Matt Gissling said.
With the bridge now closed, Barmah residents hoping to access Echuca have been forced to drive back towards Nathalia to the Murray Valley Highway, adding about 100km to the journey.
Vulnerable community blocked off
About 60 people live in Cummeragunja, and the town relies heavily on Barmah, which stocks food, fuel and medical supplies, and is home to the nearest fire brigade.
Ms Day, the CEO of the town’s Viney Morgan Aboriginal Medical Service, said residents wanting to reach Barmah had to walk across the bridge or drive for more than an hour.
She said the community did not have a GP and was concerned an ambulance from Shepparton would not be able get through in an emergency.
“I hope they would’ve done a bit more thinking about the vulnerabilities that exist in these smaller communities,” Ms Day said.
No consultation, MP says
Thousands of people use the crossing every day, including trucks and cars travelling from Deniliquin, Shepparton or Yarrawonga.
Helen Dalton, the member for Murray, said she did not believe the NSW Government had contacted affected electorates.
“The border closure has been done very hastily and there’s been a lot of things they should’ve considered before all this,” she said.
“You cannot close those bridges, because often people have to travel great distances to get around, and some communities don’t have adequate health services.”
She said she believed the NSW Government was underprepared.
“It not only impacts on Victoria’s economy, but the economy in NSW,” she said.
Mr Gissling said his business would be significantly impacted and he wanted authorities to alter the restrictions.
“We get a lot of customers from Echuca and Moama and now there’s no passing traffic at all now,” he said.
The ABC understands NSW Cross Border Commissioner James McTavish will review restrictions.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian, has confirmed the Government is considering further restrictions to isolate people along the NSW-Victoria border from the rest of the state.
She has asked border residents not to travel to other parts of the state.
Ms Berejiklian said police and Services New South Wales staff processed 50,000 applications for cross-border travel permits overnight.