From Sorcery to Laboratory: Pandemics and Yanyuwa Experiences of Viral Vulnerability

Dinah Norman, Jemima Miller, Mavis Timothy, Graham Friday, Leonard Norman, Gloria Friday, Adrianne Friday, Warren Timothy, Joanne Miller, Lettie Norman, Noeleen Raggett, Colleen Charlie, Rhoda Hammer, Marlene Timothy, Peggy Mawson, Amanda Kearney, John Bradley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted renewed attention among health professionals, Aboriginal community leaders, and social scientists to the need for culturally responsive preventative health measures and strategies. This article, a collaborative effort, involving Yanyuwa families from the remote community of Borroloola and two anthropologists with whom Yanyuwa have long associations, tracks the story of pandemics from the perspective of Aboriginal people in the Gulf region of northern Australia. It specifically orients the discussion of the current predicament of ‘viral vulnerability’ in the wake of COVID-19, relative to other pandemics, including the Hong Kong flu in 1969 and the Spanish flu decades earlier in 1919. This discussion highlights that culturally nuanced and prescribed responses to illness and threat of illness have a long history for Yanyuwa. Yanyuwa cultural repertoires have assisted in the process of making sense of massive change, in the form of past pandemics and the onset of sickness, the threat of illness with COVID-19 and the attribution of ‘viral vulnerability’ to this remote Aboriginal community. The aim is to centralise Yanyuwa voices in this story, as an important step in growing understandings of Aboriginal knowledge of pandemics and culturally relevant and controlled health responses and strategies for communal well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-85
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Aboriginal Australia
  • kincentric
  • pandemics
  • viral vulnerability
  • Yanyuwa

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