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ABC News
ABC News
By Jesse Dorsett, Sarah Thomas and Brendan Esposito

'It feels chaotic': Albury-Wodonga locals adapt to border closure but fear worst is to come

Kane Mangobean (right) and business partner Brent Seach crossed the NSW border, eventually.

It usually takes Kane Mangobean 15 minutes to drive to work, but yesterday that modest commute blew out to over an hour. 

The self-employed painter, who lives in Wodonga but is working on a job in Albury, was stuck in a long line of traffic with hundreds of other locals waiting to enter NSW.

"It was very surreal. Some people were panicking, getting agitated," he said.

Mr Mangobean has lived in the border community his whole life, and he's one of about 90,000 people in Albury-Wodonga adjusting to this latest, unprecedented challenge.

Yesterday, NSW shut its border with Victoria and people who want to cross must now apply for a permit.

Drought, bushfires, the first lockdown and now the border closure have meant an unrelenting test of the mettle of the residents of Albury-Wodonga, with lives and businesses severely disrupted.

But the community is yet again proving its resilience as it adjusts to the closure — and the possibility of a harsher lockdown being imposed.

Mr Mangobean is among at least 105,000 people granted a NSW border entry permit since restrictions came in at 12:01am on Wednesday.

NSW Police said by Wednesday afternoon, more than 50,000 vehicles had crossed the border from Victoria amid heavy traffic and bottlenecks at checkpoints.

Mr Mangobean is working on a job with his business partner Brett Seach and told his client he would likely be late yesterday morning.

He said he made the most of the extra time in his car.

"I used it mindfully, reconnected with [a] podcast. I always love watching the sunrise."

Mr Mangobean said he could never have imagined this scenario for the "little bubble" of Albury-Wodonga.

"Not in my lifetime. Never, ever did I think I'd have to have a permit to go across the river," he said.

"It's [normally] just like zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom, back and forth we go all day every day.

"But today was odd. Very eerie."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday stricter restrictions could be brought in, meaning Albury residents wouldn't be able to travel elsewhere in NSW and vice versa.

Mr Mangobean said a lot of people would be shocked and upset if a complete lockdown was introduced.

"But we're here for a greater cause, really — to help stop the spread."

'There is a lot of uncertainty'

Catherine and Stephen Fyffe took over the bakery in Howlong, on the NSW border 30 kilometres west of Albury, in April and for them it's been one challenge after another.

They began ownership of the Howlong Country Bakery at the height of the lockdown, Ms Fyffe said.

"There were a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of stress but we just had to adapt and try and make plans on how to manage," she said.

And now they're having to adapt again: managing distribution, permits for staff and coping with less tourist traffic.

The bakery has been there for 27 years, serving the 2,500-strong village, as well as tourists and wholesalers to about 30 businesses in Albury-Wodonga.

When the border closure was introduced, she said people were coming in from Victoria to stockpile loaves and pies to freeze, and she's tried to reassure people by posting on social media that their goods are still available at Wodonga cafes.

She said there are also problems for some of her 22 staff.

One baker lives in Victoria beyond the 50-kilometre distance that qualifies as the boundary for the border community, and now has to stay in a NSW caravan park as he won't be allowed back in.

Several staff members are also older people and don't have internet access or email accounts, so she's had to apply for permits on their behalf and drop them off.

"It feels a bit chaotic. There is a lot of uncertainty and mixed messages about why you can or can't cross the border," she said.

She said they're lucky in Howlong as the community is very supportive and looks after each other and supports local businesses.

But there could be a bigger challenge ahead.

Ms Fyffe said they initially hoped the closure might be a couple of weeks, but Ms Berejiklian's threat of total lockdown could mean massive damage to its tourist trade from elsewhere in NSW as well as Victoria.

"It's a terrifying thing if people from NSW can't come to visit. It's quite scary about what's going to come.

"Tourism is hugely essential. We are a beautiful area by the river and we're going to take a big hit if the tourists are not coming.

"Without those people, we're going to face a huge loss.

"If we can get through this, we can get through anything."

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