• Barkindji Elder Uncle Badger Bates has pleaded with Far West NSW communities to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (SBS News: Aneeta Bhole)Source: SBS News: Aneeta Bhole
Barkindji Elder Badger Bates says he’s worried for his community, as a young family of three becomes the first confirmed cases of COVID in Far Western Wilcannia.
Jodan Perry, Shahni Wellington, Karen Michelmore

18 Aug 2021 - 3:41 PM  UPDATED 18 Aug 2021 - 3:46 PM

Senior members of a small community in outback NSW have demanded the government do its job and stop blaming others over the developing COVID crisis in the west of the state.

A young family of three has become the first confirmed COVID cases in Wilcannia, after a positive case attended a funeral in the tiny town in the NSW Far West while infectious last week.

It was the state’s worst day of the pandemic so far for new cases, with 633 recorded to 8pm last night, 23 of them in western NSW.

However, despite a state-wide lockdown, the virus continues to seed in new communities with vulnerable populations. Kempsey on the mid-north coast has now recorded a positive case, in addition to the new cases in Narromine, Gilgandra and Broken Hill first reported yesterday.

COMMENT: The COVID-19 crisis in western NSW Aboriginal communities is a nightmare realised
What we see unfolding is the result of multiple, successive and cascading policy failures, writes Bhiamie Williamson.

Barkindji Elder, Uncle Badger Bates, demanded the government act immediately to better protect the community.

“Don't treat us like we're a suburb from a city like Sydney or something. Wilcannia is about near 200 kms away from Broken Hill, Menindee is 100kms away,” Mr Bates told NITV News.

“The government people, do your job.

“Stop blaming one another over the crisis that we're in, cut it out, grow up.

“We put you in there to look after us, look after everybody.”

Mr Bates, who is from Wilcannia but is currently in Broken Hill, said he was concerned for his community.

“We had a lot of people pass away out here, around Wilcannia and around Broken Hill, and we don’t want to see anything happen to anyone,” he said.

He said he received his vaccination about three weeks ago and urged others to do the same.

“Don't be frightened of the needle, a mosquito would sting worse than the needle,” he said.

“So please, go and get vaccinated and like I said, we all in it together, we must stick together.”

“I call on my people and other people. Please get vaccinated.”

Rapid testing required

The Defence Forces were starting to be deployed to assist in the vaccination effort and to support health services.

Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders said he had asked the NSW Government to consider marking Dubbo a hotspot, with stricter measures, similar to those in southwest and western Sydney.

Vaccinations are still available through Maari Ma Health, which services people in the Far West.

Ten thousand people turned out to be tested again yesterday, but CEO of Western NSW Heath Scott McLachlan said a number of staff at Dubbo’s pathology lab were in isolation after being identified as close or casual contacts.

The region was using rapid testing, and also sending some tests to Orange or Westmead in Sydney for processing.

“The vast majority have returned to work today and more will be back on deck tomorrow,” Mr McLachlan said.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged anyone who has been in Wilcannia to get tested.

“We just are calling out anybody who was in Wilcannia in the last little while needs to come forward and get tested,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Please make sure you’re on alert, but especially in and around the Wilcannia area and as we have said in the last few days, there continues to be cases especially in the West Dubbo community.”

A testing clinic is operating at Wilcannia Oval from 9am-4pm daily, while there are two pop-up testing clinics in Broken Hill, at the Alma Oval and the Aged Persons Rest Centre, and a drive-through clinic at Memorial Oval.

Vaccine uptake

Rapid-testing machines will be sent to community-controlled services in western New South Wales, including Maari Ma Health.

Barkindji woman, Monica Kerwin, told NITV News that time is of the essence.

“We don't want this waiting two or three days.”

“I'm scared for our people. I'm scared for the children, I'm scared for our Elders.”

Ms Kerwin said there’s been an uptake in testing over the last few days.

“Since we found out these cases in Wilcannia, we've had a good majority of the community go and get tested and vaccinated, which I think is a positive considering that had to come down to this,” she said.

“But we're just really scared out here because nobody's prepared for an outbreak in this small community.”

Bourke concerns

Of the cases in western NSW, 21 are in Dubbo, 1 in Mudgee and another in Bourke at the Alice Edwards Village, an Aboriginal community on the outskirts of town.

Western Health District’s Mr McLachlan said he was “very concerned” about Bourke.

“There’s a very mobile community in Bourke that has been moving around in the last week,” he said.

“We do know there’s a lot of potential for further spread.”

Two thirds of cases in western NSW are Aboriginal people, and 40 per cent are aged between 10 and 19 years old.

NSW Health’s Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said she believed 12 to 15 year olds should be vaccinated soon, but will wait until the official health advice is confirmed.

One family’s experience as COVID-19 strikes remote western NSW
Barkindji woman Jessica Skinner speaks of her attempts to get vaccinated, warn others and stay safe, as the western NSW outbreak grows.