Our Emergency Response to Preventing COVID-19 in the Watarrka Community

Our Emergency Response to Preventing COVID-19 in the Watarrka Community

As the threat of the pandemic spreads throughout Australia, the Northern Territory tourism industry has come to a standstill. Travel restrictions to and from remote communities have been imposed in the Northern Territory, South Australia and WA, and the Torres Strait Islands have ceased issuing new permits for visitors. While practising adequate hygiene and social distancing is important, isolating vulnerable communities is a necessary preventative measure to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Research suggests that up to 50 per cent of the Indigenous population are living with at least one chronic illness, but it’s the close-knit nature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that put them at particular risk.

These measures have been felt in Kings Canyon, our local community and Remote Tours. Tour companies that routinely visit Kings Canyon have canceled all tours, and the normally bustling Kings Canyon Resort, Kings Creek Station and the Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon) have been closed. Until COVID-19 is no longer a threat to our local Indigenous communities, Remote Tours has also had to cancel all tours. Accessing food supplies has also become a challenge for our community.

Feed the Watarrka Community Program

In response to these circumstances, the Watarrka Primary Health Care Manager Chris Hakanson met with Christine Munro (Watarrka school teacher) and Reg Ramsden (Remote Tours) to discuss the implementation of a food program. Titled ‘Feed the Watarrka Community Program’, this program will be supported by the Watarrka Foundation and implemented until the COVID-19 threat eases. The program will support approximately 60 adults and children from the Wanmarra, Lilla and Ulpanyali communities. Wanmarra will be supplied with bulk food supplies including flour, sugar and tea, whilst Lilla and Ulpanyali will be provided with three meals per day, prepared in the Remote Tours Camp kitchen.

This program is a necessary measure as our locals drive into Alice Springs to buy food on a weekly basis. Access to food supplies will help to keep locals safe as it we will reduce the risk of locals unknowingly bringing the virus back from town.


"As the person responsible for the health of the local community, I have worried that if the Coronavirus infects any of our local mob it may prove fatal. Each community is a safe haven if the locals would just stay put, but how does one do this without having access to food?"

- Chris Hakanson, Primary Health Care Manager

Featured above: Portioned meals to be delivered to our communities.

On Monday 16th March a community meeting was held, and it was made unanimous that the communities would accept this help as a means to get through this crisis epidemic. Reg was quick to action the sourcing of food and supplies for the first week and organised a month’s worth of food to come on the next road train. Amidst the stress of closing his business (Remote Tours) and canceling tours for the next few months, Reg also bought up on freezers and sourced food from bulk food distributors and out of business tour companies to help in the set up the Remote Tours Camp as a food Kitchen. With the assistance of local tour guide Justin, who had been released from a canceled tour, the program materialised quickly. He joined Reg in helping organise the mammoth preparations for the program and arrived with a trailer packed with food, supplies and two extra freezers. The freezers, with the help of Chris, Christine, Marcus, Eric and Byron, were unloaded and installed at the Remote Tours kitchen (Lilla). 

The ‘Feed the Watarrka Community Program’ has been designed as a food delivery service, with meals prepared in the Remote Tours kitchen, packed and delivered to local communities. On Wednesday 25th March Justin worked tirelessly in preparing the first round of meals - Tuesdays dinner, Wednesdays breakfast and Wednesdays lunch. This is how each delivery will be structured throughout the program. After being packed into milk crates, the first round of meals were delivered to the communities of Lilla and Ulpanyali. The delivery team stated that the looks on locals faces were priceless, as the ladies and kids gathered around while Justin took them through their meals.

"Justin is a God send – the fact that he is willing to live and work in the community amongst the flies and heat is admirable and something to be celebrated. His contribution to this program has been immeasurable."

- Chris Hakanson, Primary Health Care Manager

Featured above: Food crates ready to be delivered.

Implementing initiatives, such as the “Feed the Watarrka Community Program”, is our  way of taking action to prevent the virus from affecting the most vulnerable in our community. There still remains the risk that many do not realise how dangerous this virus is for the elderly and those affected with chronic disease, so ongoing education will be required.

"If it were not for the Watarrka Foundation and the support of Reg, none of this would be happening. To the Watarrka community, I hope you are all safe until this is over and that this epidemic doesn’t take too many of our loved ones."

- Chris Hakanson, Primary Health Care Manager

The Department of Health is working hard to put plans into place to manage each community should an outbreak come to its area. The Federal Government has also established a national Indigenous advisory committee tasked with implementing an emergency response plan co-chaired by NACCHO. In the coming months we will continue to keep you updated on these measures and report back on the happenings of the “Feed the Watarrka Community Program”.

The Watarrka Foundation would like to thank Chris and the fantastic community support of this project.

To support the ‘Feed the Watarrka Community’ program, visit our Go Fund Me page at https://bit.ly/3alr2ee

To support the Foundation and our projects within the Northern Territory, make a donation at www.givenow.com.au/watarrkafoundation


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