Dawn Matthews will not be silenced
A Murray Bridge community leader talks about her NDIS protest, her appearance in a pro-vaccination campaign and her mayoral aspirations.
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There are many places you might have seen Dawn Matthews.
On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays you would normally find her at the Shared Table, the second-hand shop she and her husband Hohaia run out of a shed on Montgomery Avenue.
On Wednesday nights she’s usually at the showground, looking after all the young folks at rugby practice.
On Sundays you’ll probably find her at a Maori Evangelical Church service, and at Murray Bridge’s annual Waitangi Day event she’ll be racing around, tending to a hundred different things and catching up with a hundred different people.
But for the past couple of weeks, she has been encamped outside Liberal federal MP Tony Pasin’s office at Murray Bridge Green with signs saying “shame, shame, shame” and “I will not be silenced”.
She was there to seek justice for her family, she said.
Her late sister was the guardian of a 12-year-old girl named Patience, who lives with a rare genetic disorder that means she needs around-the-clock help with feeding, bathing and every other basic task.
When her sister died almost a year ago, the responsibility of providing Patience’s care fell to three other family members.
All three had previously been employed as carers under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
But when Mrs Matthews’ sister died, the NDIS told them that – as family members – they would now have to bear most of the cost of providing Patience’s care themselves, and would only be paid for six hours per day.
Through no fault of their own, their income – and Patience’s support – was cut.
So, on April 22, Mrs Matthews resolved to draw attention to the issue by sitting outside Mr Pasin’s office every day until the federal election on May 21.
She thought highly of Mr Pasin, she said, but his front step had seemed like the logical place to set up.
“For me it’s simple: it’s to shine a light on (the issue),” she said.
“It gives people hope that people aren’t just worrying about themselves.
“It’s … hope that someone else is standing up for them.”
Since starting her vigil, dozens of people have stopped to share their stories, frustrated by how difficult it can be to access the support that the NDIS exists to provide.
‘Get the truth about vaccines’
You might also have seen Mrs Matthews’ face on some of the bright yellow posters which have appeared around Murray Bridge since Easter.
Local authorities resolved last month to beat conspiracy theorists at their own game by promising to reveal “the truth about vaccines”.
The city’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has lagged behind almost every other population centre in the country for much of the past year, even though Australia’s first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine was administered here.
So the council opted to mimic the tactics of anti-vaccination groups, plastering bus stops and other prominent locations with flyers.
Mr and Mrs Matthews agreed to lend their faces to the campaign, along with Dr Peter Rischbieth, citizen of the year Cathy Smith and homelessness service manager Thanuja Hiripitiyage.
She said the response had been really good in the local Maori and Aboriginal communities.
“People who’ve watched it have said they like it because we’re not doctors, but we’re in it to make sure the people we love are safe,” she said.
“Even people who are anti (vaccination), because they know us, they respect what we’ve done.
“They say ‘I know you, it might be alright’.”
More information: murraybridge.community.
Could Dawn Matthews be Murray Bridge’s next mayor?
There’s one more place you may or may not see Dawn Matthews later this year, though: on a ballot paper.
She had been interested in running for election as Murray Bridge’s mayor in the past, she said, but a last-minute hitch with her paperwork ruled her out.
Asked whether she would go again, she was hesitant to commit.
“Anything can happen between now and then,” she said.
With 15 kids to look after, plus all her other commitments, it would be a big ask.
But, one way or another, she’ll be looking after the community.