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Instant Queenslanders: Coast schools 'inundated' with virus refugees from southern states


Families from Victoria and New South Wales are uprooting their lives and moving to beachside towns, with schools in Queensland reporting a spike in enrolment enquiries from interstate parents.

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As border restrictions ease, independent schools along the Sunshine Coast say they are being “inundated” with requests for virtual tours and families signing up sight unseen.

That was what the Mulder family did before embarking on a marathon road trip from Bendigo after Queensland tightened border restrictions due to the burgeoning coronavirus second wave earlier this year.

Real estate agent Dan Mulder, his wife Pip and their two children Isabel, 11, and James, 8, packed up their belongings for their 1600km journey.

“We woke up at three in the morning — they woke us up,” James said. “They said: ‘Get up, we’re going to Queensland.’ I was just freaking out. I was like: ‘What?’”

‘We need to get going’

The Mulders’ Bendigo home had a buyer and they were ready for a local move when restrictions tightened across the country.

“Once we’d sold the house, we planned to be up here [in Queensland] at the start of next year,” Mr Mulder said.

“Then all of a sudden we’ve read up on the border closures for Queensland and New South Wales.

“I was sitting in bed one night with my wife saying, ‘We need to get going quicker than we thought’.

“We had two cars, two kids, two dogs, and we left the next morning and off we went.

“We got to the Queensland border just in time before they closed.”

From Bendigo to the beach

Mulder said it was “exciting but stressful” making the journey north amid a rapidly changing situation.

“You didn’t know when you got to the border what was going to happen, but everything worked — the police there were great,” he said.

The family spent one night in hotel quarantine in Toowoomba and the rest of the mandated two weeks on the Sunshine Coast.

They emerged ready to embrace their sudden sea change and are renting a home overlooking the ocean at Alexandra Headland.

James and Isabel started at a new school, thrilled to return to their once-normal pursuits.

“We have more friends and there’s a pool there because we love swimming,” Isabel said.

Demand for classes away from COVID-19

Sunshine Coast Grammar School principal Maria Woods said the Mulders were not alone in looking for an escape from the COVID-19 crisis.

Woods said the school was being “inundated” with inquiries from parents who were either out of state or expatriates returning to Australia.

She said half of the new enrolments in Term 4 had come from interstate, “predominantly from Victoria and overseas”, and the trend looked set to continue into next year.

“They’re really excited to be out and about, running around playing and getting on with normal life,” Woods said.

While the school usually expected one in five to come from interstate, it forecast the numbers for 2021 to be closer to one in four.

Chris Ivey, principal of St Andrew’s Anglican College at Peregian Beach, said the number of interstate enrolment enquiries in August was the biggest “in many, many years” and some families had already arrived, keen to tour the grounds.

“A lot from Sydney, a lot from Melbourne who got out during that break — they made the move then and had a look around,” he said.

“I did a Skype interview with a girl from Melbourne last week — she wants to be here for Year 7 next year.

“We’re trying to assist parents as they make this call, and some are prepared to be waiting until borders open and move next year.”

Ivey said of the 100 enrolments scheduled to join the school next year, about half were coming from Sydney, Melbourne and also Brisbane.

The number of registrations for interstate students ahead of 2021 tripled in September compared to the same time last year.

“There’s just more demand from particularly Sydney, particularly Melbourne, and the numbers next year are showing that.”

Ivey said St Andrew’s now had waiting lists for almost every year level — demand he said he had not seen since before the great financial crisis.

A life that’s a little more ordinary

Many schools are finalising their 2021 enrolments, so it is unclear exactly how many children are transferring from interstate schools.

Independent Schools Queensland said its number of new enrolments was steady, but it had no detail on school-by-school figures until a census was done in February.

Education Queensland did not release data about the number of interstate enrolments expected ahead of 2021, but said it was prepared “in the event that unforeseen enrolment growth occurs”.

For the Mulders, they said their big gamble had paid off.

“We did enjoy living in country Victoria, but just having that freedom here now, that’s been a huge difference,” Mr Mulder said.

“There’s no way we’ll be going back — you can never say never — but we’re really happy here.”

– ABC / Owen Jacques

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