life in locked down Wilcannia

“It was very daunting for our community, especially with the police and army, it looked like they were targeting the Aboriginal community … there was misinformation, anger, confusion, and everything,” he said.

Brendon Adams said the police had worked hard to earn the community’s trust.

Brendon Adams said the police had worked hard to earn the community’s trust.Credit:Rhett Wyman.

However, Mr Adams said the police and Defence Force had worked hard to help the community in their time of need.

“Over the last couple of weeks we’ve just seen the police and the army are support and helping the community, delivering boxes of food and other supplies.”

But with the increased police presence across the state’s west, some are worried officers have been issuing inappropriate fines to people in remote communities for breaching public health orders.

The NSW Aboriginal Legal Service has already urged officers to exercise their discretion when issuing fines to Aboriginal people after receiving reports of incidents in Wilcannia, Walgett, Bourke, and Brewarrina.

Meanwhile, NSW Greens MLCs Cate Faehrmann and David Shoebridge wrote to the state’s Health and Police Ministers, urging them to exempt Aboriginal communities in western NSW from fines.

Another seven new cases were recorded in Wilcannia today, as residents continue to live under lockdown.

Another seven new cases were recorded in Wilcannia today, as residents continue to live under lockdown.Credit:Nick Moir.

“What we’ll be calling for is specifically exemptions for Aboriginal communities in the west and far western health districts because the last thing we should be doing is providing any ability to increase their sense of being targeted by local police,” Ms Faehrmann said.

It comes after the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told his officers that he would not hold them accountable if they wrongly issued fines to people, in an effort to prioritise enforcement of health orders.

“Aboriginal communities particularly in the west and far west are really stressed and scared right now, to give police the ability to further harass and intimidate local Aboriginal communities at this time is just disgraceful,” Ms Faehrmann said.

Police Minister David Elliot has been contacted for comment.

NSW Police said 32 fines had been issued in Wilcannia since the 13th of August, and Commander Greentree praised the resilience of the community.

“Generally it’s good, the majority of our communities are really compliant. We do have that element where sometimes across the western region you can have 100 infringements issued a night, that’s right across the region, but some communities are better than others,” he said.

He also acknowledged that the relationship between Aboriginal people and the police was historically fraught, but said his officers were working hard to build trust with the community.

“Is there more to do? Absolutely. Do we get things wrong occasionally? Yeah we do, and we try to improve things every day,” he said.

Police, NSW Health and emergency services arriving in Wilcannia are operating out of a newly stood up base camp.

Police, NSW Health and emergency services arriving in Wilcannia are operating out of a newly stood up base camp.Credit:Nick Moir.

There are now 95 cases of COVID-19 in the state’s far west, with the vast majority in Wilcannia.

The Indigenous population living there remains the least fully vaccinated in the state, with only 13 per cent having received two jabs despite being a priority group.

But with medical teams touring the region, the number of first doses is rapidly rising – it’s now sitting at 47 per cent.

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CareFlight nurse Dani Phillips recently travelled to Wilcannia as part of an AUSMAT team, where she said they vaccinated more than 70 people.

“We knocked on every door in Wilcannia just about and offered the vaccination to just about anyone who hadn’t received it,” she said.

Vaccinations to 30 Indigenous communities will be accelerated, after National Cabinet considered a plan to ramp up the rollout on Friday.

Despite being a priority group, just 21.9 per cent of Indigenous people across Australia are fully vaccinated, compared to a rate of 36.4 per cent compared to the general population.


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