NATHAN and Jennifer Costin have always believed that God answers every prayer, so when they asked to grow in the virtue of patience last year, they were preparing for a tough life lesson.
What they didn’t expect was being stuck in limbo between Brisbane and Melbourne for 17 days due to a state border closure.
“God doesn’t just give you virtue, he gives you opportunities to practice virtue, and he gave us a lot of those,” Mrs Costin said of the ordeal.
Between December 31 and January 17 the devout Catholic parents and their three young boys endured a stressful attempt to get an exemption permit to return to their home in Victoria.
The family had driven inland through regional New South Wales to have a respite holiday in Brisbane, where Mr Costin is originally from and where the pair married in 2014.
Mrs Costin said she and her husband chose to make the 19-hour drive to Brisbane with three children under five for their mental health.
“It’s been a really hard year for us mentally and we just felt like we needed perspective; we needed a good amount of time away and God definitely gave us that, more than we had asked for,” she said.
Within 24 hours of arriving at Mr Costin’s family home, the couple learnt that Victoria would close the state’s border with New South Wales at midnight on January 1.
This marked the first of what became daily calls to Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services to get an exemption permit.
Mr Costin said it was almost impossible to explain to the department why it was important for the family to return home.
“They’d ask, ‘Why do you need to be home?’, I’d say, ‘Well, it’s our home, we need to be home, I need to be back at work, our kids are all out of whack, they need structure, they need routine, they need familiarity, they’re stressed out, they are really unsettled’,” he said.
“You’d say all that and they’d say, ‘Alright, any other reasons you have to be home?’
“It’s like they didn’t understand the concept of what a home was.”
To apply for the exemption, the Costins were required to undergo COVID-19 testing as well as phone interviews, and were required to email personal documents to the DHHS for identification purposes.
On January 6 the couple relocated to the Gold Coast, but on January 9, the Andrews Government extended Victoria’s border closure to anyone who had been in Greater Brisbane after a cleaner there tested positive to COVID-19.
The Costins were forced to live in and out of different hotels while waiting for their exemption permit, all while managing three highly unsettled children, including an eight-month-old.
“That was the hardest part, managing the kids because they were so unsettled,” Mrs Costin said.
“We just had to realise that all we can do is we can make the phone calls and the emails, then you just had to put it aside for the day and trust that we’ll be home in God’s time and try to enjoy the rest of the day.
“It was really hard but it was such a clear call that we just needed to trust God because there was no other option.
“I felt like God was saying, ‘Here, you just need to trust me with each day, and you just need to love your family’.”
Mr Costin said he and his wife relied on their faith to get through the incredibly stressful and uncertain situation.
“I think when you’re living in such uncertainty, like we’re not sure where we’re going to be tomorrow, when we’re going to get home, we don’t know how the kids are going to react, how long it’s going to be before they start tripping out – there’s so much disruption and inconsistency and nothing’s really settled, then God’s the only fixed thing in your life, and so you keep coming back to that wellspring because you’ve always learnt his strength is there for us,” he said.
Mrs Costin said the entire ordeal left them feeling hopeless, but also motivated to become more politically active.
“I think you feel kind of hopeless and powerless because there’s nothing you can do,” she said.
“It’s just been a really big wake-up call for us that we do need to be more politically aware and active and involved because people in government actually have a lot of power over our daily lives, and when you’re in a situation like this it matters who is in your seat.
“This whole situation for the past few weeks has been pretty extreme, I think, for Australian citizens in a free country to have to endure.”
On January 13 the couple began driving closer to the Victorian border, hoping their exemption would come through by the time they reached Albury.
But when the couple were still not allowed to cross the border, they took their story to The Australian newspaper to put “media pressure” on the Government.
The family also staged a protest in Albury after learning that international tennis players had been allowed to enter Victoria for the Australian Open tournament.
They sat in a park holding up protest signs, including one taped to their youngest son’s high chair with the words: “Vic baby in exile”.
“Normally I wouldn’t in any way do something dramatic like that, but I just felt like we were in such a dramatic circumstance, and you kind of feel powerless so we were trying to do everything we can to raise awareness,” Mr Costin said.
“And not just for us but also trying to advocate for other parents and families in a similar situation who have been locked out of their own home.
“So it’s a confronting thing to do but I was really glad we did it.”
On January 16, the Victorian Government eventually downgraded the Queensland red zone to orange, allowing the Costins to cross the border by applying for a new permit by 6pm.
Mr Costin said he was annoyed that his family had endured days of stress only to get a permit within two minutes online.
“And I just thought, why the heck did it take sixteen, seventeen days, still didn’t get an exemption, and yet this was just a two-minute queue online,” he said.
Mr Costin said the family didn’t regret going on holidays because the experience was similar to the effects of a retreat, but their eldest son Benedict begged to differ.
“As we were pulling in the driveway, he said, ‘Let’s never go on holiday again’,” Mrs Costin said.