poem: A locum’s Utopia

A Locum’s Utopia


A vast red plain of spinifex and gums,

White-trunked, picked out against the deep blue sky,

A pristine beauty shimmering with heat.

Great flocks of birds – galahs, corellas –wheel

And shriek, as if to say “It’s mine, piss off!”

Large herds of feral horses mope about;

They’re quiet and watchful – way too hot to trot.

It’s Urapuntja – clean and tidy homes

Around the clinic.  Such a contrast with

Surrounding camps where all the locals live.

There’s Mulga Bore and Soakage, Soapy Bore,

Atheliye, all are strewn with rubbish ‘cross

A baked red dusty common, fringed with dim

And ugly little houses, home to ten

Or more – all scenes of poverty, neglect;

And countless skinny dogs and puppies play

Beside their owners, sitting, lying, quiet

Amid the rubbish, heat and flies, red dust.



A locum doc, I work among them; all

Are fullbloods, most are shy but smile at me

If I smile.  Eye contact is fleeting, speech

Is soft and brief and few speak English well,

The gulf between our cultures stark with each

Attempt at understanding what’s amiss

Or why they’ve come to clinic.  It’s a dry

Community, so wounds of alcohol-

Fuelled violence much less common than in town.

That’s Alice Springs three hundred k southwest.

Appalling health just like the rest of north

And centre – it’s a dodgy third world state

Within the wealth of Oz.  They die quite young

Of chronic ills not seen that much down south,

And most of these are due to poverty.

You see quite clearly fit young kids become

Fat teens and then obese adults.  All

Of them once fat get diabetes, curse

Unfairly pushed by ‘thrifty gene’ and sweet

And fatty trade store diets, all the fruit

Of under-education.  Many years

Of white dominion leads to this, our shame.

And yet one sees a healthy group – they’re old

And thin and live in humpies, never smoked,

They often live to eighty and beyond,

Still hunt, avoid the tradestore food, and grog.

They’re like the group of fit old stockmen seen

At Kalkaringi, first remote NT

Job several years ago.  The work is done by teams

Of nurses visiting the distant bores

And checking folk for early signs of all

Those chronic ills.  It can be risky work

And very isolated; air evacs

Are common.  Locum docs are sometimes there

To oversee the checks, and deal with more

Severely ill and complex cases.  It’s

Utopia, it’s wild and sad and full

Of beauty, full of sickness, full of shame.

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