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Tag Archives: Covid19

Red flag waving: Medical crowdfunding trends show the precarity of kiwis in Australia is not just a Covid-19 issue

Written by Laura Starling and Susan Wardell

Covid-19 has put an enormous strain on New Zealanders living in Australia, with the Australian government being slow to extend any sort of benefit when lockdowns began in March this year. But the precarity of this group is far from new.

New research on health crowdfunding highlights how wrong things can go, with dozens of families findings themselves reliant on the whims of ‘the crowd’ to support them through dire medical situations, when the state refuses to take responsibility.

Life, death, and the crowd

Donation-based online crowdfunding is an increasingly common way for individuals and families to seek help for various types of need. Health-related crowdfunding is the largest sector of the international platform GoFundMe (which has 80% of the global market share, and takes a tidy percent of all donations) as well as having a major presence on New Zealand’s own non-profit platform Givealittle.

New Marsden-funded research led by Dr Susan Wardell, at the University of Otago, has analysed 574 active campaigns by kiwis both within NZ and overseas, across both platforms, in order to understand who is turning to this means of support, and why. The study found a subset of 44 campaigns were created by Kiwis living in Australia.

Internationally, higher rates of crowdfunding appear in places with weaker formal safety nets; including healthcare coverage, insurance, or social security. Because of this, research into crowdfunding can reveal wider structural inequalities, and in this case the life-or-death implications of questions around benefit eligibility, and citizenship rights, for those who look for a ‘better life’ in Australia.

A better life

The stories and outcomes of the health crowdfunding campaigns in this study, were documented in June 2020 – at the end of New Zealand’s lockdown, but amidst Australia’s ongoing regional restrictions. However, most campaigns pre-dated the pandemic; which is telling in itself

72% of the donation recipients were adults and 28% were children. These are people who experiencing brain tumours, various cancers, heart disease, spinal injuries, spinal injuries, among other issues. The overwhelming majority (77%) were fundraising due to illness, with a handful fundraising due to injuries (9%) or disabilities (7%), and the remaining few campaigns categorised as elective, fertility-related, or mental illness-related. Most campaigns are organised by family members, partners, or friends, rather than the ill person themselves.

Most asked for money to cover direct medical costs, such as hospital care, outpatient medical and diagnostic services, pharmaceuticals, medical or mobility equipment, rehabilitative care and so on.

However, 34% of them also specified the need for help in meeting general living costs, such as household bills, childcare, and transport during times of illness; factors that all have flow on affects for physical health as well. This was much higher than the number of New Zealanders based in New Zealand, who were also crowdfunding, with less than 24% of these requesting help with general living costs.

Many of the people writing these campaigns shared similar stories – of jumping the ditch in search of a ‘better life’. But this may be true only while the going is good, with higher wages not always enough to compensate for unexpected illness or for the support of dependents, no matter how long the wage-earner had been living, working, and paying tax in Australia.

The lack of access to healthcare and social support, was explicitly stated in two thirds of the campaigns, as the reason for their need:

“I cannot claim Centrelink, I have tried multiple times and they have declined me every time.” (campaign 450)


“**** is a New Zealand Citizen and although he has spent most of his schooling and working life in Australia, he is not entitled to any form of financial help.” (campaign 443)

Multiple cases mentioned working and paying taxes in Australia long term and still not being able to access meaningful supports. For example, while one family had “lived and worked” in Australia for eight years, they were unable to access any social welfare when the father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Another campaign tells the story of a terminally ill man residing in Australia for 18 years but still has no access to support. In the campaign his family states he is not “allowed” to become a citizen now because of his diagnosis, but also that is unable to return to New Zealand for treatment because supports are no longer available to him after living in Australia for such a long time.

Citizenship struggles

In 2001 policy changes implemented in Australia saw that New Zealanders living there would stay on an indefinite visa, rather than gaining citizenship. While New Zealanders have access to emergency care under this system, any long term and ongoing treatments are not covered. This includes doctors visit and pharmaceuticals. It also limits access to welfare and social support.

Pathways for Kiwis to become an Australian citizen are complicated. It can take up to 12 years of permanent residence in Australia to access the same supports immigrants from elsewhere in the world may receive after only four years, as Kiwis are the only group unable to apply for citizenship after four years. Kiwis are able to stay on a permanent visa in Australia, but this means they can never access the supports they contribute to through taxes.

Furthermore, marriage to an Australian citizen does not grant citizenship and the subsequent benefits of affordable healthcare and social support. Those married to Australian citizens still were unable to access welfare and health care assistance, while living in Australia with their partner (even if they were working themselves). This means that individuals are faced with potentially uplifting their lives back to New Zealand to receive the treatment needed, even though their lives are embedded in Australia.

Children and families

Though crowdfunding presents individual stories, designed for public attention, very few are about individuals alone. Family members are more than not implicated in the difficult sets of laws around citizenship and welfare access.

Children born in Australia to New Zealand citizens must reside in Australia for 10 years before they are citizens. This means they are ineligible for supports. For kiwi families living and working in Australia, whose young children have medical needs, this rule can have severe impacts. For example, one campaign was for an 18month old child with a serious neuromuscular disorder, who was born in Australia, to parents who are New Zealand citizens. Though he is eligible for “life-saving treatment” through the government, they explain he needs further help for costs he is not eligible for help with, including the therapies, and equipment, that might enable him to one day crawl or walk.

Crowdfunding campaigns typically involve narratives crafted to present ‘deserving’ individuals as worthy recipients of donations. Overseas studies have shown this typically takes the attention away from systemic issues. The campaigns we studied were atypical in that, to explain their situation and justify asking for help, they often went into detail about the systems they were caught within:

 “Both myself and **** are New Zealand citizens (living in Australia for 9+ years now) so even though **** was born here in Australia, because we are not Australian citizens, nor can we apply to be due to the citizenship laws being changed in 2001, we are not entitled to any funding, respite,  careers benefits, disability grants, NDIS and many more things. This makes our financial situation a real struggle.” (campaign 522)


“****’s parents, who moved from New Zealand in 2007, are considered Australian residents for tax purposes and are required the pay the increased levy to fund the scheme but can’t access it for ****’s disability supports and interventions. **** will become an Australian Citizen in 2021 when he reaches 10 years of age.” (campaign 548)

Both these examples reflect the fact that if parents of a child are New Zealand citizens, even if the child was born in Australia, they still do not have access to supports and affordable healthcare for that child. This is in stark contrast to what Australians living in New Zealand receive. It shows the high degree of awareness of the campaigners to the systems they are caught within, but have no opportunity to change or contest.

Unequal exchange

The benefits extended to New Zealanders living in Australia are vastly less than those that apply to Australians living in New Zealand. This has been the focus of an ongoing campaign by Oz Kiwi, a small team of volunteers governed by a committee, whose purpose is “campaigning for the fair treatment of New Zealanders living in Australia”. They provide the following, striking graph about the disparities…

Figure 1: ‘Rights comparison’, from the OzKiwi fact sheet, October 2016.

In 2017, in response to census data researchers also pointed to inequality and discrimination against New Zealanders living in Australia. They also suggested that these measures appear to be specifically targeting Māori and Pasifika immigrants, with less than 3% of immigrants from New Zealand who take up citizenship being Māori. OzKiwi also suggestion that single mothers are disproportionately affected by this process.

Covid19 has brought the inequalities to media attention in new ways. In March New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had to publicly and repeatedly request that the Australian Government provide supports for the Kiwis stuck in Australia during the pandemic – and struggling with job losses, and subsequent loss of incomes – in the same way that New Zealand was providing care for Australian citizens stuck in New Zealand. The eligibility of Kiwis for the Australian ‘Jobkeeper’ benefit scheme was eventually agreed. But with the scheme expiring several weeks ago, it is a better time than ever to recognise that the problem is bigger and deeper than this.

Red flag waving

Data on crowdfunding from both before and during Covid19 confirms that kiwis who seek financial assistance from online publics, while living in Australia, are overwhelmingly doing so because they have limited access to formal social supports.

Is it right that they should have to do so?

Crowdfunding is ultimately an unreliable form of meeting what are sometimes life-or-death needs –  shown in much existing data to fail to reach its financial goals more often than not. It is a gap-stop at best, and at worst, a red flag waving from the ditch people have fallen into, between Australia and New Zealand, and the safety nets designed not to catch them.

Night terrors: Counting loss in a global pandemic

A post written by Ellan Baker and Susan Wardell, based on an ANTH424 assignment on ‘visual images and the communication of suffering and evil’.


On March 19th 2020, social media and news sites were flooded with images of military  trucks, moving the dead out of the overwhelmed small Italian city of Bergamo, for cremation elsewhere [i]. Europe had replaced China as a new epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city of Bergamo. Source:

Northern Italy is known for having small towns and tightly-knit communities, as well as for the beautiful scenery, cuisine and fashion which attract both domestic and international tourists iv. It was largely through travel and social interaction, that the new strain of coronavirus (named SARS-CoV-2) was spreading. Places like Bergamo, a city of just over 100,000 residents, had little time to prepare iii ii.

Picturing the scale of loss

One of the images from mainstream television (Sky News) showing Italian army trucks transporting the dead. Source:

At the time that images of the crematory trucks were released, Italy was in an exponential climb in the number of cases. The number of deaths had now become a few hundred a day, despite best efforts of intervention and prevention. On March 19th, total fatalities had reached 3,405 and were still increasing vi.

As the pandemic spread, people all over the world took in this type of numerical information, to make sense of what was happening v . Rates of spread, death tolls, graphs and spreadsheets… these were forms of knowledge about the reality of Covid-19, which were also somewhat removed from acknowledgements of the level of human suffering it was creating, with every new case, and with every death of a unique human person that those numbers represented.

In this blog we discuss the ideas that images, as a different way of communicating suffering and loss, can help to rehumanise topics such as this. We argue they provide understanding of the scale of devastation in a different way than numbers do, and can be part of catalysing social change because of this.

Echoes of (an invisible) war

Perhaps the most highly circulated images of the trucks (left) carrying the deceased through Bergamo, came from a tweet by Guido Salvaneschi, a citizen of Bergamo vii.

Tightly packed, the military-style trucks are moving in single file down the street. The arrangement of the trucks on the empty street has a ceremonial feel; dark colours, and a string of lights. The road is clearly in an everyday residential area, with a shop, carpark and green field visible alongside. But here it becomes a platform for procession vii.

The escort occurred at night – the image taken at 9:28pm – almost as if they needed to hide the moving of the dead, and shelter the living population vii. Was the suffering so great, that it could not be experienced during the day? Like the living, the day is sheltered from agony; maintaining its symbolic goodness, while night is reserved for pain.

In the photo there are many trucks, and within each truck, there are many bodies vii. The photo both is and isn’t about numbers. The impact of this photo is largely because the trucks are in fact innumerable, their line extends out both sides of the frame of the photograph. It asks us to recognise the scale of loss without making us, or letting us, count and quantify. It evokes the horror of scale, without relying on numbers. It makes an affective connection to the topic, without being explicit.

The image of a fleet of military trucks can’t help but raise the ghosts of war; historical echoes that will have different levels of feeling attached for different viewers, in different places. At very least, the string of large trucks connotes a high number of casualties, and yet there is a disjunct for the viewer, since absent from the still and tidy environment they move through is any evidence of danger or threat. The toll is being counted, truck by truck, but the enemy itself is a ghostly absence; an invisible virus, impossible to see or to conceptualise, except through its effects.

Watching from afar

At this time this photo was taken and posted, New Zealand and many other countries felt far from the ‘front line’. The need to take action here was not yet evident. So we watched the situation unfold through images like this, but even as we did, the virus exponentially spread once again, leaving tremendous amounts of uncertainty in its wake iii

The now-famous images of these trucks did not come, in the first instance, from scientists, journalists, or other authoritative communicators. Rather they appeared in the often informal domain of social media.  The context of apartments opposite implies that this photo too is taken from an apartment window, looking down. The photographer is distant from the street, giving an even more heightened sense of risk or taboo in the scene below.

The juxtaposition of the sombre with the everyday (both in terms of the setting, the intimate framing of the photo, and its context on social media) makes looking at it all the more difficult. 

Images of tragedy and horror often circulate well on the media – like this one, going viral, reaching around the world. Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman wrote about the circulation of images in the media in 1996, before the advent of social media, and yet they discussed many trends we could see continuing, and even increasing, today. They note, for example “viewers become overwhelmed” from a distance and come to have “moral fatigue, exhaustion of empathy, and political despair.” ix 

Given the continuous flow of numbers and statistics, of images and video, through the news, this could well have been the case. Yet people seemed to want to look. Kleinman & Kleinman  also discuss that despite their potential to overwhelm, images of suffering are  often appealing because they leave the viewer asking questions ix.

The unending line of crematory trucks going beyond the photo’s borders shows the impact of the viruses devastation. But what questions does it ask? Are they questions that are answerable? Either way, they were questions that New Zealand did have to approach, as citizens, and as a nation, not long after Italy.

The human struggle

“Struggling to cope” vii the photo caption says. This is, on one level, a comment about institutional and systemic capacity to practically process so many dead – since these trucks  were deployed for the purpose of relieving an already overloaded crematory system vii. But the phrase can also read as a marker of psychological overwhelm for those living through the experience.

The pain that the virus has caused is immense. Images of the COVID 19 pandemic re-humanise numerical information, by bringing Twitter users closer to the suffering of those who are grieving losses of loved ones. This can be contrasted to the insistent numerical broadcasting, which removes the emotional quality and the human context of information, and by itself, refuses to acknowledge the human lives behind them. As the quote often attributed to Stalin goes: “if only one man dies … that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”­ x

Meanwhile, images have a variety of different ways of highlighting the specific, situated, and human meanings of these numbers. For example, the image below is of a blessing taking place by the service providers, to finalise the deceased person’s life, with dignity.

Photo of two men giving dignity to the dead, despite the large number of dead and the lack of family or friends of the loved one present. Source: Financial Times,

This image, taken by Italian news photographer Piero Cruciatti, offers something different to the sense of scale of death and loss in Salvanechi’s image, in terms of communicating the impact of COVID-19. It reveals one part of the story behind each number, behind each body that the viewer understands to be concealed in those many military trucks. It shows the layers of human care and meaning invested into each of them; how the people closest to the suffering still muster the strength and urgency to undertake the enormous amount of cultural and physical work required to bring each person’s precious life to a close.

It shows, perhaps, the tragedy of the ‘one man’ rather than the thousands, and in doing so, it arguably brings a different kind of understanding of this event, than it does to contemplate the thousands.

Image and response

Paul Frosh, an academic writing about digital media, and specifically how people view and respond to the suffering of distant othersxi. One’s moral “response-ability”, he argues, is linked to the sensory mediums through which one is viewing and responding. People who viewing Salvanechi’s photo on Twitter, for example, had to choose how to respond, with their eyes, hands, and attention. Practically this could mean many things; clicking, commenting, sharing. More broadly, categories such as ‘witnessing’ explain what type of moral response these micro-actions may represent. 

Images can broach both a geographical and emotional distance, and act as a testimony and a memorial in and of themselves, to human experience, and human suffering. In Salvanechi’s photo, and the photo by Piero Cruciatti, we are forced to consider the suffering that quickly can become incomprehensible and overwhelming vii–  given a chance to hold our gaze, and to be witnesses to this horrible reality. And in doing so, to form a kind of momentary connection with other people’s life world’s that is void in the production of infographics and statistical data in journalism.

In addition, there are practical responses that can flow on from this deeper kind of acknowledgement. Read in full, the caption on Salvanechi’s candid night-time photograph has a clear intended purpose; asking for more serious adherence to policies of social isolation, as a tactic to slow the spread of COVID-19. Kleinman and Kleinman’s article acknowledges that images can become a social and symbolic commodity for igniting action and change ix.

When New Zealand’s time came, we also had to make choices about setting policy, and also following policy. About lockdowns and closures and social distancing, and other dramatic social changes. Who can say whether the things we had already witnessed overseas, through the lens and eyes of journalists and everyday citizens on social media, was part of shaping our response?

To conclude…

Whether directly affected or not, in this strange period of human history we have all become ‘online witnesses’ the the COVID19 pandemic. Many of us have absorbed large amounts of numerical and statistical information every day iii, vi. While this information provides easily absorbable overviews of the virus’ impact, it cannot contain or express the more human aspects of this moment in time. However, sprinkled throughout the media coverage, have been images that have also mapped the scope and scale of the pandemic, but in an entirely different way.

Images can hurt us, can wound us. They can also, at the same time, offer an embodied empathetic experience of the suffering of others.. Sometimes they can contribute to changes not only in how we understand the world, but the choices we make in response to it. The images of crematory trucks in Northern Italy expressed the large scale devastation of the virus, at a moment in which the whole world was watching, and deciding how to react. What we owe to these cannot be measured.



i National Post, 2020. COVID-19 Italy: Military fleet carries coffins of coronavirus victims out of overwhelmed town. [Online]
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[Accessed 09 April 2020].

ii Worldometer, 2020. Italy Population (LIVE). [Online]
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iii NZHerald, 2020. Covid 19 coronavirus: How virus overwhelmed Italy with almost 5000 deaths in a month. [Online]
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[Accessed 20 April 2020].

iv Turismo Bergamo, 2020. Visit Bergamo: An Italian masterpiece. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 April 2020].

v Knox, C., 2020. NZHerald. [Online]
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[Accessed 04 May 2020].

vi, 2020. WORLD / COUNTRIES / ITALY. [Online]
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[Accessed 20 April 2020].

vii Salvaneschi, G., 2020. [Online]
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[Accessed 09 April 2020].

viii Clark, H., 2020. Missing In Action: the lack of a globally co-ordinated response to Covid-19. [Online]
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[Accessed 04 May 2020].

ix Kleinman, A. a. K. J., 1996. The Appeal of experience; the dismay of images: cultural appropriations of suffering in our times. Daedalus, 125(1), pp. 1-23.

x Stalin, J., 1947. A Single Death is a Tragedy; a Million Deaths is a Statistic. [Online]
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[Accessed 21 April 2020].

xi Frosh, P., 2016. The mouse,the screen and the Holocaust witness: Interface aesthetics and moral response. New Media and Society, 20(1), pp. 351-368.