• Some of the children who have been stranded in Adelaide since measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 to remote communities were implemented. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
When remote communities closed to stop the spread of COVID-19 around 50 people were stranded in Adelaide. Now plans are being made to allow them to return home to the APY Lands.
Royce Kurmelovs

28 May 2020 - 3:49 PM  UPDATED 28 May 2020 - 3:49 PM

The South Australian government will set up a “silver corridor” so Aboriginal people from remote communities caught in Adelaide when the pandemic struck may safely return home to Country.

When the threat of Covid-19 became clear in Australia in February, the remote region of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands acted quickly to stop travellers from moving in and out of the area.

With limited access to healthcare and services, an outbreak of the virus in the numerous remote Aboriginal communities in the APY Lands would have been devastating.

Since then, access to the region and similar remote regions containing Indigenous communities has been restricted under the Bio-Security Act. While it has yet to be announced, it is expected these restrictions on movement will be extended through to September as a precautionary measure.

Richard King, general manager of the APY lands, said he would be taking no risks, especially after South Australia recorded its first case in nineteen days on Tuesday when a woman flying in from Victoria to visit family was diagnosed with the virus.

“The reality is we can’t afford a spike, or second spike, or a third spike here. We need to avoid this,” Mr King said.

“We don’t have the luxury of tertiary services here. Others in the cities can worry about the likelihood of having it in their community. For us we can’t even afford to take that risk.”

In the meantime, plans are now being put in place to allow Anangu caught in Adelaide to return home.

While the snap decision to close borders helped eliminate the risk Covid-19 might spread through the region, it also meant those travelling to the city for health or family commitments were caught out and unable to freely return to Country.

To accommodate them, the South Australian Housing Authority and several non-governmental organisations formed a partnership to set up temporary accommodation at a campsite in the Adelaide Hills.

For the last two months, around 50 people – mostly women and children – have been sheltering at the site, though these numbers have fallen in recent weeks as restrictions have lifted across South Australia to allow some who live locally to leave.

Running the site was led by local Indigenous health and education organisations in consultation with the APY Executive.

The Iriwi group, originally formed by Anangu who moved to Adelaide for health or other reasons, has been providing education to children at the site in language, while Nunkuwarrin Yunti contributed to providing healthcare.

Under an agreement with Baptist Care SA, the site's use as temporary accommodation was set to run out in June, raising questions about how those who wished to return to their communities may do so safely.

To address this, the South Australian Housing Authority will set up the Lakeview Transitional Accommodation Centre in Port Augusta and a second facility near Ceduna to allow those wanting to return home to self-isolate for two-weeks.

Once the isolation period is over, a bus will then take people directly to their communities.

A spokesperson for the South Australian Housing Authority said more information will be provided to communities shortly.

“There will be eligibility criteria around isolation accommodation – people need to be residents of protected communities and if people choose to leave isolation, they will not be allowed back in. This is to keep everyone safe and to maintain isolation successfully,” the spokesperson said.

“The accommodation is intended to support people who are already displaced due to bio-security restrictions and not for people who leave their communities unnecessarily or against advice.

“People who have left communities for non-urgent reasons or have already breached isolation requirements may still be able to access this program, however they may be required to self-fund.”

Graham Brown from Baptist Care SA said the past two months have “laid a foundation” for how authorities and organisations like his can better provide support going forward.

Brown said his organisation was already setting up a dedicated centre in Adelaide to act as a welcome point for those travelling into the city from remote communities and is discussions about opening up the Adelaide Hills campsite for use in cultural, health or respite activities at different times of the year.

“For many years I don’t think there has been sufficient hospitality and culturally-appropriate places that have enabled people to feel welcome and engage in culture and feel valued. I think we’ve learned some things about how to achieve that.”

Indigenous women and children camping near Adelaide after being stranded outside of closed APY Lands
When access to the APY Lands was restricted in February to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a group of Indigenous women and children were locked out of their remote communities and are now being accommodated at a campsite near Adelaide.