I am so angry I am shaking with rage. Outrage, yes, but mainly pure rage. The kind that you can’t contain, makes you want to vomit, or punch something while you scream. Perhaps not the best time to write a blog – or perhaps there is no better time to write this.
I have just read on ABC north west (and via facebook) that during the lead-up to Severe Tropical Cyclone Olwyn, Aboriginal people in the community of Mungullah were asked to evacuate. This was decided by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and CAMS because in 2010 there was such severe flooding and damage in the roads to the community that people had to be airlifted out. This time there were 5 people who had medical conditions – four elderly people, including amputees on dialysis, and a young person with significant personal problems.
Bear in mind that Carnarvon is only 7 kilometres from this community. Mungullah Village is not a ‘remote’ outstation, so it is not impossible to resource it. Carnarvon WA, has a hospital and a cyclone shelter. DFES asked the Community Support Officer to transport the five people to the hospital.
At 3.30 pm, he found them still outside the hospital, refused entry…even though 35 beds were available when the hospital was rung prior to the evacuation. He contacted DFES.
The DFES Officer – mystified about how a whole hospital full of beds could be ‘full’ after two or three hours- tried the evacuation centre only to find they were not to be admitted there either. (No, it is not a private facility in case you were wondering – it is government funded. )
So these sick people (the first ones there) had to sit on chairs outside and watch as other people were welcomed into the empty shelter.
Meanwhile there were *$$$* tourists 240 kilometres away at Coral Bay who also needed evacuating. Are you beginning to get the picture? Yes, then sadly, you are correct. The evacuation shelter staff say they were told that their shelter was for the tourists only.
A whole clutch of other reasons emerged as to why these FIVE sick elderly loved and respected people were not ‘able’ to be admitted to the empty shelter. Try these for size:
- not enough room
- no food
- not sufficient power
- the air-conditioning doesn’t work (in a cyclone?)
- the bedding’s not right
- you’re not from Coral Bay ( as if they might not have known that).
There were negotiations with the CEO of the Aboriginal Medical service and CAMS and the DFES. They were not without advocates. It wasn’t a matter of language. In the end, one man had to be admitted to the hospital for more acute care (where did that bed come from I wonder) after SEVEN HOURS and then the DFES officer still had to intervene and produce authority to override the refusals. (It is said he was shaken by his experience).
Why am I sitting here in Adelaide at my middle class white computer, with tears running down my cheeks and visions of those dignified old people being wounded so shamefully and being treated as less than then animals were?
It is fury.
It is shame.
It is disgust.
It is the story-memory of a treasured Aboriginal friend’s mother dying in a bed on a hospital verandah in a storm, sheltering her newborn baby in her arms, while the white patients were spared having to share her presence in the ward.
But that was seventy years ago. ‘So last century’ you might say – isn’t it?
What would the Carnarvon shelter and hospital administrators have done if they were not forced to act? Would they have left them outside to die? Wouldn’t that have been MURDER?
There will be no pretty picture with this blog. I would ask/beg that anyone who reads this takes some action in whatever way they can. I have rung the ABC and asked to have this on the National TV News or the 7.30 Report. I will send a copy of this to the PM’s Office – after all, he is the Minister for all issues Aboriginal isn’t he?
As a footnote: One of our own family is an amputee and in hospital at present. I do hope a cyclone doesn’t head his way. He is Aboriginal.