Queensland's border closes - another change for locals to deal with

Tweed Heads priest remains hopeful during turbulent times

With Queensland shutting its border at midnight, the twin towns of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads (New South Wales) are at the intersection of different state government approaches to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think people are accepting that this is what we have to do.” – Michael Brady

Despite scenes of extensive traffic jams this morning as commuters waited for police checks to allow them to pass from Tweed Heads to Coolangatta, local priest Michael Brady believes his community has received the border closure with good grace.

“I think people are accepting that this is what we have to do,” said Brady, priest at St Joseph’s Parish, Tweed Heads, and chair of ecumenical group Border Council of Churches (BCC – a body of local Catholic, Uniting Church in Australia and Anglican churches on the NSW side of the border).

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“But people should be staying inside more anyway. I think that’s what we all need to do.”

Knowing it will now take people longer to get to work when travelling from NSW into Queensland, Brady had not yet noticed any other significant change to his local community. Still, he’s not sure exactly how the closure will be enforced on a daily basis, given he can walk across the road he lives on – and be in Queensland.

Rather than last night’s border closure, Brady highlighted the region’s demographic as the biggest local concern amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have an older population in this area so they are more vulnerable to the disease,” noted Brady, who used to visit ten aged-care facilities on a regular basis. Tweed Heads and Coolangatta are popular destinations for retirees.

Many of Brady’s parish are elderly and he has been “very sad” this week to no longer be able to see them face-to-face.

“I would like to go to visit people but I just can’t.” He is, however, buoyed by knowing that the older Australians he is in contact with are practicing social distancing and following the latest government and health advice.

Brady has been a parish priest for 31 years and it is taking time to adjust to the huge changes to his role. Along with being unable to visit his parishioners, Brady is one of many Christian leaders around Australia who are no longer permitted to perform their weekly duties in churches or with groups. Similarly, the BCC is temporarily suspending its meetings, due to coronavirus restrictions.

“We are called to be Easter people. We are called to be people of hope.” – Michael Brady.

The Tweed Heads priest has taken to calling people in a bid to remain connected with parishioners and to encourage them to not feel disconnected.

“People are grateful for the call,” shares Brady, who mentions that a 93-year-old man in his parish lives alone. He did attend Mass every week but now must self-isolate. He appreciated Brady checking in on him and reminding him to stay hopeful at this time.

Brady wants people to “look at the way Jesus lived and what he did” to help inform them about how to live through this crisis. And that even with the cancellation of Easter liturgy and events, the good news of Christianity is not extinguished.

“We are called to be Easter people. We are called to be people of hope,” says Brady.

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