Podcast #4 COVID-19: Why are Balanda so frightened of this virus?

Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra opens the program by asking, “Why are Balanda so frightened of this disease”?

Richard explains how the Black Death plagues in Europe 700 years ago killed between 75 and 200 million people. They dialogue about how Balanda were so frightened then because they weren’t sure what was causing the disease and deaths. Europeans thought it was sorcery, some sort of spiritual event, or could possibly have been coming from the smell.

Djiniyini explains that’s what Yolngu think now. He says people are really confused, and don’t understand what a virus actually is. So they blame other people for doing sorcery.

The program then looks at the history of disease in Europe and explores the meaning behind the children’s song “Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosie” and other cultural rituals that were believed to ward off disease.

They discuss the European experience of moving from small villages into larger towns and cities and the impact that had on disease and hygiene.

Richard and Djiniyini talk about how germs were first discovered. They explain it took a long time after the discovery of germs for Balanda to believe they were connected to disease, illness and death.

It’s mentioned that this kind of European history is needed for people like Yolngu to be on the same page as mainstream Australia. Otherwise the governments short scripted ‘what to do’ messages make little sense.


There are 4 Stories in this podcast. Please see time stamps below:


  • Story No. 1  Why Balanda are so frightened of this virus   0:00
  • Story No. 2  The story of Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosie 10:26
  • Story No. 3 The history of Balanda culture and hygiene 20:20
  • Story No. 4  The discovery of germs 31:00


Click on the links below to listen to the other podcasts in our COVID-19 series: 

Please note: Podcasts 1 & 2 are not currently available online due to the unfortunate death of one of our presenters.