Dozens of people were violently ill after a suspected mass food poisoning at a gala dinner on the NSW Central Coast on Wednesday.
It’s understood at least seven people were taken to Gosford Hospital, and one man came close to death after consuming lamb, beef, chicken salmon, trout and dessert at the luxury 4.5-star Crowne Plaza Terrigal Pacific. A NSW Government spokesperson confirmed the gastro-like-illness presented during a two-day Aboriginal Languages Trust event.
A photo shows the Kamilaroi couple Michelle Oleary, 48, and Ted Fields, 51, smartly dressed in formal attire on Wednesday night. The next morning they were so unwell Ms Oleary feared they would die. Speaking with Yahoo News Australia from her room at Gosford Hospital on Monday, Ms Oleary sounded breathless and tired as she recounted her “horrible” experience.
Ms Oleary said after finishing her dessert, she started feeling pains in her stomach and told her partner Ted she needed to retire to her room. “He came up to the room about 20 minutes later,” she said. “And by the time he got there, I was in the toilet, very ill. I started to vomit.”
'One of the nurses thought I was dead in the bed'
Diarrhoea, vomiting, headaches and muscle cramps followed. The next morning, the hotel called an ambulance.
“By the time they examined me I was even worse,” Ms Oleary said. “They had a drip on me by the time I got to the ambulance and put a catheter in. I was put into (the emergency department) and then into a ward. They filled me up with fluids and electrolytes. I had a chest X-ray. My heart rate has been really low, that was one of the scares — my heart rate. It’s been really serious stuff. I’ve been very scared at times.”
Ms Oleary said its the worst illness she’s had. “One of the nurses that was on said she thought I was ‘dead in the bed’, but they say I might be able to go home today,” she said on Monday. “But there’s a course of antibiotics I have to go on.”
For others, the symptoms look longer to present. Anecdotal reports suggest some attendees were heading home in their cars or attending funerals when they became ill. Mr Fields was sitting by Ms Oleary’s bed when he started to shake. As a diabetic, his partner was seriously concerned for his health.
“When they checked my blood pressure my pulse was racing. My temperature was right up. I did get quite scared,” he said. “We had no idea what we were dealing with. It was horrible. They tested us but it wasn’t Covid.”
'Far from what we deem to be a true Crowne Plaza experience'
Mr Fields said the suspected poisoning was “extremely unfortunate” because the event had a “wonderful purpose” of bringing First Nations leaders from across NSW together. “It was such an unfortunate thing,” he said. Despite this, he is resolute it will be the first of many meetings. “I haven’t heard anyone say they wish they’d never come.”
The NSW Government did not confirm how many people had become ill, but issued a statement. “NSW Health is urgently investigating the situation to identify the cause of illness, in collaboration with the NSW Food Authority,” a spokesperson said. “Aboriginal Languages Trust is assisting NSW Health with their investigation.”
The Crown Plaza Terrigal Pacific’s general manager Mark Roth did not respond to a request to speak on the phone. He issued a statement.
"We can confirm a number of guests have reported symptoms of illness following an event in one of our banquet rooms last week,“ he said. “At this stage, the cause is yet to be determined, but we are taking this incident very seriously and are continuing to work with NSW Food Authority and NSW Health to determine what the likely internal or external cause may be.”
“Although there are no conclusive outcomes at this time, please be assured our guests and visitor's health and wellbeing is of the utmost importance to us and resolving this issue continues to be our number one priority,” he continued “This is far from what we deem to be a true Crowne Plaza experience and we sincerely regret at any distress that may have been experienced by guests dining at the hotel.”
Kamilaroi woman Amy Creighton took to Twitter using the hashtag #anotherdayinthecolony to allege the lack of media coverage of the incident was due to it being an Aboriginal event.
“Anybody seen any media coverage? What's the common denominator here people?,” she said in a tweet that was liked over 1300 times. Ms Oleary and Mr Fields shared this sentiment. “It’s because we’re black fellas,” he said.
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