Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The author, Annabelle Brayley, is a trained nurse who has lived on an isolated sheep and cattle station in South West Queensland. Because of this she has firsthand knowledge of the hardship and isolation experienced by people in the outback and the medical teams who elect to minister to these people.
She moved into storytelling by firstly contributing to RM William’s OUTBACK magazine where she wrote about the centenary of the Victoria Downs Merino Stud in 2006. Many articles followed until she was approached by an editor from Penguin to see if she would be interested in collecting, editing and collating a selection of stories about nurses working in rural and remote Australia.
Thus was born an “Outback Storyteller” with novels such as Bush Nurses, Nurses of the Outback, Our Vietnam Nurses, Outback Vets and now, Bush Doctors. She has developed a reputation for accuracy, honesty and sensitivity that enables people to tell their stories without fear of prejudice or sensationalism. She is happy to do this as she believes it is vital that a record is kept for future generations especially in this modern, fast changing world.
Many of the doctors she writes about in this book are pioneers such as, Dr Rolf Gomes with his Heart Truck, Dr Sara Renwick-Lou, who learned an Aboriginal dialect so she could better communicate with her patients and the “eye Angel” Dr. Bill Glasson who has delivered ophthalmologist services to Western Queensland for nearly thirty years. In selecting the people who feature in these stories Brayley was trying to represent a cross-section of the doctors who fit the rural and remote category. There are no doubt many more who tirelessly give of their skills and compassion who would have also been eligible for inclusion.
What struck me while reading about these hardworking medics was that many of them did not go straight from school into medicine. Dr. Barry Kirby became a trainee accountant before working as a project manager on a work site in Papua New Guinea. Later he did his medical degree as a mature age student but because of his age had difficulty finding suitable work in Australia so spent his life working in Papua and eventually buying a sea plane to help in his outreach work.
Dr Rick Newton from Tullamore NSW wanted to be a farmer but instead became a teacher. Later he resat his HSC and went on to do medicine. Dr Brad Murphy left school at 15. He joined the navy and later the NSW Ambulance Service before becoming a doctor and running a mobile GP Van. Named Indigenous Doctor of the year in 2016 he is known as the Rock Doc because of his interest in boxing and country music. Others mentioned in the book were able to incorporate their engineering skills with their medical knowledge to enhance their expertise in medicine. The doctors mentioned in this book might work in some of the most spectacular locations in Australia – from the splendid isolation of the Kimberley and the wide open spaces of outback Queensland to the freezing icecaps of Antarctica – but their profession demands long hours, extensive medical knowledge and, sometimes, courage beyond their experience.
In recent years we have lost something vitally important, the presence of multi-skilled general practitioners in remote areas, to the belief that bigger is better, that care needs a specialist. This book tells stories of inspiring doctors who challenge this belief with their altruism, enthusiasm and refreshing approach to the complexities of delivering quality and expert care in resource-poor environments. They are often called on to be “jack-of-all-trades, general practitioner, obstetrician, anaesthetist, surgeon, psychiatrist, often all in one day” (2).
I believe this is a book all those studying medicine should read and then maybe more new doctors would be prepared to consider a vocation in these more remote areas instead of in their ivory towers in the capital cities. This is a very heart warming and powerful read of people who are willing to give their all for others.
by Annabelle Brayley