• Ronnie Murray's says his brother was sleeping in a tent to help the family isolate, he's now been moved to temporary accommodation. (Supplied: Wilcannia River Radio)Source: Supplied: Wilcannia River Radio
Families in Wilcannia living in overcrowded homes are struggling to isolate, while the peak health body for Aboriginal people is demanding the Federal government fix remote housing.
Keira Jenkins

The Point
24 Aug 2021 - 5:17 PM  UPDATED 24 Aug 2021 - 6:55 PM

Barkindji man Ronnie Murray is trying to protect his community.

His family is among many in Wilcannia trying to follow the health advice and isolate to stop the spread of COVID-19.

But with 10 people in his house, the overcrowding is making it almost impossible.

“I got my brother, tested negative twice now, he got his results back today. He’s been sleeping out in the tent for the last seven nights," he told The Point.

“I got my little niece, she tested negative twice too...They’re telling us to isolate, which is pretty hard with 10 people in the household." 

Mr Murray said he doesn’t feel the town’s vulnerability to the virus was taken seriously until it was too late.

“We don’t want to pass it around, we’re trying to prevent it and it’s pretty hard at the moment in an overcrowded house," he said.

“We’re doing it very hard at the moment."

NACCHO CEO Pat Turner told The Point that overcrowded housing in remote communities has been brought to the attention of governments over many years and they've failed to act.

"We have repeatedly asked governments throughout Australia to address and to ensure that our people have safe and the right size housing, so we won't have these problems," she said.

"There will be future pandemics and we must get this housing issue addressed.

There were 14 new cases of the virus were reported in Wilcannia to 8pm last night, taking the total number in the town to 38, with three more to be counted in tomorrow's figures.

Barkindji woman Monica Kerwin-Whyman told NITV’s The Point that families aren’t being given the information or resources to effectively isolate in their homes, or undertake deep cleaning. 

“I think a lot of families are starting to get really scared now because of the amount of cases that are escalating out of these overcrowded homes right now,” she said.

“The phone calls I’ve been getting were what are we going to do, how are we going to get through this, what is health doing.

“These are the questions that the community is asking me and being really the only grassroots support for them on the ground there it’s emotional.

“I cry just about every day. There should have been a proper plan for these families, for our community.”

'Not doing right by community'

Ms Kerwin-Whyman said authorities don’t seem to understand the reality of living in a small community.

“They’re treating us like we’re suburban Sydney - a family said ‘we’ve got no food, they said ‘go ring Uber eats’, in Wilcannia,” she said.

“We’re 200 kilometres away from the nearest big community, which is Broken Hill where they have fast food and deliveries.

“In Wilcannia if you don’t cook for yourself you’re going to go hungry, because everything is closed by 7 o’clock.”

Ms Kerwin-Whyman said the community is upset that the virus has reached the community, and believes the state government has failed them.

“They are not doing right by this Aboriginal community, they are not,” she said.

“It hurts me that we’ve been beating this drum and yelling at Health to shut our community down 12 months ago

“I’m angry at the fact that they’re not listening, that they’re still pretending that they’ve got this under control.

“I want to ask them where is your COVID action plan, specifically for Aboriginal communities - not inner Sydney, not regional Dubbo but these little tiny Aboriginal communities... with overcrowding issues and other health issues that come with living in small communities."

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'It hits our hearts'

All the cases in Wilcannia are linked to a funeral that was held before regional NSW went into lockdown.

Every person who attended that funeral is now in isolation - Taunoa Bugmy is among them.

The Wilyakali woman is based in Broken Hill, but when she heard some of her family in Wilcannia were struggling to get essentials, she knew she had to take action.

She joined a group of other young women and started a GoFundMe to buy essentials.

So far they've raised $80,000 and sent groceries to the town in an ambulance.

“It hits our hearts when things like this happen because now we’ve got greater concerns for our families,” Ms Bugmy said.

“It’s very worrying and troubling for us and there’s not much we can do.

“I’m in lockdown, I can’t even leave my house. It was lucky one of us girls who wasn’t in lockdown could go out and do the shopping to get it sent over to Wilcannia.”

Ms Bugmy said she’s particularly concerned about the welfare of Elders and young people in the community.

“A lot of them have disabilities, chronic diseases, weak immune systems,” she said.

“We’ve had our Elders to guide us through our youth and it’s something that we don’t want our next generation to miss out on because they’re the ones who hold all the stories, the history, the culture of that place and if they go we’ve got little of that recorded right now.

“I would hate to see that happen.” 

But Ms Bugmy said she knows her community is strong, and will ultimately get through this outbreak together.

“I think it will have an impact on our emotional and mental strengths but I know we are very resilient people, we’re strong, we’ll pull through this.

“It’s just about having those support networks in place and reaching out, calling our families and staying home, staying in lockdown.

“If we stop moving, coronavirus stops moving, it’s simple as that.”

To catch more of this story tune in to The Point Tuesday night 730pm on NITV or 11pm on SBS.

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