September 7, 2021 | By Suzanne Hart

Missed the earlier parts of this story? Here are parts one, two and three.

Day 14 has arrived. I still cannot believe how quickly this time has gone by. Today was a day like no other – quite literally the beginning of a whole new adventure. I’ve rarely felt such joy, gratitude and anticipation as I packed up the rather large suitcase that holds the sum of my wardrobe and life right now. I laughed at myself: five years ago I filled three suitcases and moved to Bali. On this day I reflected on how easy it was to do with so little, as a start anyway.

I said goodbye to the room I’d called home for two weeks with mixed emotions. In the tradition of Marie Kondo, I thanked my humble abode for its service, for looking after me and for helping make the time I was there so memorable. I felt almost nostalgic as I stopped and looked around at the stripped bed, the empty shelves, the towels on the floor of the bathroom awaiting the cleaning team. I had not expected this two weeks of quarantine to affect me so profoundly. To go by so quickly. I had not expected to make new friends. Quite possibly lasting friendships.

My balcony buddies and I are bonded by our shared experience. We agreed this was a once-in-a-lifetime [experience], we will never find ourselves in these times again. It’s our little piece of history, a time we will reflect on in years to come and no doubt smile. A lot.

Change builds resilience. This sums up the last three weeks of life for me, starting with my hasty move from Bali back to Australia, and reminds me how important it is to “embrace the change”.  If COVID has taught us anything it’s that nothing remains the same, that everything we knew and thought of as normal will never be that way again. I’m going at the change head on, as fast as I can, so I don’t stop and look back or question what the hell is going on here. As I have learnt from surfing: look where you want to go. I’m looking forward.

The day prior to our departure we had all received a call from the Telehelp team talking us through the departure process. What time to be ready to go, how to pack up our room, the coach to airport etc. Assuming a negative COVID test was returned, we were good to go. Freedom was clearly in our sights.

The activity started early on our final day. Trips to and from the rubbish bin, suitcases rolled out on balconies. Lots of laughter and chat about getting out, escaping. We were all very excited. It had been 14 days and it was time to walk out through those gates – a very big deal! The mood amongst our block was jubilant as staff came through at the designated departure time, without masks or their PPE gear, to ask if we were ready to go. Some of the residents had been dressed and ready on the balcony with their suitcases for hours.

It was so unusual to see the staff without head to toe protective gear, like we event people when the gig is done and we shed our uniforms, put on our regular clothes, throw off our work shoes (how our feet hurt!) and unite in what we’ve achieved. They too shared the moment with us – the freedom of knowing we were COVID free and good to go without masks. It’s hard to describe how that feels but we could not stop smiling. I did another little dance…in fact there were a lot of those little dances during this very special day.

As for the departure process, it was seamless. Efficient and professional, as every other process has been from the moment we arrived. I keep coming back to the comparison I have with a successful event or program wrapping up. Every staff member I came in to contact with greeted me with a big smile. I said, “thank you for looking after us”, they said “you’re welcome”.  The army staff tried hard to be serious but very quickly smiled as they took our bags and loaded them onto the coach. Just as my event teams and I used to do when our groups departed: lots of thank yous, smiles, we wave them goodbye quite honestly glad to see them go.

These teams must do this all the time – well, at least every two weeks. And each time they would see so many people with such mixed emotions. Some, like my new friends and I, so happy, so excited to leave and so grateful for all those who helped us. Others might be anxious, not sure of what lies ahead, leaving the relative safety of this facility, going back to cities in lockdown. Some going home to tragic circumstances, to have missed saying goodbye to loved ones.

The coordinator came on to the bus as we were loaded and ready to depart. Unfortunately I missed his name. I’d like to write and thank him. He said, on behalf of the CNR (Centre for National Resilience – our quarantine home) he wanted to thank us for our patience and understanding during our stay. Almost as though we had been guests at a five-star hotel. He wished us well and safe travels to our next destinations. We all cheered.

And we were away. Staff and the army personnel waved us goodbye. Lots of smiles, happy chatter, enormous relief for all of us. We were “out”, healthy, COVID free, and ready to be amongst people in the big wide world.

The coach took us to the airport. I’d suggested to my buddies, as we’d sat on the balcony on our final night, that a celebratory lunch may be in order. We were all on the flight to Perth at 7pm so we had plenty of time to kill. They agreed. We stored our bags in lockers at the airport, ordered an Uber, headed for the Darwin foreshore, and straight to the Oyster Bar, for a meal served on real plates, with knives and forks. Oysters, prawns and glasses of Jansz bubbles. Sitting around a table together we realised this was the closest we had been to each other in 14 days. We hugged, we toasted to making it through 14 days, and for our great fortune being in Block E4. I noticed Jess’ stunning engagement ring for the first time, saw Katherine in something other than her yoga gear. I’d made an effort and blow dried my hair. This felt like freedom. Something that anyone who is in lockdown right now can only dream about. I’m here to tell you it’s worth it.  Hang in there.

As I write, I’m in a motel in Cervantes, a coastal town three hours’ north of Perth. It’s my first stop on a roadtrip in search of sunshine, waves and my family. I have a surfboard strapped to the roof of my Mum’s car (I’m still coming home to Mum all these years on!), and working my way to Monkey Mia to see her and my stepfather – it will be two years since I was last in Perth and spending time with them.

Life is surreal in Western Australia. The state is COVID free, no one wears masks, life goes on, people are out and about freely. The only sign of the times is a request to check in with the Safe WA app whenever you enter shops, venues, accommodation. It’s something people here hope never has to be truly activated but I’m sure we all know it’s really only a matter of time before this dreaded virus works it’s way into WA.

Until then, I am taking some time out to be back on the land where I was born; in the country that I love for its wide open spaces, red dirt roads, ridiculously white sand beaches, crystal clear water, and space. Miles and miles of no one. I’ll work again soon but for now, I’m off to find a wave. And to hug my family.