essay: the Tiwis

 The Tiwis

Just returned from a nice cappucino and chat at the Frangipani Cafe, run by the nuns at the local catholic college every Saturday morning.  So Nguiu (now called Wurrumiyanga but I’ll stick with Nguiu – pronounced Nooyoo) is quite civilized, a far cry from the grim settlements of Utopia last year.  There are 2 general stores (expensive, of course), a takeaway, a club (if you want a drink), a post office, a police station, a swimming pool (closed!!) and council offices. And of course a big football oval, home to the famous Tiwi Bombers sponsored by Essendon, with lots of Riolis and other fab aussie rules players.  Big mango trees everywhere, currently dropping their fruit, very good to eat if you get the ones the bats haven’t chewed on.  It’s quite a pretty place, and the little ‘suburbs’ aren’t strewn with rubbish to nearly the degree that other places are.  It’s at the southern end of a 500 metre channel separating Bathurst from Melville Island, so the sea breezes make the heat a lot easier to bear.  Coming in to cyclone season but the houses are cyclone rated, and i’m told to get into the bathroom, away from windows and under a mattress if we are unlucky
I’m looking after some chooks and 2 large exuberant dogs Chopper (neutered male) and Bollie (female) who demand (lots of barking and crying as soon as I get up) twice daily walks.  It’s a short ‘walk’ to the channel, which is apparently full of crocs and stingers – doesn’t seem to bother the dogs who dive in for a quick dip.  Not really a ‘walk’ because the dogs burst out of the gate and streak off like greyhounds.  There’s an electric fence topper to keep them in but the larger one Chopper gets out – I think he launches himself off the henhouse roof.  They are thin and fit, and it’s an effort to stop Chopper pushing me out of the way and getting free when I leave for work; of course he can’t get back in and one day I found him outside my room door at the clinic!  They have a ritual bark with several dogs along the way, and one old girl is looking daggers at me.  They scavenge anything – Chopper ate a dead bat yesterday, and then did his best to pull all the outer hair off a coconut, eats fallen mangoes too.
Easy flight from Melbourne and camped at the Darwin Travelodge ‘resort’ for 2 nights – a sprawling pleasant spot a few streets back from the usual hotels on the Esplanade (I have a different locum agency RAHC this year and they seem to do it cheaper).  Had a half day’s training in PCIS (“picis”) medical software which I haven’t used before; not as friendly as what we use down south, but a LOT easier than Communicare, the one I’ve used in past years up here.  Then some rather unnecessary training in Medicare at the heath dept in Casuarina a few kilometers out, and was meant to spend an hour or two with the Director, but he was away; that may have been a blessing as he phoned me later and was a nice earnest man who could talk under water.  Very easy small plane flight to Nguiu, only 15′ once airborne, sitting up front because of my weight – worth remembering.  Only allowed a 15 kg suitcase and I had 20 kg of excess baggage – groceries from Woolies.  Extra heavy items I had in a small plastic bag, hence my weight.
Straight to work after dropping my stuff at the doctor’s house which is mine for a month while Dr Clinton Leahy and family are off on hols.
The clinic is quite large and complex, divided into male and female halves; needed a map to find my way about at first.  A few white nurses and manager, rest of the staff are indigenous and everyone helpful and friendly. Two registrars who I ‘supervise’ but they have been here 6 months and have plenty to tell me.  One is away but back next week as is the manager.  Visiting specialist teams regularly eg a paediatrican with 2 registrars, next week the renal outreach team. The current reg Dev is an Australian Indian aged 40 but looks much younger – he is very helpful and had a crowd of us to brunch in his ‘little blue donga’ last weekend; he and the new med student are coming to dinner here tonight, and that’s about it for social life here.  The husband of one of the nurses took  me for a drive around, and to a lovely beach out past the airstrip.  But of course no swimming – bugger!  Clinical work is pretty much as everywhere else in Aboriginal Oz – lots of people with multiple chronic diseases from a very early age, say 30, dying young despite a lot of intense medical care.  Autoimmune disease eg lupus is more common than in white communities, and my guess is that that relates in some way to the multiple challenges to indigenous immune systems, though I haven’t heard that said by anybody or read it.
I have a nice big open house, so the dogs watch my every movement from the verandah.  Horrific reading and watching about Paris since last weekend; the TV reception here can be a bit on/off, but I get the Age online.  Hopefully it will slowly lead to better international cooperation and the end of IS, though most of the better commentators think middle eastern terrorism will be with us for a long time. It took the usual time and effort to sort out my communications, but iPad using iPhone as wifi hotspot is now working well.  Also very sad to learn of the death of the great Jonah Lomu; my appreciation of that game has only slowly increased, but he was really good to watch.  His illness and early death is on a par with our indigenous people.
That’s probably more than you want to hear, and I have to go and prepare tonight’s oeuvre – Rice-a-Riso, I think.  Rochi is coming up here for the last 8-9 days, currently nursing Lulu who has been a bit off-colour (could be jealousy re Chopper and Bolly).
Cheers and love, Rod
ps I shall go out with the iPad and take a few pics of house and clinic later, and send separately.  It’s 2pm now and very hot

Hi, sitting here on Sunday afternoon with rolling thunder and a tropical deluge. The wet season has just started and this happens most afternoons. There’s a bullfrog leading the chorus from under the back verandah – he has a deep honking baritone, and judging by his volume must be as big as a dinner plate. Rochi is here now for my last week; unfortunately caught a flu with fevers just before flying, but doing well with high dose vit C. Saw a 5 metre croc quite close on one morning’s walk with the dogs last week, then found a 3′ turtle shell, which had been burned, clearly to cook the unfortunate occupant. The meat is said to be very fatty. On another walk up a track into the bush behind the house I noticed after about half a k that the bush was full of little wooden crosses, then came to more elaborate graves protected by a big new colourful totem. A plaque marked it as the old cemetery, and looking through the bush towards town I could see the big new cemetery with lots of totems.

Yesterday a tribute match between the Tiwi Bombers (mostly black) and the Waratahs (mostly white) from Darwin, in honour of the late great Maurice Rioli. Great footy, and we had an elevated spot in a tiny grandstand watching the action among a joyful crowd. Before the game and during the breaks, dogs and children from small to tiny invaded the ground with every kind of ball – the skills of children who looked barely big enough to walk were impressive. In the second quarter black clouds, thunder and a prolonged deluge but the action continued amid much slipping and sliding, and little kids playing in the great puddles. We headed for home and the scores were even at that point.

Clinical work has been busy and challenging, with a hot appendix a broken hip and lots of other referrals to Darwin, amid the large numbers of (often young ) people with multiple severe chronic diseases. Another locum has arrived from Melbourne, which is good because the previous week was just me and a young registrar. Dr Andrew Lee has been to Nguiu several times, and has his family with him; he’s a nice fellow and we have been enjoying more social life than usual up here; both kids Chris and Nikki are lawyers, so a few spirited discussions about general issues up here. His wife Sue teaches at the big Catholic school when she comes up here. This morning old Sr Anne Gardiner 85 opened up the Museum which she has put together over many years; most impressive with lots of old photos and artifacts.   She has a long Tiwi middle name and has dedicated her life to the Tiwis and preserving their culture. The Catholic mission and school have been here more than 100 years. Then visited the fine old Catholic church strafed by the Japanese at the start of WW2, and beside it the little radio shack from which Fr McGrath frantically radioed Darwin as the first Zeros flew over. He was ignored and the Japanese flew more than 80 bombing raids on Darwin from a carrier in the Arafura Sea (which I am looking at out the back windows). Australia had no airforce then as Menzies had agreed with the British that the Brits would supply planes if we were attacked (of course all British planes were busy in Europe and couldn’t be spared!). So the attackers strafed Nguiu, wounding some people. One Zero was shot down and crash-landed here, the pilot captured by the locals. He was sent to the prison camp at Cowra and organized the Cowra breakout in which 220+ Japanese prisoners (including him) were killed. The Zero’s propeller sits against the radio shack.

We had a look at Tiwi Design yesterday – a big workshop selling lovely screenprinted fabrics, carvings and paintings, all expensive. It’s a longstanding business and winding down for Xmas so probably not much for Rochi to do there as a volunteer this week. This morning we drove about 10k to Tientebei, the nearest beach (all red stones and mangroves at Nguiu). It’s a vast flat expanse of sandbanks before a turquoise sea, criss-crossed by crocodile creeks into the mangroves from each end, nice for a walk but of course no swimming; saw emu tracks, and picked up a small beautiful shell whereupon a hermit crab appeared in a flash and bit my finger. Mosquitoes seem to love me too, and I have become a bit sensitized, as they cause a local haemorrhagic reaction. It’s itchy in paradise.

That’s about it from the Tiwis; we take the last little plane to Darwin next Friday and back to Melbourne on the Saturday. With love from R&R