• Darryl Wright, CEO of Tharrawal Aboriginal Clinic is working hard to ensure his community is fully informed about the coronavirus vaccines. (SBS News: Zoran Gajic)Source: SBS News: Zoran Gajic
A southwestern Sydney health centre is combatting coronavirus vaccine hesitancy through community outreach.
Sarah Collard

20 Aug 2021 - 10:59 AM  UPDATED 20 Aug 2021 - 10:59 AM

Darryl Wright is the chairperson of Campbelltown's Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation.

He's been hard at work encouraging First Nations people to get the coronavirus vaccine, spreading information out to his bustling Airds community in Sydney's south-west.

"We were getting lots of whispers from the community about it... A lot of people were saying to us we're not getting it — We're scared of it," the Dungutti man told NITV News. 

The corporation decided to hold several Q&A sessions to get the message out to Elders, families and friends and to provide an opportunity for the community to air any concerns they had. 

"Early on we held sessions to encourage people, particularly our Elders, to ask questions. They asked a lot of questions, some silly questions but that's what we needed to hear." 

"It seems to be more and more coming out and feeling much more comfortable —  We've still got our doubters but we'll get to them in the end."

Elders, parents, kids lining up for the jab

He said now that Indigenous young people are eligible they've also been showing up with their parents and grandparents. 

"Even now, with the young ones between 12 and 18, we advertised and within an hour we had 90 (vaccine)  bookings, so that's a good sign."

The clinic is booked in to vaccinate more than 500 school students in the next two days and Mr Wright said that it's down to working with community, from the Elders down to the youngest. 

"That's the best way when they're feeling comfortable and they've got their family, their relatives. It's so important."

Campbelltown local government area is one of several bearing the brunt of NSW's current COVID-19 outbreak, and coping with the harshest of restrictions. 

He said Tharawal is even lending a hand to boost vaccinations for non-Indigenous people living in the area. 

'We'll go out with the van and do anyone walking around the street in Campbelltown, because we want everyone to be vaccinated, because they're living in the community."

Wright said they worked with the community as the outbreak worsened, sounding the alarm earlier than the government to ensure the community was aware of the risk. 

"We went into lockdown nearly a week earlier because we knew what was coming," he said.  

"It's been so tough, it's here on our door step and we've got a couple of people here in our community with (the virus)."

Campbelltown community 'rallying support'

He said since Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation has held the sessions and other outreach initiatives, including food hampers and support services, the demand for the vaccine is growing. 

"We're looking at them and we were looking after our Elders. We bring them during the week, supporting our mental health clients.

"It's important we are there for our clients — They're our people. That's what we're here for."  

"We got a great habit of going outside the box — outside the box is where you get to success. It's important to do those things," Mr Wright said. 

He said outreach and information blitz are the best way to overcome vaccine hesitancy for communities in both urban, regional and remote Australia. 

"I think everybody should do it. It's only ways to get the community involved in things so they can make that decision."

Calls for more transparent data on vaccinations 

It's part of a growing push to get more Indigenous people vaccinated as just 15 percent are fully vaccinated, lagging behind the general population despite many being eligible since March.

Federal Labor is urging the government to provide ethnicity breakdowns for the vaccination rates to improve publicly accessible data similar to jurisdictions overseas.

Wiradjuri woman and Labor spokesperson for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney said better access to information is needed. 

"We saw what happened in North America. We've seen what's happened in places like Brazil, with just devastating impacts for First Nations communities, unless the data is available, it is very difficult to plan."

She said that the commonwealth needed to provide more support for Indigenous communities across Australia to battle the virus. 

"There needs to be a national approach to the way in which COVID is rolled out across the communities in Australia, it's not rocket science to work with Aboriginal communities." 

New Zealand is one nation that provides publicly accessible data for their Indigenous peoples - with data showing 143,783 Maori people have had their first dose and 87,779 have had their second, about ten percent of New Zealand's First Nations population is fully vaccinated — about half the general population. 

This coronavirus vaccination hub has dedicated bays for Indigenous Australians
The special cubicles, set up three weeks ago, are staffed by Aboriginal nurses who say they create a safe and culturally appropriate place for those who require it.