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Vinnies Apologises After 'Disturbing' Incident With Indigenous Elder Fleeing Bushfires

St Vincent de Paul has apologised after a worker allegedly turned away an Aboriginal elder at a bushfire evacuation camp, a witness claiming they told him "we've helped enough of your people today".

The charity is investigating claims circulated on social media, and has issued a profuse apology after calling the allegations "disturbing".

The elder, who has not been named, allegedly evacuated Lakes Entrance to nearby Bairnsdale on January 4, as bushfires came racing through.

He had nothing but the clothes on his back and went to a relief centre to ask for help, community member Phillip Stewart said in a post that has gone viral on Facebook.

There, Stewart claimed the elder was told by St Vincent de Paul staff member that volunteers had "helped enough of your people today."

The elder was reportedly given a $20 fuel voucher, and told by the same Vinnies staff member "Don't tell any of your friends".

Phillip Stewart claims an Indigenous elder from his community was badly treated when he appealed for help at a bushfire relief centre
Image: Facebook

"He walked out of there and felt so humiliated, ashamed and upset that he told his niece to take [the voucher] back in there because that wouldn’t have helped much," Stewart wrote on Facebook. 

"It saddens me that my people are still getting treated this way today in 2020."

10 daily has contacted Stewart for comment, and reached out to the elder in question.

In a statement to 10 daily, St Vincent de Paul apologised and said the claims were "disturbing".

"We offer our apologies to this Aboriginal elder. Unreservedly," the statement read. 

"Our volunteers have been on the ground and assisting as many people as possible during this extremely difficult time for all Victorians.

"They have been providing practical assistance, such as food, clothing, fuel vouchers etc. to anyone – local or otherwise – needing assistance. And they will continue to help as long as they are needed.

"Again, we are extremely sorry for any distress and would like to assure everyone that we are offering support to all."

Contact the author - hmoore@networkten.com.au