These outback families are experts in self-isolation: Here's what we can learn from them

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For families right across Australia, the past week has been spent getting used to the new normal — school at home, limited visitors, and only essential outings.

But for families in isolated communities and properties in regional and rural Queensland, it is business as usual.

Riley O’Dell is like any other 12-year-old girl. She wakes up in the morning and gets ready for school, and has chores and animals to look after.

The only difference is that when Riley goes to school of a morning she does not leave her house.

Riley has lived on Toarbee Station, just outside Jericho in western Queensland, her whole life and she has been doing School of the Air since she was five years old.

While families right across the state adapt to school at home, Riley said not much has changed for her in the past few weeks.

“I’m used to it I guess and it’s easy, like I’ve done it since prep, so I guess I’m just used to it,” Riley said.

Riley said School of the Air is not that different from going to a physical school.

She has teachers and classmates, she loves maths but hates economics, and she loves playing with her animals during lunch to keep her energised during the day.

“What I do is just have things around the house that I muck around with and play with and at smoko, I run out to the tramp, probably chase my dogs a bit, and play on the tramp for about half an hour before I go back on air,” Riley said.

“For lunchtime, if the horse is up, I’ll go out and play with the horses, go over and see the bulls, play on the trampoline, and just try and do things.”

And while Riley’s life may have remained the same her mum, Jacky, said she can sympathise with parents who have never experienced teaching their kids from home.

“It’s scary at first,” Ms O’Dell said.

“When she first started prep I was really scared about how I could cope with teaching her, but the teachers are great and it’s all been terrific.

“It will be hard for people that aren’t used to it … but they’ve got to make sure the kids get into a routine straight away.”

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Physical isolation doesn’t mean social isolation

It is not just learning to cope with the new way of life we are all adapting to.

Experts say it is important that people in isolation take care of their mental wellbeing during this uncertain time.

Royal Flying Doctor Services Outback Mental Health clinical lead, Tim Driscoll, has worked with geographically isolated people and graziers dealing with drought for many years.

Dr Driscoll said the advice he gives those people is the same advice he now gives to clients that are not used to the isolation.

“Really, people in more remote parts of Queensland and Australia have been dealing with social isolation for some time, they are certainly well-practised at this,” he said.

“So the advice is very much the same in terms of maintaining those social networks — and we don’t necessarily need to be right together to maintain a connection.

“We can use the telephone, we can use Facetime, we can use Skype, we can use those other technologies to maintain our social lives and make sure those social networks remain strong.

“And that’s really whether it’s isolation due to geography or it’s isolation due to reducing the risk of COVID-19. It is the same challenge, so the advice is very consistent. It’s about maintaining connections through whatever means are available.”

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Keeping active in isolation

Another way to boost your morale while in isolation is to keep active and fit, according to outback fitness guru Joy McClymont.

Ms McClymont started Off The Track Training 12 years ago after she moved to a property 100 kilometres west of Longreach and found that exercising alone was demotivating and boring.

She now runs online fitness sessions with more than 2,000 clients and has helped isolated women keep fit using phone calls, emails, or live workout sessions.

“I know that a lot of people are really struggling in trying to adjust to the new ways in which they’ve got to live, essentially,” Ms McClymont said.

“What my best advice would be, is to always prioritise movement in your day.

“So one of the things I used to love doing was picking a spot in my house and every time I walked past it, I had to do 10 push-ups.

“It was things like that that brought a bit of spice to my day. The kids got on board with it, we integrated fitness into our lives and it didn’t feel like this thing that had to be fussy and time-consuming and precious.”

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