• The COVID-19 Binjari roadblock in Katherine, NT on 23 November 2021. (AAP)Source: AAP
Senior Territory Aboriginal leaders have rejected claims the army is vaccinating Aboriginal people against their will within their communities.
Jodan Perry, Nadine Silva

24 Nov 2021 - 8:02 PM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2021 - 8:02 PM

Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory have denied claims the Australian army is physically forcing remote residents into taking the COVID-19 vaccine and removing children from communities. 

A number of posts on social media claimed that the defence force was holding down Aboriginal people, including children, and vaccinating them against their will, with mentions of the communities Ramingining, Oenpelli (Ganbalanya), Wadeye and Binjari.  

The posts also said there was no confirmation of the events occurring as “the government is controlling the communications.” 

Traditional Owners in Binjari and Rockhole expressed their disappointment in the allegations.

“People are very hurt by the untrue comments being made in the media and social media about their situation,” they said in a statement to NITV News, provided via the Wurli-Wurlinjang Health Service.

“We are in lockdown because we're in the biggest fight of our lives. We don't need people out there creating another flood for us.” 

“People on social media saying that our people are being mistreated need to realise their comments are hurting the very people they claim to care about.” 

'It's not happening here'

Kunwinjku man Andy Garnarrandj, a local council chairperson in Gunbalanya, also flatly denied the claims. 

“It's not happening here. I don't see any military around this community,” Mr Garnarradj told NITV News. 

“This is the first time I heard that when I happened to be watching Tiktok this morning.”   

Mr Garnarradj said the only people driving around during the town’s lockdown are the local police. 

“There’s no army trucks driving around or removing people or forcing people to get the vaccine,” he said.  

NITV News has also reached out to the communities of Ramingining and Wadeye. 

NT Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, a Yanyuwa woman from Borroloola whose family members are among the Territory’s infected, called for a stop to “disappointing” negative messaging. 

“I've not heard of anything other than people being assisted in the right way,” she said. 

“There is no segregating of people here in a way that hasn't been talked about with all those people involved. 

Ms McCarthy said the spread of unconfirmed information is creating division in a situation that is "traumatic enough" for families who know that COVID is in their communities.

“They need support in the right way in working together in bringing people together, not dividing them and terrorising them with messages that are just simply untrue,” she said. 

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A Defence spokesperson also denied the claims in a statement to NITV News. 

“Defence is aware of social media posts claiming the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is forcibly vaccinating or detaining members of the Australian community,” it read.  

“These claims are false.” 

The spokesperson also said the ADF are "not empowered or authorised to conduct any law enforcement activities" and will be providing 85 support to the NT government in transporting isolated close contacts to COVID-19 testing centres and also to help with the delivery of food to communities in the Katherine region.

The ADF also assisted with the COVID-19 outbreak in Western New South Wales in August.

'That vaccine is a life jacket'

In Robinson River, where two new cases of the virus were recorded on Wednesday, Garawa leader and Northern Land Council Deputy Chair Dickie Dixon said the community were “recovering slowly” but found the external commentary unhelpful. 

“It came to a point where it upset me but I just turned around and trying to be tough, strong for my people,” he said. 

“Don’t mention things out there you are not aware of. There’s no time for argument or to play you are this or you are that.” 

Mr Dixon said health teams have been a massive support for the community, which put in place COVID plans before the virus came to town.

"It was a shock at first. A good thing is that we planned early for this, we sat down and talked amongst our community with the health team that came around and gave us the info of what’s coming and how you can get the vaccine," he said. 

"We questioned everything but we still got it."

Mr Dixon also told NITV News that the army has not been involved with his community, and implored others to get vaccinated as COVID spreads throughout the Territory.

"That vaccine is a life jacket," he said, "It will give you time to get to safety."

Wider concerns

The Northern Territory recorded 11 new cases in total on Wednesday.

Authorities are concerned after a woman snuck past police and fled Binjari on Tuesday night. 

The woman was found at a gathering of 11 people on Wednesday morning after travelling 10 kilometres in a taxi to Katherine with three other people.

Authorities say she did not know she had COVID when she travelled to Katherine while infectious.

It brings the Territory’s cluster to 51, with five new infections from Binjari adding to the two previously mentioned from Robinson River.

The Katherine will remain in lockdown until 4 December, but NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said today’s positive case may have reset the 14-day clock. 

"Unfortunately, someone has got out and we now have to do a fresh lot of tracing," Mr Gunner said.

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