8 May, 2020
As the NSW Government begins to ease COVID-19 restrictions, communities around the state are being urged to remain vigilant with social distancing and hygiene measures.
Vulnerable regional and remote community members remain in isolation. Some discreet Aboriginal communities are continuing to observe reverse barriers, where people who don’t live in the community are told to stay away to reduce infection risks.
For Elders like George Fernando at Gingie Reserve at Walgett, the restrictions are necessary but difficult to maintain.
Uncle George says he and his longtime partner Dulcie Dennis are lucky to live with two of their daughters, who take care of them.
“We’re still doing OK here, thanks to our daughters’ love and care, but social distancing and the rest of it is challenging in tight-knit communities like ours.”
Uncle George is a founding member and the Chair of the Walgett Local Aboriginal Land Council and a long-time Board member of the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service, as well as being deeply immersed in his local community at many levels.
At 85-years-old, Uncle George has been involved in Land Rights for many decades and is very proud of what’s been achieved. Life is coloured with his consistent work for social justice for Aboriginal peoples and access to quality health care and safe and affordable housing.
“We’ve managed to claim a lot of land in this area over the years. Our biggest challenge now is making sure that our young ones are interested and educated, so they can take on the bigger roles in the future,” he said.
Born in Collarenebri, Uncle George spent his first five years of life on Angledool mission before his family relocated to Brewarrina and later, Walgett.
His voice grows strong as he remembers those years.
“We hunted bush tucker out at Angledool, caught fish and ate other native foods. It was a hard life, but a good life. At night time we would often lay down outside and watch the stars, and my dad would tell us about all the stars and their special stories.”
The Coronavirus pandemic is a sober reminder of the vulnerability of Elders like Uncle George, who hold vast amounts of community and cultural knowledge and experience.
Uncle George and Aunty Dulcie are two of the Elders who’ve received NSWALC’s food relief boxes, to assist them with food security while the Coronavirus pandemic runs.
“I’m very glad we’ve got the boxes from NSWALC,” said Uncle George. “They’ll certainly help us because although we all share and help each other out, having enough to eat is a big issue here.”
The Walgett community only has a temporary pop-up supermarket, after its one permanent IGA supermarket burned down in June 2019. The nearest grocery store is in Coonamble, 115 kilometres away. Residents able to travel there or further afield to Dubbo never know what food they’ll find when they get there.
Nonetheless, Uncle George Fernando is relentlessly upbeat about his people, his work and staying active in isolation.
“Do you get up at 5am every day?” he asked. “I do, every day! I’m up and ready to go and the first thing is to have a bowl of hot porridge. My mother always said if we had a good breakfast we could make it through the day.”
So what else does an 85-year-old Elder in isolation do? He chops his own wood. He yarns. He stays in constant touch with the LALC, the AMS and his many friends and relatives. But not on social media.
“Facebook!” he laughed. “I’ve got too much going on to be on that Facebook. Anyhow, I’d much rather use a message stick, just like my ancestors did.”