Mary G: Hello everybody, it’s me, Mary Gedarrdyu, Mind you Whaddayow, and I’m talking to a very handsome man, lead vocalist and bass player in the country and western band, The Donovans, the famous Donovans, mind you. He’s also musical director of the Aboriginal Showcase held annually at the Tamworth Country Music Festival and Tamworth ‘22 is the event, 50th anniversary. So, hopefully everything will go well, and of course, Michael is a Gumbaynggirr man.
Now, Michael, you’re recovering from COVID in Dubbo and I’m going to ask you what it’s been like suffering from COVID: has it affected other members of your family and how are they doing and how are you doing now?
Michael, I understand the outbreak in Dubbo and western New South Wales came on quite suddenly. What’s the first you knew about it?
Michael: I’d just like to acknowledge that I’m on Wiradjuri land down here in Dubbo, yeah, and just like to pay my respects to elders past and present and future. The first we knew about it was my wife and I, Connie, we were the first, in the first 10 that contracted COVID. So that was around the 10th of August. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through, it was a horrendous 14 days in isolation that we had to do. And to not get out and see people and all that was pretty hard for both of us. Especially by myself, my family is all in Sydney, my brothers and my daughters, and my other daughter and grandkids are up in Tamworth.
Mary G: Must have been really scary.
Michael: It was. I’ve never felt anything like it. I think it was the Tuesday night I’d just finished dinner and laying on the bed, and like within 15 minutes I had pain from my toes to my head.
Mary G: Good god.
Michael: Aches and pains. Sweat was gathering up in my eyes, that Connie had to get a rag and wipe the sweat out because I couldn’t see. And yeah, it, you know, I took some pain killers and that and woke up the next morning in like, still had the aches and pains but not as bad as that first initial attack on my body. But I went down and got tested the next day and yeah, lo and behold, I tested positive. So, something completely new to me.
Mary G: Had you taken the COVID vaccine at the time or you hadn’t?
Michael: No, no. No, we … there was a lot of people, and myself included, that didn’t know where this was going in terms of vaccination and all that. And, you know, I was very hesitant to get it. And then when I did get the virus, you know, there was no way that I wasn’t going to get vaccinated because as I said, it was the worst feeling that I’ve ever felt in my life.
Mary G: How would you describe your community’s behaviour around social distancing, hand washing, and so on, before the outbreak?
Michael: I’m a person that followed every protocol. My wife, Connie, and her daughter and the kids, if there was anything needed to be done like going down and getting some essentials or you know, food for dinner or whatever, I was the only one that went downtown. There wasn’t a lot of social distancing, I can tell you that, but I guess, you know, I was careful, you know, I had the mask on, sanitize your hands, QR codes, wipe your trollies down and your basket down in Woolworths and do all that. And even my eldest daughter, she said, “Dad, you’re the last person I thought that’d get it.” And even some of my co-workers said to me, said you know, “You’re the most, the guy that wants to follow all those protocols.”
Mary G: Yeah.
Michael: So, but you know, it was just horrendous.
Mary G: And despite that, you still ended up getting COVID yourself. Do you know how you caught it?
Michael: No. No, they don’t know.
Mary G: My god.
Michael: We don’t know. They didn’t get back to me about that. The New South Wales Health and there was a, like a task force that looked after all QR codesSo, but I guess the important thing is to check in, you know, use those QR codes. So, they rang me, and said, “Oh, did you go anywhere else?” And I went, “Oh yeah, I went to this place, I went to that place But yeah, no, I didn’t find out where I got it, no.
Mary G: Can you describe how sick COVID made you?
Michael: I lost 6.5 kilos, Mary G.
Mary G: My god.
Michael: I, as you know, like as you know I’ve been a musician for 53 years now, going on, and did not listen to music once in that 14 days. I guess the thing was our priorities were to get through this, get over it, and get better. It was, I couldn’t eat, it was just noodles and toast nearly every day, and fruit. I’d tried to eat something and cook it up and did not have one bite. And then I just couldn’t eat anymore, it would just make me sick and nauseous and all that. So, it was a strange to feel like that because I’ve, you know, as I said, I’ve never felt like that before in my life. It was, it was something that I hope I never get to go through again.
Mary G: Sounds really, really scary. Did you have to go to hospital?
Michael: No, but my wife did, Connie, because she was having heart palpitations. So, rang the, they said ring triple-0 and then the ambulance came around and checked her out and they said you’d be better off coming down and getting checked at the hospital. But she came out all fine, it was just, I think it was more panic attack because we were thinking too much, you know, with everything, and thinking about her kids and families and all that. So, but she said to me, she said when she got there, she said she was so upset because she couldn’t believe how many people were in the hospital that tested positive to COVID, and you know, were getting medical attention, she said. Little kids, you know, it just broke her heart, she said.
Mary G: And besides Connie, your beautiful wife, did other members of your family or any close friends also get COVID?
Michael: A couple of my close friends. The mother and son, I won’t mention their names. But the son, look, he used to run around for us all the time. Because we couldn’t leave the house, he’d run around for us all the time getting stuff for us and leaving it in the letterbox for us and give us a ring and say, “Yeah, it’s in the letterbox,” and all that. But then you find out that so many people did get it after us, you know, and especially children. You know, for our mob, the rate of our mob getting it out here just went from low to high, very high.
Mary G: Would you say you have recovered or are you still feeling a bit crook?
Michael: No, I feel good. I got my first vax last Tuesday. But Connie’s still feeling a little bit dizzy and that, so she’s still got a little bit of a symptom. So, her doctor has said to wait the 90 days before she gets her first vaccination. But it took me a while to get my taste and my smell back. It was great that, I think it was about three or four weeks ago I went down and got KFC and I got a Zinger burger and I could taste it, Mary G, it was the first time I could taste something.
Mary G: And I bet you love that taste, too.
Michael: I love, I could have eat two of them that night.
Mary G: [Laughter] That’s really good, too. And what made you decide not to go and get it?
Michael: It was, they said there was a one in a million chance of people getting, you know, dying of getting the vaccination, I think. There was maybe one or two that passed away getting the vaccination. And that puts you in two minds, I guess, well put Connie and I in two minds. But yeah, Mary G, there was a lot of people out there that didn’t want it, didn’t think it was reasonable, and there still is a lot of people out there that don’t think it’s real.
Mary G: Well I’m talking to the man who contracted it. So, is there anything you’d like to say to people out there who are still sceptical of COVID or getting the vaccination?
Michael: Oh look, just get it. Don’t wait for it. I’ve got a couple of my cousins now that have got the virus, but are double vaxxed. So, they’re not, they haven’t got the symptoms, the bad symptoms like Connie and I did. You know, so … but look, just do it, do it for your families, do it for your grandkids, do it for your kids.
Mary G: Do it for the community, yeah.
Michael: Do it for the community, yeah. And it’s not just Aboriginal, it’s non-Aboriginal people too. You know, we, Connie and I work with Aboriginal education, so I guess if we need, if we need to go into schools and everything, then we do need to be double-vaxxed as well. And looking after, you know, making sure that looking after those kids in the schools too. But when I first did get the virus, my daughters spoke to me and said, “Dad, you’re a high profile Aboriginal person in the music industry and there’s a lot of people out there that know you, how do you feel about putting it out on Facebook?” And I went, “Why not?” You know, why not, why not, get it out there and let people know that it’s not gammon, it’s real.
Mary G: And we’re all vulnerable.
Michael: Yes, all vulnerable. And I think I, you know, I’ve probably changed a lot of people’s minds because there was a lot of people out there that didn’t want to get the vax, and then there were people there that were saying we won’t, oh you know, this is too close to home, I know Michael, you know, that’s my mob, you know, that’s my friend. And this is really close to, too close to home. So, I think I changed, I wouldn’t put a number on it, but I think I’ve changed a lot of people’s minds about getting vaxxed.
Mary G: And Connie, your wife, is on the road to recovery as well?
Michael: Yes, yes. She, yeah, she just, feeling a little bit dizzy every now and then.
Mary G: Is that because of looking at you or because of the COVID?
Michael: Probably both, hey?
Mary G: Could be, yeah. Oh well.
Michael: [Laughter] Yeah, she goes weak at the knee when she looks at me all the time.
Mary G: Oh darling, I go weak at the knees, too, when I think about you [laughter]. I wouldn’t mind doing a duet with you one day.
Michael: Oh look, that’d be mad, that’d be fabulous.
Mary G: I think so, yeah, we could be Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, you know something like that.
Michael: Yeah, oh look.
Mary G: Yeah.
Michael: Yeah, Islands in the Stream, we can always put that song together.
Mary G: Absolutely. And look, Michael, thank you so much for sharing with us because like you said, there’s a lot of people who are still sceptical of it and when it does touch home and it does touch the people who are close to people, then you start thinking about it. Have they found or is there a cure on the way?
Michael: Would not know. You know, it’d be lovely that they can find a cure, you know, this vaccine is probably in the right direction. I got the Moderna vax which, because all of my family I know, they’ve had the Pfizer. And when he said, “The Moderna,” and I went, “Oh, OK.” So, I said, “All my family got the Pfizer and they’ve been all fine.” And he just put me at ease saying, you know, “It’s just the same as those.” So I really do hope they find a cure, it’s … it was getting beyond a joke where everyone’s social distancing and like when the pandemic hit here, Mary G, like I went down, and that’s when I was able to get out and go out. And I went down to the mall here and there’s usually like maybe two or three thousand people in there. And I went in there, and probably out of the whole mall there was probably 50 people; people were just too scared to go anywhere, you know.
Mary G: Oh well. Well, Michael you are a survivor and your lovely wife is a survivor, thank god, and you probably just caught it in the right moment in time. Is there any final message you’d like to say to our countrymen right across Australia who may be listening?
Michael: Yeah, look, I know I got some people that got me on Facebook from WA, I think, WA and Northern Territory that didn’t even know me but knew my friends that were on Facebook. But like for people all over Australia and anywhere, I guess, you know, it’s something that we can’t take lightly and you know we’ve got to look after each other, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal and make sure that we do the right thing and just try and go forward, get out of this rut that we’re in now and just move forward. It’s just, I know there’s a lot of people that are still sceptical, but it’s something that we have to live with now and you know, you have to take them steps to do the right thing. And like the Yabun Concert that was put off last year, yeah? They only did a livestream, I think, and I was so pleased the other day, it just lifted my spirits that they invited The Donovans to be a part of the 20th anniversary in January.
Mary G: Fantastic.
Michael: I can’t wait and –
Mary G: What a comeback.
Michael: – yes, picked up my guitar again and strumming away and going through some songs with the band, you know, and it’s just made me feel more determined to get back into my music and live along a life, I guess, Mary G.
Mary G: Yeah.
Michael: I, there was times there when I was in that isolation where I just felt like just going to sleep and not waking up because the pain was just horrendous. Like every day I’d have a back pain, neck pain. And Connie and I would get up in the morning and like we’d move around a bit for half an hour and then we’d have to lay down. And not lay down just for an hour or so just to recuperate, we’d have to lay down all day because it’d just taken its toll and we had no energy whatsoever. So, to everyone out there, look, stay safe, be careful. You know, if you don’t think it’s real then I can let you know that it is real. It is very real.
Mary G: You copped it, I should say, yeah.
Michael: Yeah, I got it, yeah.
Mary G: And the other thing, Michael, is COVID-19 does not discriminate.
Michael: No, it doesn’t. And that’s exactly what my eldest brother, Merv, said. He said, “It’s not discriminating anything,” it’s out there and it’s going through every community in Australia, you know, everywhere in the world. And I don’t know how you can hide from it. I guess, I don’t think you can hide from it.
Mary G: But you can get vaccinated.
Mary G: Michael, thank you so much, darling, for your really inciting approach to how you’ve dealt with COVID and I know that we’ve lost a lot of people along the way and a lot of people are still sceptical and unprotected, but thank you so much for sharing that because hopefully this interview will inspire them to go and get their vaccinations.
Michael: No and thank you for having me on your show as well.
Mary G: Oh, darling, I’d love to have you again [laughter]. Yeah. I’ll be the thorn in your side, darling.
Michael: OK, no problems.
Mary G: OK, thank you darling.
Michael: OK, ‘bye.