13 November 2019

Down in the Roaring Forties you can still get a good pizzlin’

General Practice Grumpy Old Doctor

Dear Julia, 

It’s wild and windy down here in the Roaring Forties and surprising things wash up on the shoreline.

My first customer was no exception.

An agitated older man, he blew in and loudly proclaimed “God stuff me dead, doc! I’ve had a pizzlin!”

Yes, a “pizzlin”.

Now the pizzle is a very interesting thing, seldom mentioned in polite company these days and defined in my Concise Oxford as: “The penis of an animal, especially that of a bull, formerly used as a flogging instrument”.

So not quite knowing which was the next most appropriate question to ask, I moved onto his blood pressure. Which was up. A lively few hours chasing an errant young bull over and through several fences will do that, and leave an ageing body feel like it has been flogged.

Things didn’t end happily for the animal either. He finished up in the mixed species (catering for cattle, sheep and wallabies) abattoir.

My second patient also had a bovine-related ailment. She presented with a painful right arm and explained that her symptoms were caused by her work – and so I met my first cheese waxer. She dips the cheeses into the wax and then she takes the cheeses out of the wax.

It sounds like a mind-numbing way to spend the working day but she seemed perfectly happy with her life. Blessed are the cheese waxers.

There are a lot of cattle around here, plenty of farmers, but not many dogs.

Motorbikes have replaced the Kelpies but not the Kelpers. Kelp washes in from the Southern Ocean and on weekends the kelpers go kelping. Six tons of wet kelp produces one ton of dry kelp after being hung on a rack for a week or so.

It is then shredded, sent to Scotland and turned into an emulsifier that finds its way into a myriad of foodstuffs, chemicals and medicines. At $700 per ton for the dried stuff, it takes a lot of windy weekends on the beach to make a fortune.

You won’t get rich on kelp, but there are plenty of millionaires in these parts, both home grown and imported. The latter come by air and sea. Some fly in, play golf, take the best table at the best restaurant and make dining unpleasant for everyone else with their boorish talk of handicaps, real estate, double bogeys and corporate takeovers.

Others arrive by boat. Delivered by ostentatious ocean liners, they are buzzed around the place for a cheese tasting and a quick look at the lighthouse. Bored old money.

The local rich list is dominated by farmers who, unlike the golfers, are modest in assessment of their worth, one young lady telling me that she lives “On a bit of a farm – 4,000 sheep and 4,000 cattle”.

Retirees, mostly Gold Coast refugees, find spare time plentiful and revert to traditional hobbies for diversion and cash. An elderly philatelist explained, in great detail, the rapidly rising value of his collection of pre-World War I stamps from the German colonies featuring the late Kaiser Wilhelm’s yacht. A canny, if esoteric, investment.

Not everyone here lives a life of ease. It’s tough for some.

An early morning emergency call introduced me to a tattooed, weather-beaten shipwreck of a man with burns on his back and a cut on his forehead. A midnight snack of fried steak had been interrupted by “visitors” bypassing the front door in favour of the kitchen window.

My patient was both burnt and beaten with his own frying pan, but still had the presence of mind to put his mobile on speaker before I started sewing him up.

The nurses and I were treated to a detailed analysis of events when his friend rang in to see how he was going. We learned that the assailants, in the heat of battle, had stolen the victim’s warfarin thinking that he had said it was morphine. That’s how medication errors occur.

The following day I learned that the area has a history of such sporadic, gratuitous violence. My first patient of the afternoon had an obvious limp and a stiff left arm, neither of which were of any immediate concern, but I just had to ask. His disabilities were the result of being hit in the head 40 years ago, twice, with the back of an axe when he went to the aid of a victim of domestic violence.

The wind howls on unabated, but life here is, fortunately, not so wild as it once was. Back in the 1970s, mining scheelite, a mineral containing tungsten, was a major source of employment and fun.

“I worked in the mine. Had a long lunch one Friday and ended up in Kings Cross. Yes, Sydney. Boss gave us a talkin’ to when we got back on the Monday. Wouldn’t happen now. The missus wouldn’t allow it and the mine’s closed”.

Times change, but for some “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. Trevor has lived in four states and one territory in the last five years, has no money, little education and no job. At 18 years of age, he inhabits a much older, battered body and finds himself marooned here “because mum keeps shackin’ up with arseholes and I’ve got nowhere else to go”.

The cheese goes with anything. I prefer the cheddar.

Love, Dad

 Dr Max Higgs is a former country GP, a current rural and remote locum and a collector of stories


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