What Just Happened in Wilcannia?
Triumph and Tragedy for Indigenous people Down Under, as the Jibby Jab takes another hard L.
Have you heard about what just happened in Wilcannia? It is a story that needs to be told, both in its triumph and tragedy — I hope you will stick around until the end of this article to bear witness to both.
Wilcannia? If you are from Australia, you may associate the remote, outback, largely indigenous community with The Wilcannia Mob. Here was another truly amazing story of First Nations triumph — a group of 5 indigenous kids, the youngest of which was 8 years old, who’s song “Down River” almost made the top 50 of the country’s most popular music poll in 2002.
I’m not going to tell the story, because the ABC (the reason we even have The Wilcannia Mob’s story) did an amazing job of that already. Remember that, please, as we progress through this story — because this is also a story about our media who claim to represent the rights of our original people.
More recently, you may know Wilcannia as that remote, outback, largely indigenous community that we heard was being overrun by the Rona.
The outbreak made front page headlines in the United States even, and was used to further target these remote communities for not-at-all-coerced Jibby Jabbing (recent data suggests vaccination rates in Indigenous Australians lag 20% behind the overall population).
Despite the impression you may have been given, the Wilcannia story is actually an amazing story: one that, if you actually stop and take in the details, might even change the way you see our current push to force our cultural model of health onto Indigenous Australians.
Oh God: it’s gonna be another hard L for germ-inverting White peeps in lab coats, isn’t it? That’s two articles in a row, sorry.
As just established, Wilcannia got a lot of air time over their outbreak, including about how underprepared and ignored they were.
Now, I am in no doubt of this fact, and the panic (and subsequent anger) seems absolutely genuine. But of course the panic was real: how could it not have been after that set up by the media?
What I would question is whether the inability to adequately jab Wilcannia residents was part of this failing. Let me explain.
What actually happened in Wilcannia? Well, initially, things went silent. An ominous silence, given the panicked lead up and situation report. But then, as the dust settled, news began to filter out.
Let’s go to The Guardian first, to set the scene. In an article in mid-October, compellingly titled “Wilcannia celebrates two weeks without a new case after Covid hit ‘like a cyclone’” — the author reminds us of the seeming direness of the situation:
“Wilcannia, with a population of about 720, recorded its first case on 18 August, when less than 20% of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population over the age of 16 had received their first dose of a vaccine, and only 8% had been fully vaccinated, despite being identified as a priority group since the early days of the pandemic.”
Yikes. As long as we absolute do not look at what is happening in India, Africa and various other colonial outposts, one must only assume that such a low rate of Western medical protection among a largely isolated indigenous population will lead to coloured human carnage not seen since our own nation’s colonisation.
Just how bad? This time, we can only trust the leader of the pro-vaccine and pro-indigenous media: The ABC. We open their report with nervous anticipation.
Well… It’s almost as if a miracle happened, says Auntie:
“The Far West Local Health District said all 152 people who contracted COVID-19 – more than 20 per cent of the town's population – have recovered. It is a stunning turnaround for the remote, predominantly Aboriginal town, which has emerged from Australia's worst COVID outbreak per capita with only one hospitalisation from the virus.”
One hospitalisation, a united community, and a whole lot of acquired (albeit hard-earned) natural immunity. That’s a W if I’ve ever seen one, perhaps only bettered by The Wilcannia Mob themselves.
One can only imagine they were only able to produce such a staggering feat of Health with a hefty Jibby Jab rate? Was it only a late rush of injections, lifting the town up and beyond the benchmark set by the white fellas, that enabled this success?
Hmm, there is actually barely a mention of the Jibby Jab in the whole article, aside from some thanks given by a local elder to those who did indeed roll their sleeves up. Grappling with this inexplicable success — and, if we are being honest, just a tinge of disappointment — the authors do note, not inaccurately, that the young age profile of the area was likely a factor in this miracle.
The ABC, to their credit, has since done a deeper investigation into what happened in Wilcannia — confirming that (leaving the Jibby Jab aside) the level of care given to residents was absolute dire. And, by this point, perhaps the ABC is very happy to leave the Jibby Jab aside, because as they reveal someway down in that article:
“At the time, the vaccination rate was only 17 per cent because of delays to the federal government’s vaccine program and hesitancy fuelled by its changing AstraZeneca vaccine advice.”
17%? Damn, that’s even lower than India. Another place that has given Covid a good ass-whoopin, by the way.
If only we had gotten to them sooner, perhaps we could have prevented that single hospitalisation!
Someone taking in this picture now, with hindsight, might feel slightly exasperated at the inability of the ABC to tell all sides of the triumphant Wilcannia story.
However, one should also not underestimated the tunnel vision of outlets like the ABC on these issues. Seriously.
Because, if we are to properly understand the triumph of the Wilcannia story, we have one other story that has to be told — even though it wasn’t located in Wilcannia itself. Even if it is also, unfortunately, less of a triumph and more or a tragedy.
It is a story primarily about respected Queensland elder and proud Wakka Wakka man Bevan Costello: a Magistrate on the local Murri Court, where he helped other magistrates understand the lives and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people coming before the court. He was also a chair of the Barambah Local Justice Group, and a member of the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council.
But it is also a story about the media, and specifically the (our) ABC, and two articles that they published featuring “Uncle Bevan”. The first covered his central role in a push from Queensland elders and teens to fight vaccine hesitancy in Indigenous communities. It was published on the 16th of September, smack bang in the middle of the Wilcannia outbreak — meaning this push to vaccinate Indigenous people was likely directly linked to the hype created around that outbreak.
The secondly article, tragically, covered his death just 6 days later from an apparent heart attack.
This second article, it should probably be noted, made no mention of Uncle Bevan’s role in leading by example in the vaccination push, even though it was front and centre in the first article that was published less than a week ago.
Perhaps a relevant detail? Perhaps — just like the fact that there were no indigenous deaths from Covid in Australia until June of this year, which coincidentally enough is also the time when the push to vaccinate indigenous communities began — there seems to be a trend of omitting key details of the story of our original people and the Jibby Jab?
So, while we absolute must celebrate the triumph of Wilcannia, we must also not lose sight of the broader picture of what we are subjecting our nation’s original inhabitants to.
Rest in Peace Uncle Bevan. May your actions and sacrifice for your community end up protecting those people in ways you could not have imagined at the time.
And may we also forgive the ABC, please, for I don’t think they know what they do. They are just a hapless and helpless cog in the Germ-Theory-entranced Western Medical machine, as it continues to rack up L after L.