On the 24th of February 2022, Tonia Sambo was arrested after returning to Western Australia unvaccinated. The incident was captured by partner Kim and shared on Facebook the following day.
In this interview, Tonia and Kim bravely relived their trauma in order to share their story, their beliefs and their fight for the future.
Like many Australians, Tonia and partner Kim decided to travel to Canberra for the freedom rally at Parliament House. “We went through five states from Hopetoun,” Kim said. “We didn’t actually join a convoy, we just went. We left here on a Wednesday night and we got there just in time for the rally on Saturday.” When asked about the Canberra experience Kim replied, “Amazing! Absolutely amazing!”
“It was incredible because we were surrounded by like-minded people,” Tonia explained. “The diversity in that group alone, nobody was seeing colours or race, we really became one.”
“There was no judgement,” Kim noted. “We were welcomed, (and given) support and love by strangers. We were given donations of food, of drink, of money.”
Tonia went on to say that when people noticed their WA number plates, “They were really blown away and grateful that we made the effort. People would walk up and hand us fifty bucks to help with fuel.”
“We were so grateful that we were able to be part of that (rally),” said Kim.” It was an amazing experience being amongst that. And having our daughter amongst that as well.” After one night at Camp Epic, the young family (along with fellow campers) were moved on by police. They then went from one campsite to another and were even labelled political refugees. After ten days, they headed back to WA, due to Kim’s work commitments.
Kim had been able to maintain employment by receiving the so-called COVID ‘vaccine’. She explained that; “It was going to be me or Tonia getting the vaccine, so that one of us had a job. I did not want it. I don’t even get the flu shot but I was coerced. I got both vaccinations. My booster is due at the end of the month. And after what has happened, there is no way I would ever consent to a system that has broken my family.” Kim described the difficult and stressful decision to get the vaccinations. She left it until the very last minute and recalled being in the waiting room of the doctors. “Nobody in that waiting room wanted the vaccine. We all had to get it. It was very sad. It was heartbreaking.” Kim expressed that, “My family do not consent to it [the COVID vaccine] but they supported me one hundred and ten percent and it was hard for them. They sent me all these things to do before and after the injection. So, I found myself in a bath full of baking soda, taking immune tablets and various vitamins. I had no symptoms after either of the vaccines. I believe it’s because of all the crazy things my family wanted me to do.”
The family went to Canberra on their own and they came back on their own.
Well almost. Half an hour before the border crossing, they helped rescue two gentlemen whose truck had broken down. Kim explained that they had recognised them from Canberra, so they happily rearranged their car and gave them a lift. “Then we headed to the border, straight after that,” Kim reported “that’s when it was very nerve racking.” At the border, the police asked the family for their paperwork; the G2G pass and proof of vaccination. Kim recalled that, “We had already kind of prepped ourselves for what was about to happen. We respectfully declined answering any of their questions and didn’t give them what they wanted. We ended up speaking to three different police at the border. In the end, they advised us that we needed to turn around and go back to South Australia or we would be charged. So, we proceeded to drive through, heading towards home in Hopetoun.” At this point, it was getting dark so, they parked up in Cocklebiddy for the night.
The next morning, they set off again for home. Kim explained that, “Just before we got into Norseman, we had been talking about it (the charges). I said, ‘worst case scenario we’re going to get fined’ and we actually spoke about Tonia getting arrested and I said, ‘that’s not going to happen, I can’t see that happening at all.” Then as they approached Norseman, they saw one cop car and then a second. “They followed us, put their sirens on, their lights are going and as soon as it was safe to do so, Tonia pulls over.”
As the police approached their car Tonia recalled that, “The officer was shouting at me to turn off the vehicle and I’ve turned it off at her very first request. She continued to shout at me to turn off the vehicle. She was shouting so much that she didn’t realise I’d turned the vehicle off.” With her baby daughter screaming, Tonia described how they patted her down, arrested her and aggressively led her into the back of a paddy wagon. “I put my hands on my head in an attempt to show them, I’m not a threat and (the male officer) reaches up and he’s pinching the underside of my arm and shoving me. So, I’m taking very calculated steps with my hands on my head because I didn’t want to hit the ground. I’m taking hits from behind and that’s when you see the short video that Kim had taken. They get me around to the paddy wagon and this guy is trying to slam me in the back. I’m just trying my best not to get hurt and do as they ask of me. I’m very glad that I was able to keep my head together because I knew that had I resisted in any way I was going to get hurt.” During the interview, Tonia confided that, “I’m claustrophobic so it’s incredibly hard to be in the back of a paddy wagon. Very, very traumatising.” Concerned about her family she recalled that, “I was just trying to see out, to see my partner and my baby. To see whether they were ok.” She waited and listened as the police started to arrest Kim, “Then they realised she was vaccinated and then it changed from that point.”
Kim claimed that it changed quickly from ‘we’re going to arrest you’ to ‘as long as you comply with these directions, we’ll be letting you go home’. “On the spot, I had to provide a G2G pass and my vaccination certificate, which I was able to do. While this is happening, they’re telling me that Tonia’s arrested because she was the driver,” said Kim. “When Tonia got the charge papers it was different again. Unlawful entry into WA and for failing to stop.”
After the arrest, Tonia was taken directly to the Watch House in Esperance. “They wanted to rush me back to Esperance in time to appear in front of a magistrate,” she explained. “They pulled into the back of the police station and they’ve got all their gowns and gloves, eye protection and face protection shield. I’m not allowed to touch anything on my way in. I’ve got my gloves and my mask on that they’ve given me.” Tonia commented that she was, “treated like a pathogen.” At the Watch House, Tonia was promptly given a lawyer through Aboriginal Legal Services (ALS). She emphasised that, “It was all just a very, very rushed process. So, I appeared before a magistrate (in my cell) on one of the police officer’s phones. It was a three-way call with us, ALS and the magistrate. I was delirious. I was in shock. The cop was holding the phone, it was on loudspeaker. Treating me as positive (when I had) no symptoms.” In the end, the magistrate decided to remand Tonia for seven days in custody with no bail.
Shortly after the impromptu hearing, “I couldn’t stop vomiting. I was shaking. My body was extremely cold. I was quite worried. I said, ‘you’ll have to take me to the hospital’ So, the police officers organised for me to be taken to the Esperance District Hospital. We had to wait outside in the paddy wagon. They had to open the back door to the paddy wagon and I’m just vomiting out the van. A nurse comes out and is trying to do a RAT test on me while I’m vomiting. She doesn’t address me the whole two hours I was at the hospital. She wouldn’t speak to me. She would only speak to the officers about me. She was getting pissed off at me because I wasn’t handling, in between my vomiting, things being stuck up my nose or into my throat.” Finally, the test came back negative and were permitted entry.
Once inside the hospital, Tonia’s treatment by the staff didn’t improve. “They did not address my health. They gave me two Panadol but didn’t address the shock I was in- that my body was experiencing. The vomiting, the shaking, (my) freezing temperature, the cold. So, this was the hospital where I took my very first breath 34 years ago, and here I am as a 34-year-old woman who has always done the right thing by society and they didn’t give a shit whether I took my last breath.” After receiving a negative and an inconclusive COVID test result, Tonia was deemed COVID positive by the WA Department of Health.
After spending two nights at the Watch House, Tonia was flown to Kalgoorlie. “So, I get to Kalgoorlie and there’s people a buzz. Apparently, I’m the first one with my circumstances. There’s people everywhere, they’re all very nervous and scared. Gowned up, masked up. They go to put me in the cell, and it was worse from where I had come from and there was still no shower.” At this point, Tonia had not showered in five days. In desperate need of a shower, she says to the prison guard, “‘Look I need a shower’ and he says ‘no, you’re not getting a shower tonight’. At this point, I dropped to my knees and I cried, I really cry.” Later on, to Tonia’s delight, they swapped her into a cell that had a shower. “I was so incredibly grateful in that moment and it had a window where I could see the sky. It was amazing.”
As Tonia was deemed COVID positive, she was only allowed out of her cell to use the phone for ten minutes a day. “I didn’t give them any grief. I was always very polite to each and every one of them and treated them the way I wanted to be treated. I had to fill my heart with love, it was the only way I could get through was to turn to my spirituality and go within. To those people who were doing their job, who were locking me up and stripping me of everything, I had to be kind to them regardless of how they treated me, (it was the) most testing thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. But I did it and I’m proud of that, the way I held myself with each and every one of them.”
In prison, Tonia gave the guards a gift. “It was just something that had come to me from a dear friend of mine. I ran in to her one day shopping with my daughter and we had a chat and then it was time to go and I went in to give her a hug. And she said, ‘no, that’s not how you hug’ and I took a step back, a little embarrassed. I was like, ‘oh, I don’t know how to hug?’ And she said, ‘when you lean into hug, don’t lean to the left, lean to the right. That way the left side of your bodies will align and your heart-to-heart connection becomes real.’ And it was amazing! I just thought it was quite special.” Tonia wrote this in a letter and titled it ‘a gift from me to you’. “I gave it to the prison guards and I said, ‘can you guys copy this and stick it on my cell door, for anyone who comes. It’s a gift I want to share with everyone because someone gave it to me and I want to pass it on. I want to pay it forward and I hope you guys will pay it forward too.’”
Tonia had a lot of time to think in isolation and she wanted to share her personal realisation:
“There’s only one race, the human race and any other construct of race outside of that is just ideology that has been made up by men and women that are quite lost. I believe we all have different cultures, but culture isn’t race. That’s why I believe that we are all one. We are all connected because we are human.”
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