Notes from the f ield
“AS LONG AS I can remember, I’ve known that my mother’s uncle Gerard (‘Ger’ as he was known) had been a prisoner in Germany during World War I,” says historian and long-time AG contributor Alasdair McGregor, who wrote our Centenary of Armistice feature in this issue. “Although he lived into his 80s, I never managed to meet Ger.
But researching Aftermath of
War (page 88) prompted me to delve into his military record, and to my amazement, I discovered he was at the Battle of Fromelles, an important element in my story.
“His war history then sent me in search of still more relatives of whom I had little or no knowledge.” What began as a routine AG assignment soon turned up an extensive family record of military service as Alasdair discovered the detailed war records of about a dozen not-too-distant relatives. Perhaps most poignant was the story of David McGregor, a cousin of Alasdair’s grandfather Alexander. “Having enlisted in
July 1916, he arrived in England that December. But within a month David McGregor was denied a hero’s death at the Front, and instead succumbed to pneumonia in an English hospital.
“Service, gallantry, misery, disfigurement, disease and death – my family’s stories are typical of so many; yet through these recent discoveries, each one is rendered personal, and every one becomes important to me.”
Personal connection is also at the heart of the Royal Flying
Doctor Service, which AG writer Hannah James discovered when she visited two bases – in Broome
and Broken Hill – for this issue (page 54). “This was a dream assignment: spending time with the men and women of the Flying Doctors, and visiting the remote communities they work with,” Hannah says. “It was an honour to be given permission by the elders of Yakanarra, WA, to tag along with the Flying Doctors on their weekly GP clinic visit. The spectacular plane trip out there from Broome (in a Cessna) underscored how remote Yakanarra is, and once we arrived, the locals were happy to chat about their town and love of the Flying Doctors.
“This adoration was the common thread everywhere we went. In NSW, where drought was ever-present, the locals were grateful not only for the everyday medical care the RFDS provides, but also for the caring, practical mental healthcare that means more people are able to stay on the country they love.”
Far from the outback’s red dust but just as quintessentially Australian is
Oxley Wild Rivers National Park on the Northern Tablelands of NSW. Long-time AG contributor Don Fuchs explored its 63km-long Green Gully Track (page 108), which leads through virgin forest into a deep ravine, where rock wallabies roam the cliffs, and then out again via a challenging climb that tests even seasoned hikers’ stamina.
“There’s a moment on any assignment that stays etched in your memory,” Don says. “On my four-day walk along the track it was a hot shower. What made it so memorable was that it took two days of walking with a heavy backpack, including my camera gear, to be able to enjoy it.
This shower was earned with sweat, sore muscles and hard work.”
The simple open-air shower was at the back of Green Gully Hut, one of a handful of lovingly renovated buildings that once sheltered pioneering stockmen. “Compared with their lives, my short foray into the wilderness was easy. The cattlemen didn’t have the luxury of a hot shower. But they had the creeks and rivers. Maybe for them a dip in cold mountain water was as much a luxury as the few short minutes of hot water at the back of the hut was for me.” Features editors: Elizabeth Ginis, Karen McGhee, Jo Hartmann, John Pickrell Regular columnists: Dr Karl Kruszelnicki AM, John Pickrell, Fred Watson AM, Kel Richards
More contributors: Chris Clarson, Nick Cubbin, James Dorey, Ricky French,
Don Fuchs, Justin Gilligan, Doug Gimesy, David Hancock, Joanna Hartmann, Hannah James, Alasdair McGregor, Peter Meyer, Jessica Mudditt, Matthew Newton, Joanne Paquette, Paul Pritchard, Ben Revell, Dean Saffron, Josephine Sargent, Dylan Toh
Hannah James took to the sky to report on the Royal Flying Doctor Service.