Wilcannia Aboriginal Land Council chairman Michael Kennedy described the infection of himself, his wife and their two-year-old daughter as one of the most frightening experiences of his life.
“There was no support system in place, there was no offer of mental health,” Mr Kennedy said.
It came as the NSW Government said it would be sending 30 motorhomes to the stricken community of 750 people, where infections have topped 76 after three new cases today.
Mr Kennedy said he wasn’t contacted by NSW Health until two days after his diagnosis, for contact tracing.
“We were left wondering what do we do here, we’ve got COVID, are we going to die?
“How is this going to affect us, are our children alright, are they going to get seriously ill from it?
“There were so many things going through our heads.
“It was one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had in my life.”
Even so, Mr Kennedy considers himself lucky – he and his wife were vaccinated, and he said his symptoms were “pretty mild” compared to others in Wilcannia.
Nor did they face the issues of overcrowding of others in the community, with people sleeping in tents in order to isolate.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said 30 motorhomes would be sent to Wilcannia to help residents self-isolate, a move which he said had been embraced by the community.
But Mr Kennedy said the temporary housing was coming too late.
He said the community had warned the government back in March 2020 about the impact a COVID outbreak could have on Wilcannia.
“It was always the case of they were just sitting back waiting for the virus to get here and then want to jump up and down and try to do something when the virus gets here,” he said.
“I just can’t help but think that if we would have worked on this plan for the last 18 months there’s a so much better position that we could have been in.
“We knew that it would spread quickly throughout the community but how we deal with it is really unknown.
“You’re just trying to do the best that you can each day and you hope that everybody is following the isolation rules and the lockdown rules and staying at home to help stop the spread of the virus.”
He said Wilcannia has been crying out for a solution to overcrowding in the community for years.
“We’ve been trying to fight for more housing here for the past 20 years,” Mr Kennedy said.
“It just seems to keep falling on deaf ears. Nobody seems to really listen to us out here or really care about us.”
The Maari Ma Aboriginal Health Corporation wrote to the Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt in March 2020, outlining its grave concerns for people in the Far West of the state.
“The poverty and extreme vulnerability of Aboriginal people and communities in the Murdi Paaki region is a direct result of decades of failed government policies,” the letter said.
“We cannot wait until the first case turns up in the community, or worse, the first hospital case presents.”
The organisation sent a second letter to Mr Wyatt, along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt last week, calling on the Federal government to step up with their support.
The Prime Minister has since said the government’s response to the unfolding situation in Wilcannia was a model for dealing with future outbreaks.
"Not only is that helping us to directly influence that situation but we have developed a very good partnership model if that were to happen in South Australia, the Northern Territory or Western Australia," Mr Morrison said.
But Shadow Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney described the comments as nonsense.
“He’s talking in lala -land as far as I’m concerned,” Ms Burney told NITV’s The Point.
“This has been a scrambled response that has been haphazard and it’s slowly coming together way too late.”
The government has said 25 per cent of First Nations people are now fully vaccinated, while 37 percent have had one dose of a vaccine.
Indigenous Australians Minister Mr Wyatt said vaccine hesitancy within communities was an issue.
“Hesitancy is an issue that we have to overcome. We still have a lot of work to do,” Mr Wyatt told Parliament.
'Chasing the horse'
But Ms Burney said it’s a case of “victim blaming.”
“I think the crisis in Wilcannia and the Western region of New South Wales could have been averted.
“If it wasn’t for the volunteers out there and people doing it for themselves, things would be very much worse.
“Let’s call it for what it is … it is a crisis.”
Inside Wilcannia, Michael Kennedy agreed.
“I feel like they’re nowhere near having control around it,” he said.
“As the old saying goes, it’s no good shutting the gate when the horse has already bolted and that’s where we’re left.
“We’re chasing the horse around now.”