• Barkindji woman Monica Kerwin Whyman wants to have a chat with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard (AbSec)Source: AbSec
A person tested positive after attending a funeral in Wilcannia last week, sparking fears the small town may not be able to cope with more cases.
Karen Michelmore, Shahni Wellington

17 Aug 2021 - 5:36 PM  UPDATED 17 Aug 2021 - 5:36 PM

Frightened communities in NSW's far west say they’ve been left in the dark after a COVID-positive person visited Wilcannia for a funeral last week. 

It comes as the COVID crisis continues to seep into new areas in western NSW, with new cases in Narromine, Gilgandra and Broken Hill.

There are now more than 116 active cases in the region. 

Health authorities said the person infected in Broken Hill had attended a funeral in Wilcannia last week and was infectious in the community from last Friday. 

“Close contacts who have been identified to date are in isolation, and undergoing testing,” the Far West Local Health District tweeted earlier today. 

It’s left the community of 500 reeling, with residents saying they are yet to hear from authorities. 

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Barkindji woman, Monica Kerwin Whyman, told NITV News she was “ropeable” when she found out COVID-19 had arrived in her home of Wilcannia.  

It's just scary. It's very scary,” she said.

Our little vulnerable Aboriginal community has been crying out for a very long time to lock us down, to keep us safe. 

“At the end of the day, they don't have the facilities here... to cater for an outbreak in our community. 

“No other hospital is going to take us because of the issues they are going to have in their own communities 

Ms Kerwin-Whyman urged her community to stay home and lock their doors, and said the government should have worked with people on the ground to be better prepared. 

“We do have people, spokespersons in this community, young and old leaders that would have sat up at a table to put measures in place to protect them.

“But nobody, nobody cared until now.” 

A waiting game

Some 600km to the east in Peak Hill, Wiradjuri man David Towney had to wait six days for a negative test result, after being identified as a contact of a positive case.  

"We don't have a doctor, our doctor is away at the moment,” he told NITV. 

We have a remote service in there in our hospital, which is a good service, they will try to do as best as they can.  

They've actually flown in another nurse to help out at their hospital. 

He said fresh food was also a challenge, as residents had to travel to visit supermarkets in other towns.  

"Things probably people in cities take for granted, we sort of struggle with a little bit, and me and my son (it’s hard) just not knowing what our results are yet and what our treatment is from this point on,” Mr Towney said. 

He urged members of the community to support each other, and stop spreading misinformation. 

"Stop spreading around the rubbish, the yaambul-gali. We say yaambul-gali in Wiradjuri.  

But that's when you're joking around - This is serious, this isn’t yaambul-gali 

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And all our people that are in hospital, they can prove that it's not.  

It's not yaambul-gali anymore, you know, we've got to stay home. All our booris, all our booris gotta stay home. 

There are now 107 active cases in Dubbo, along with four in Walgett, three in Mudgee and two in Bourke. 

'Enormous concern': government

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said western NSW remained “of enormous concern”,  particularly West Dubbo, Walgett and Bourke.  

Western NSW Local Health District CEO Scott McLachlan said teams of defence force personnel will travel to Bourke, Brewarrina and Walgett in the north west to help vaccinate smaller remote communities. 

Three other teams would be dedicated to Dubbo, which has the bulk of the COVID cases, to help set up a walk-in vaccination hub and drive through clinic, to open later this week. 

“Today will see the arrival of the defence force to help us come and vaccinate big numbers of people right across the region,” Mr McLachlan said. 

Mobile vaccination teams are also making their way across the region, he said. 

But people in some small towns expressed frustration that planned vaccination hubs have been cancelled. 

Mr McLachlan said some 60 per cent of cases have been in Aboriginal people, and two in five are in young people aged 10 to 19. 

So far there haven’t been any cases in people over 70 years. 

There have been 10,000 tests taken – 4500 in Dubbo, 1388 in Mudgee, 420 in Bathurst, 1000 in Orange, 210 in Parkes, 330 in Wellington, 101 in Forbes and 260 in Bourke. 

Western NSW Health Director of Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing, Brendon Cutmore urged the community to stay at home, and reach out if in need support. 

I know that this is really difficult for our communities to do something in a very different way to the way that we're normally used to providing support to each other,” he said 

As a part of our traditional cultural practices that we would normally gather together and share our resources, and that we would normally provide that type of assistance face to face, but right now, it's incredibly important that we stay in our own homes.  

Your job is to stay in your place of residence, and try to stay in touch with your family members in a different way, which is either via text or over the Internet through some of the social media platforms or over the phone to ring up and have.  

If you need to, you can reach out to the support services to ask them just to give you some feedback if required about how your family is going.