Eight-month-old Charlie is an Australian citizen who has never been in his home country, but that is due to change today.
- About 175 people are expected to arrive in Darwin today on the first of eight repatriation flights
- Elise Hannah is bringing her young son to Australia for the first time
- New arrivals must spend two weeks in mandatory quarantine in rural Darwin
He and his mum Elise Hannah are two Australians who managed to secure seats on the first government-backed repatriation flight from London to Darwin, which is expected to arrive at about midday.
“It’s time we went home now. He needs to grow up with his family. He’s only got one set of grandparents so he needs to get to know them,” Ms Hannah said.
Charlie was born in the UK and his short life there has been dominated by the global pandemic which has kept him and his mum apart from his grandparents and their immediate family in Australia.
“We went into lockdown when he was about three weeks old,” Ms Hannah said.
“He had nobody else hold him until he was nearly five months old.”
Ms Hannah hopes getting Charlie back to Australia will allow him to see not only family but also a bit more of the outdoors.
“I am so looking forward to being able to take Charlie to a playground. He hasn’t been really to a playground,” she said.
“Putting him on a swing to watch other kids, to be able to do that, it’s a big thing.”
‘So very grateful’
Before Charlie was born Ms Hannah had lived in the UK for more than a decade working as a nanny, but she had planned to return to Australia shortly after giving birth so her baby could grow up as an Australian, close to family in Brisbane.
After Charlie’s birth, she organised his citizenship and passport and they tried a few times to leave the UK on commercial flights, which were cancelled.
But last weekend came the call flagging the possibility of seats on the first special Qantas flight, which will take Australians to quarantine at the Howard Springs facility just outside Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Since then she has been juggling Charlie while trying to pack up their lives in the UK in just a few days.
“My initial reaction was, I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” she said.
“It came as a shock because it came so suddenly and so quickly and I had a lot to do to get on the flight.
“We’ve been sort of couch surfing on relatives’ couches, so I have bits and pieces of stuff all over the country.
“But I’m very glad that we were shortlisted for the first flight. So, so very grateful.”
With the process backed by the Government, passengers need to pay for flights but will be able to apply for government grants and loans to help cover the upfront cost.
But there’s also the money Ms Hannah had already paid for commercial flights that never left the UK and the incoming bill for two weeks’ quarantine in the NT ($2,500 for an individual or $5,000 for a family).
While the cost is difficult, as the coronavirus situation worsens in the UK, Ms Hannah’s main priority is getting her son back to Australia.
“I’m just thankful that we have a good Government who is prepared to try and help us get back,” she said.
“Hopefully, everyone will get back.”
‘A lottery-winning level of excitement’
Victorian schoolteacher Shae Tweeddale and her boyfriend Billy have also managed to secure spots on the first London-to-Darwin flight.
“If I were told at the beginning of the year that I would be accepting this lottery-winning level of excitement to enter my own country as normal, I’d have laughed at the whole concept, but it’s 2020, so here we are,” Ms Tweeddale said
The couple had been on a two-year working holiday visa in London.
“With Billy’s visa expiring in July this year, we quit our jobs, left our flat, had most of our belongings shipped home and put the rest in a backpack and had to leave the country,” the 24-year-old said.
Ever since, they’ve been waiting for the international flight caps to be lifted and picking up volunteer positions that offered places for them to stay.
“Our most recent volunteer experience was preparing a rescue dog farm for the winter, which is where we received the call from DFAT and had to quickly leave,” she said.
“Since then it’s been a bit crazy.”
In only a few days, the pair had to get a COVID-19 test, catch a bus, two trains and a plane to get back to London in time, to get ready to go.
“We just got an email to confirm that we are COVID-free, so we’re definitely going, it doesn’t feel real. Just excited to get home,” she said.
Expecting ‘a good thunderstorm’
Today’s flight is the first of eight scheduled flights that will aim to bring about 1,315 Australians home from the UK, India and South Africa.
It is part of a deal between the NT and Commonwealth Governments that is expected to facilitate about 5,000 international arrivals by the end of March next year.
They will be quarantining at the former mining camp in Howard Springs that has recently been used to house interstate travellers from hotspot areas and seasonal workers from Vanuatu.
Unlike the rules at Howard Springs for arrivals from interstate, new government guidelines show the international arrivals will not be allowed to leave the balconies attached to their single-bed rooms.
Elise Hannah said she was not concerned about the two-week mandatory quarantine, but was just looking forward to her son Charlie experiencing his home country for the first time.
She also was not daunted by the prospect of spending two weeks in the humidity typical of October in Australia’s Top End.
“We are looking forward to a good thunderstorm. We’ve been looking at the weather, and it says that there’s thunderstorms for the next week,” Ms Hannah said.
“A good Australian thunderstorm is nice.”