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Sticks and stones

Sticks and stones
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The Grumpy Old Doctor, aka GOD, was a solo GP in a small country town for 32 years. He’s now working as a rural and remote locum across Australia. His stories take the form of letters to his daughter, Julia, in Sydney.

Dear Julia

Nothing smells better than a freshly ploughed paddock. Standing on the towbar of a cabinless tractor, daydreaming and inhaling as the trailing disc sliced and rolled endless ribbons of earth, was one of the many dangerous pleasures of my country childhood. We swam in rivers and dams, trapped rabbits, poked balls of mercury around a tobacco tin and were armed with slug guns. Guy Fawkes night was the social highlight of the year, complete with a raging bonfire and arsenals of fireworks: penny bungers, catherine wheels, jumping jacks and tom thumbs.

A family outing entailed cramming two adults and six children into a Ford Prefect – four in the back seat and one reclining on the rear parcel shelf. Dad always drove and the baby was either on Mum’s lap in the front passenger seat or on the floor between her feet. Seat belts, like bike helmets, ear muffs and protective goggles, were unknown.

We had an outside “long drop” dunny, wiped our bums with squares of The Sun News- Pictorial (more comfortable if crumpled and uncrumpled several times first) and shared the same bath water once a week. There were no use-by dates on food. We drank dead-magpie-infused tank water (unfiltered) and inhaled clouds of second-hand tobacco smoke. Immunisations were limited to triple antigen: diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and Sabin (polio). We had no food allergies or sensitivities and ate whatever we were given. Vitamins and other nutritional supplements were unheard of.

It was a dangerous, dirty, disadvantaged upbringing, yet visits to the doctor were rare. I remember going twice, with a broken thumb and with a scratch on my “good” (straight) eye. My brother went in with a bad belly ache on a hot Sunday night and returned on Tuesday without his appendix. One of my sisters was admitted for a week with pyelonephritis, an unpleasant experience for her and life-changing for the rest of us. The portable black-and-white television with rabbit ears antenna, which had been rented to keep her amused during her illness, came home with her. 

Mum, who disappeared to hospital for a few days every couple of years and came
home with a new baby, attended to the rest of our medical needs: coughs, colds, sore throats, measles, mumps, chickenpox, various cuts and abrasions, shattered egos, sprains, bruises, emotional upsets, puberty and learning difficulties. She also taught us all to read before we started school.

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