Call the doctor iodine for outside and whisky for inside
In 1920, an Outback doctor was jack-of-all-trades, dentist, optometrist, anaesthetist, surgeon, chemist, family adviser, and even a vet.
A doctor's surgery in Western Queensland (Photo: The Defeat of Distance)
Simple equipment and poor conditions often demanded a flair for improvising. Fuse wire could wire up a fractured jaw. Sponge rubber from seats of abandoned cars, when sterilised, provided just the right pressure in dressings over skin grafts. Copper wire was once successfully used to stitch up a mother after a caesarean operation. Kangaroo tail tendon made fine sutures.
Doctors often competed with bush remedies. Corned beef and cabbage was eaten to stop stomach pains, appendicitis and labour pains.
One old-timers saying was, "Iodine for everything on the outside and whisky for everything on the inside". Even if the iodine caused severe inflammation, this was called bringing out the badness.
Whisky in regular doses was regarded by many as a must in treating snakebite.
Isolation forced many bush people to deal with their own emergencies. Calling a doctor was a serious business, never taken lightly.
One Muttaburra hotel-keeper sometimes found his patrons apparently dead. Their breathing was infrequent and very faint, reflexes were absent and there was no response even to painful stimulation. But the publican had a reliable test for whether the doctor was really needed. He shook the apparently dead one vigorously and shouted in his ear, "Have a drink". If there was no response at all, the publican called the doctor.
A practice might extend 160 kilometres in every direction. This, combined with bad roads and communications, meant the tyranny of distance was alive and well. A shower of rain turned a dry track into an impassable, muddy morass. No wonder the arrival of Q.A.N.T.A.S. was such a boon.
In the 1920s, Doctor Arrata of Muttaburra Hospital described nursing as dedicated slavery, with up to seventeen-hour working days, and no-one to spare for night duty. Nurses did camp duty, trying to sleep on a stretcher right next to patients. Of course they still had to rise early for surgery, so it could be done before the ferocious heat of the day. What was called the operating theatre might not even be insect-proof, much less airconditioned.
The nurses were indispensable. They faced a hard life, with great courage, dedication, and good humour.
Mud, glorious mud the trouble with road transport
Who can resist a well-made mud pie? Well, that depends. Out here in Western Queensland's blacksoil country, if you need to travel right now perhaps there's an emergency and you need a doctor, or you just want to visit friends then you better hope it doesn't rain. Or you may look at a mud pie differently.
After even light rain, this blacksoil turns into a quagmire of the stickiest mud you ever saw. Driving or walking, you won't go far.
Using horsepower to get a car unstuck (Photo: Australian Stockman's Hall-of-Fame)
With other soil, you might say you became stuck in the mud. With blacksoil, the mud gets stuck on you. Tyres quickly become thickly coated, which makes steering impossible, so much for four-wheel drive. If you persist, the wheel wells fill up too, it can be a whole new way to get bogged. When you're walking, you'll collect so much mud on and around your shoes youll look and feel like you're wearing snowshoes. It is very, very gluey and sticks in large clumps. It is tricky and very messy to remove. In 1920, unsealed roads were the norm, and this viscous, glutinous mud was a serious worry. It made unsealed roads impassable, as it still does today where unsealed roads are the only way of transport. The sick and injured were effectively marooned and isolated. No wonder Q.A.N.T.A.S. was made so welcome. While other parts of the world were still skeptical of aviation, the people of Western Queensland had no doubts. If road transport is at a muddy, bogged standstill, what could be more natural than to fly right over the problem in a flying machine? You're in blacksoil country right now. So watch for rain, won't you.[ top ]