Meet hero Aussie bush GP

Bush doc­tor Molly Short­house grew up in Arn­hem Land and is com­mit­ted to bring­ing mod­ern medicine to the out­back

Woman’s Day (Australia) - - Contents - Check out more amaz­ing sto­ries in Bush Doc­tors by Annabelle Bray­leyyy (Pen­guin, $34.99)

As a highly qual­i­fied doc­tor and men­tal health ex­pert, Molly Short­house is the kind of woman you’d ex­pect to be straight down the line with her own health.

But when she started hav­ing con­trac­tions an­nounc­ing the im­pend­ing arrival of her first child, son Noah, in Oc­to­ber 2009, she didn’t fol­low her own ad­vice and head straight to hos­pi­tal.

In­stead, the bush doc­tor told her hus­band she needed to get to the beach, not far from her home in the re­mote Nhu­lun­buy re­gion of East Arn­hem Land in the NT.

“My hus­band Aari was wor­ried but fol­lowed my wishes,” Molly tells Woman’s Day. “The urge to be near the wa­ter was over­whelm­ing.” So Aari took Molly to the beach, where she walked its shore, fall­ing on her hands and knees to breathe through an­other ex­cru­ci­at­ing con­trac­tion when it hit.

“I was fo­cused on get­ting through the pain when Aari yelled, “Molly, Molly, quick look at this. Look at this!” Molly turned to see a huge ham­mer­head shark swim­ming along the shore­line.

Sev­eral hours later, as she gave birth to a healthy boy in the lo­cal Gove Dis­trict Hos­pi­tal where she worked, she re­mem­bers every­one in the room ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the huge surge of en­ergy she did, a spir­i­tual wave she says has brought her even closer to the Indige­nous Yol­ngu peo­ple of the area and their “ex­tra­or­di­nary” cul­ture.

“The Yol­ngu be­lieve my totem is Mana, mean­ing shark,” Molly says. “I think they are right – my son Noah has al­ways been ab­so­lutely ob­sessed by sharks.”

An aware­ness and re­spect for Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture was some­thing Molly and her sib­lings – twin sis­ter Alice and her two younger broth­ers Daniel and Josh – grew up with as the third gen­er­a­tion of her fam­ily liv­ing on the fringes of the small com­mu­nity of Humpty Doo, about 40km from Dar­win.

“We had a won­der­ful child­hood,” she says of her life with “hip­pie” par­ents in one of Aus­tralia’s first so­lar com­mu­ni­ties with six other fam­i­lies liv­ing sus­tain­ably.sus­tain­ably “We’d say bye to Mum in the morn­ing and she wouldn’t ex­pect to see us un­til din­ner. We spent our time ex­plor­ing the bush and mak­ing cub­by­houses. We had wal­la­bies in­stead of pup­pies, and a gi­ant python lived hap­pily in our ceil­ing.”

Molly, 40, never in­tended to be doc­tor – her par­ents were much more likely to visit a natur­opath than a GP. But re­gard­less of her roots, she was drawn to medicine and th­ese days is work­ing as a doc­tor in Tas­ma­nia, al­though there is a spe­cial place in her heart for Arn­hem Land and the role she played there.

‘Ru­ral re­mote medicine is one of the tough­est spe­cial­i­ties’

“Ru­ral re­mote medicine is prob­a­bly one of the tough­est spe­cial­i­ties in medicine,” she ex­plains. “We need to be able to per­form emer­gency medicine on any­one, from a new­born to a 100-year-old. And even more, we need to be able to do it alone, with­out the backup of sur­geons and in­ten­sive care up the hall­way.”y

Af­ter meet­ing Aari Aari, 44 44, a pi­lot work­ing in Townsville and Pa­pua New Guinea, Molly fol­lowed him to PNG but it wasn’t long be­fore they re­turned to Aus­tralia and Nhu­lun­buy, some 650km east of Dar­win and 1000km from Cairns, the home of the Yol­ngu peo­ple.

“I can’t ex­plain how vi­tal the role of el­ders are to some­one’s over­all health, and the im­por­tance of be­ing on their land,” Molly says. “I’ve seen young men on the verge of sui­cide taken to the home­lands by el­ders, com­ing back strong and healthy again. “Sui­cide didn’t ex­ist in their cul­tures prior to coloni­sa­tion but to­day it’s the high­est in the world. It’s hor­ri­fy­ing. Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peo­ple have much higher rates of men­tal ill­ness, chronic dis­ease and in­car­cer­a­tion than other Aussies.

“I learned so much,” she says. “I felt like I was stand­ing on the precipice of a vast un­known, an im­mensely com­plex and so­phis­ti­cated cul­ture, the long­est sur­viv­ing cul­ture on the planet.

“I tell med­i­cal stu­dents and ju­nior doc­tors, ‘Don’t come here to help, come here to learn.’ It makes you start from a place of re­spect, not cul­tural ar­ro­gance that our med­i­cal knowl­edge is some­how su­pe­rior.”

Molly treats ba­bies, the elderly and every­one in be­tween!

A makeshift out­back gen­eral med­i­cal clinic.

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