Wednesday, 25th August, 2021
By Cherie von Horchner
The disaster unfolding in Wilcannia is to the shame of authorities in Government.
It is not, as rumours suggest, the fault of the Indigenous people of Wilcannia, who for 18 months have been pleading for protection from the pandemic we all knew was coming.
That those false rumours have been given oxygen by the very politicians who have so failed the people of Wilcannia is a disgrace.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has since said he “regrets” the comments he made during a press conference last week, where he called attendees of a funeral in Wilcannia on August 13 “selfish” and likened them to partygoers in Maroubra.
But “regret” is not an apology, or even a retraction.
In fact, Mr Hazzard went on to say that while “no disrespect was intended, it is crucial that everybody gets the message …” – in other words, while he was apparently regretful about what he said, he was happy to say it again anyway.
The damage has been done; it is now part of Australian folklore that the people of Wilcannia only have themselves to blame. That’s a lie.
FACT: On August 13, when the funeral in Wilcannia occurred, there were no restrictions in place that would have prevented such a gathering from taking place in regional NSW, and no public health orders by which police or the people of Wilcannia could have prevented others from entering the town from other parts of NSW.
FACT: The virus was not, as Mr Hazzard claimed, “spread from Wilcannia to other parts of the state”. COVID was brought to Wilcannia from somewhere else in NSW, as a direct result of the Berejiklian Government’s failure to adequately contain the virus in the regions by restricting movement earlier.
FACT: Far from being “selfish”, the people of Wilcannia have been heroic in their attempts to care for each other, with little or no help from Government slouches who were warned 18 months ago – by non-Government agencies like Maari Ma and the people of Wilcannia themselves (see photo above) - that disaster was on its way.
On April 8, 2020 – almost 18 months ago – the ABC quoted Maari Ma’s Justin Files as saying that while various local health and Aboriginal groups had contacted the Government requesting a lockdown, they’d received no reply.
"The NSW Government has the authority to do that [lock down] by a public health order and we're pushing as hard as we can for them to do that, not just in Wilcannia, but for Menindee and Ivanhoe as well," he said.
The Government never did respond, never mentioning Wilcannia in the national conversation, until now.
What makes the situation even more bewildering is that a fool could have foreseen this disaster before the pandemic even began. Wilcannia has been a public health crisis for years, its claim to national fame being that it has the lowest life expectancy in Australia (is anyone surprised a funeral might occur there?), with a desperate housing shortage (how, exactly, did Far West Local Health District expect positive cases to “home isolate” in a town where many houses are homes to ten or more people?), and a river, once the lifeblood of the town, that has been virtually destroyed by Government mismanagement.
This is not a rage at the people who work in the health system – the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and volunteers, who all deserve our thanks and praise.
Nor is it a slight on the people who receive gossip and pass it on – they can only believe what they’re told.
But when the very people who’ve allowed this disaster to happen point the finger of blame at the victims of their failures, it’s incompetence at best.
In all reality, it’s probably something worse.