• Wilcannia, has a population of around 745 people, mostly Barkindji mob. (John Janson-Moore)Source: John Janson-Moore
The NSW Health Minister has been lashed by members of the Far West community of Wilcannia after criticising mourners who attended a funeral in the town last week.
Lindy Kerin, Jodan Perry

21 Aug 2021 - 3:13 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2021 - 10:05 AM

At a media conference in Sydney this morning, Brad Hazzard singled out the Wilcannia funeral in the same breath as an illegal gathering in Sydney’s East.

He said up to 60 people attended the party in Maroubra, that breached health orders, then followed up by saying he had heard up to 500 people were at the Wilcannia funeral.

“Each of these people who are going to these functions must understand that they run the risk of either having the virus and transmitting it or getting the virus and taking it home to their families and their communities,” he said.

He said it’s now not the time “to be selfish”.

Notably, Wilcannia was under no regional lockdown restrictions when the funeral was held on Friday August 13. The new restrictions were announced by NSW Health the next day.

‘Wouldn’t wish it on anyone’: Dubbo Aboriginal man’s COVID-19 ordeal
Popular Gumbaynggir musician Michael Donovan was hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine – until he got the virus this week. He says the illness is real, and scary.

Barkindji woman and Wilcannia resident Monica Kerwin-Whyman said the Minister needs to “check his facts.”

“Blaming a Black grieving family when they had the power to close borders, they had the power to shut down this community … they categorized us as vulnerable, but they did nothing to stop the spread,” she told NITV News.

“COVID did not come out of that Aboriginal funeral, that sorry business, that came out of Sydney.

“That young man, he passed away of a heart disease, and to have the nerve to blame this on an Aboriginal community,”

Monica Kerwin-Whyman said she wants to set the record straight with the Minister.

“Give him my phone number. I’ll talk to him.”

In a statement to NITV News, the NSW Health Minister said he "regrets any hurt caused."

"But the simple fact is that this Delta variant is spreading where large groups of people come together,” he said.

“While no disrespect was intended it is crucial that everybody gets the message – large gatherings spread this extremely dangerous virus that causes severe illness and death.”

Wilcannia recorded 13 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, while one new case was recorded in Broken Hill.

The town, 550km West of Dubbo, the epicentre of the Western outbreak, had a population of 549 when last measured by the census in 2016. Almost three-quarters of the community are First Nations people.

Ms Kerwin Whyman took to social media to explain the dire situation facing her town. She said food was being withheld from infected families who were isolating until staff were trained on how to hand it out.

She said since she spoke up supports have improved.

Get tested, stay home

Guugu Yalandji and Woppaburra man Brendan Adams, works for Wilcannia Local Radio and has lived in the town for two decades.

He is concerned about his community, with the total number of infections rising.

“It’s populated by around 600, but that could mean 400 get infected within days and a weeks if we don’t do the right thing, and that is a very scary thing,” he told NITV News.

“It's really important that we get tested.

“But right now, with this pandemic, with all these fears that’s happening, we got to also make sure that we just stay home and do not have contact with other members of the communities, neighbours, family, all of us have to stay home, isolating ourselves is very important for us.”

Mr Adams believes that the situation in Wilcannia could have been avoided with more correspondence with the state government

“I’m not going to say forgotten, but we were not in the frame of mind of the government,” he said.

“I think if they concentrated a lot more with the remote communities, we would have had a better prevention process put in place, and we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

Another state record for infections

There were a record 825 confirmed cases across the state of NSW, with 3 deaths overnight.

There are currently 516 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 85 people in intensive care, 29 of those need ventilation.

The Western Health District recorded 38 new cases of the virus: 32 in Dubbo, 2 in Bathurst, 2 in Wellington and 1 in Narromine.

One case was incorrectly announced for Walgett.

A vaccination clinic facilitated by the Defence Force was opened today at West Dubbo's Pioneer Park, with a range of clinics to follow in communities across the region over coming weeks.

Dubbo Mayor Stephen Lawrence offered sympathy and support all those people who have tested positive to COVID 19.

“We are truly in a bad situation.

“Everyone is in different circumstances, some people very ill, some people doing okay, but I think the common factor is a lot of anxiety and isolation. So thoughts of the community are really with you.”


How a Sydney clinic turned the tide on its vaccine hesitancy
A southwestern Sydney health centre is combatting coronavirus vaccine hesitancy through community outreach.