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.