• Essential items on the way to Wilcannia (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Residents in the isolated town are worried about access to fresh food following a snap closure of the town’s only supermarket and food delivered out of date.
By
Keira Jenkins, Jodan Perry

Source:
NITV News
25 Aug 2021 - 7:01 PM  UPDATED 25 Aug 2021 - 7:10 PM

Residents in Wilcannia, already facing growing numbers of COVID-19 in their community, are faced with another crisis: food shortage.

Locals have taken to social media to express their concerns about the quality of donated food arriving in the town.  

This follows the snap closure of Wilcannia’s only grocery store over the weekend.

Barkindji woman Monica Kerwin-Whyman told NITV News that food had to be wasted in the deep-cleaning process at the supermarket, and the community being discouraged from hunting meat

“All the meat in the shop had to be thrown out,” she said.

I got a cousin telling me that him and his family went out and got kangaroo and they delivered it into Wilcannia but Health were saying that they can’t hand that wild meat out to these Aboriginal families because it’s not fit for consumption. 

He’s done a game meat course which allows him to gather wild meat for his family, but now from a health level they’re telling him he can’t provide these families with wild meat.  

“There’s no meat in town.” 

Food relief charity Foodbank said it has been working with community on the ground to organise hampers of essentials for Wilcannia, with a focus on getting food to people who are isolating or particularly vulnerable.  

“Wilcannia is obviously very complex with only one supermarket in town, it creates all sorts of difficulties,” CEO John Robertson said.  

“It’s about getting the balance right, working with the local community... making sure what’s needed is getting to where it’s needed.” 

But logistically, he said it’s difficult to get products like meat to the town. 

“Our biggest challenge in getting to Wilcannia with meat and other chilled products is finding someone who can run a chilled truck out that far at a cost we can afford to pay,” he said. 

“We know people need access to good quality food, they need protein – so meat, chicken, eggs – which you can only transport chilled or frozen. 

“We’re working to try to do more in that space.” 


Community-led support

Wilyakali woman Taunoa Bugmy started a fundraiser to support the community of Wilcannia to get essential items. 

Her efforts have so far raised more than $100,000 to send food and other items to the town. 

“We’ve sent over meat packs... we’ve sent over baby essentials,” she said. 

“We sponsored a chiller to go over there – we paid for the hire.” 

The store in Wilcannia is operating again now, but Ms Bugmy said it’s operating very differently now, to avoid any risk of another closure.  

“They’re placing their orders outside and the shop attendant will go around and collect the items,” she said. 

“I think it’s a safer way so they can prevent the shop from being closed down. 

“Hats off to them for thinking of that and going about it that way because if that shop has to close, a lot of community out there are going to be in very hard times.” 

 

Wilcannia recorded another six cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total numbers in the town to 44. 

Ms Bugmy is in isolation in Broken Hill after she attended a funeral in Wilcanniaand said her fundraiser is her way of doing what she can to support the community. 

“They’re overwhelmed with the support that they’re getting,” she said. 

“I’ve had phone calls with some of them in tears just saying ‘you’ve relieved so much stress off our back, this is a part of our life that we won’t forget and we won’t forget your help’  

“I think it’s just in out blackfulla ways, we just gotta look after each other and look out for our mob.” 

Sincere apology needed after false equivalence 

Ms Bugmy has also called on senior government figures to apologise after they made comparisons between a funeral in Wilcannia and a gathering in Sydney’s east that breached health orders. 

The funeral took place before the region was placed into lockdown. 

A spokesperson for New South Wales Police said the gathering at Wilcannia on August 13 "complied with public health orders at the time". 

On Sunday, Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he “regrets any hurt caused by mentioning both events in the same breath, but on Tuesday the Deputy Premier also equated the two. 

"300-plus people attended a funeral in Wilcannia, illegally you could argue. Illegally," Barilaro said. 

"And we're now paying the price of that outbreak … no different to the 16 dickheads in Maroubra that decided to have a party last week that have now infected about 50 people. 

Ms Bugmy told NITV News that all the positive cases in the town had attended a separate gathering after the funeral, not the event itself. 

She said that those who solely attended the funeral have tested negative for the virus. 

“We were under 100 people, people kept distance, people wore masks too for that extra protection,” she said. 

“We were all just trying to say goodbye to a family member at the time, there was no rules or lockdown restrictions out this way. 

“It’s disheartening to see that all over the news that Wilcannia funeral started the outbreak. 

She also called on Health Minister Hazzard to physically visit the town. 

“When this is all over he needs to actually come out here, sit with community and figure out what the health issues are on the ground and have a look through our eyes what it looks like,” she said. 

He needs to be more sincere about his apology, especially for the family.” 

Wilcannia families struggling to isolate in overcrowded housing
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.