Sad and funny bat­tle tales from nurses on the fron­tier

Bush Nurses: In­spir­ing True Sto­ries of Nurs­ing Brav­ery and In­ge­nu­ity in Ru­ral and Re­mote Aus­tralia

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Roger Stit­son

Edited by Annabelle Bray­ley Michael Joseph, 292pp, $29.99 MINER had fallen down an 80-foot drill hole and would need a shot of painkiller be­fore be­ing winched to the top. Carol looked across at me. Would I be pre­pared to go down a hole that deep via a nar­row dirt open­ing in the ground not much wider than my­self?’’

So re­calls Au­drey Aspel­ing, re­tired reg­is­tered nurse and mid­wife, in one of the true sto­ries recorded in Bush Nurses.

From ‘‘ baby busi­ness’’ in Mar­ble Bar to a sight­ing of the in­dige­nous ‘‘ tall man’’ hover- ing over a hos­pi­tal bed some­where in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory; from a horse­back sprint through bush­fire to reach a pa­tient in 1920s Gipp­s­land to a night flight with the Fly­ing Doc­tor over ‘‘ the lit­tle muddy port of Wyn­d­ham’’, this col­lec­tion is full of bat­tle tales, with all their com­edy, farce and sad­ness.

In the un­adorned voices of nurses and al­lied health prac­ti­tion­ers who of­fer them­selves to the far and dis­tant reaches of Aus­tralia, we learn of the dan­ger of their jobs, the true sense of com­mu­nity in a re­mote place, the fear of not cop­ing alone.

In the words of Kari Richter, reg­is­tered nurse: ‘‘ The many hun­gry adults of the com­mu­nity stood back, go­ing hun­gry, putting the feed­ing of the chil­dren first. I saw the dis­ease and star­va­tion of Third World coun­tries present here in Aus­tralia. My heart broke and my eyes opened.’’

One of the re­frains through­out this book, edited by re­tired re­mote area nurse turned writer Annabelle Bray­ley, is: ‘‘ It’s not about who’s on call, it’s about pa­tient care and help­ing your mates.’’ Team­work is a key theme, as are hu­mil­ity and learn­ing from oth­ers. One nurse re­mem­bers alight­ing newly minted into a small com­mu­nity where it’s ‘‘ a mat­ter of sink or swim — fast! I was taught to su­ture on only my sec­ond night shift, by the wards­maid!’’

There are star­tling im­ages, too: nurses driv­ing am­bu­lance ‘‘ troop­ies’’ vast dis­tances across desert roads, not know­ing what to ex­pect when ar­riv­ing at the scene of a crash.

And there are snakes, quite a few. One ‘‘ wrig­gled un­der our house. We went into the house and turned the air-con­di­tioner on freez­ing in the hope it would be too cold for it to come in­side ... I got kind of used to snakes even­tu­ally.’’

En­com­pass­ing 100 years of re­mote area nurs­ing, this book has so many tales to tell. Sud­denly com­ing across a road ac­ci­dent too

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