Monday, September 3, 2012

The Dr Tabubil Files: Taxis and Kangaroos

My sister, the estimable Dr Tabubil, is spending ten weeks on a rural clinical rotation in Cloncurry, a small pastoral town in the Queensland Outback.  It's a fantastic place, and together we have collaborated on a series of guest posts  all about living and working in the Red Centre.  Enjoy!

 Yesterday I took a taxi.  I gave the driver an address, and -
            "You Australian?"  He said.
            He wasn't fooled. 
            "I knew it."  He said.  "Now, you can help me  with something."
            "You sure?" 
            "I have a question:  Do Australians eat a lot of crocodile?  Is it, like, beef, over where you come from?"
            I was, to put it in Australian, stumped.
            "Wellll…" I said.  "And.  Er.  It's not that we - "
            "Do you know the supermarket on the corner of Manquehue and Apoquindo?"
            "In the meat section there they sell frozen crocodile.  From Australia.  And I've been wondering.  Do you guys eat it all the time?  The way we have BBQ and hamburgers and steak for dinner?"
            "Um."  I said.  "We do eat it, but not very often, really.  We mostly eat beef, just like you do.  And lamb.  Mostly you see crocodile up north - where they have crocodiles, but everywhere else you mostly see it in restaurants. It's sort of a tourist thing. You know: come to Australia and eat a crocodile!"
            We drove three blocks in silence.
            "We do eat kangaroo, though."  I offered.
            "Really?"  He put on the brakes and turned around in his seat.  "You really do?  There's this movie - with that blond woman - Nicole Kidman, and that man who's in a lot of superhero movies - growls a lot and grows his fingernails -"
            "Hugh Jackman?"
            "Maybe.  So the movie is about Australia a long time ago - in the 1930s - and they drive across the whole country in an old jeep and at one point they see a flock of kangaroos and the man stops the jeep and picks up his rifle and stands up in his seat and - blam!   He shoots a kangaroo.  Just like that.  And he says 'Right. That's dinner.'  Just like that!  So - really?"
            "Mostly we buy kangaroo in the supermarket with all the other meat, but pretty much, yeah.  They're not exactly endangered species, most of them.  Mostly, they're road hazards.  I used to live in the outback- just like in the movie you saw - and at dusk the kangaroos wake up and come out of the bush and go boinging across the road and if you're in a car and one is coming  - bam!"
             And all the way across town he asked questions about koalas and kookaburras and crocodiles and snakes and spiders, and for some reason, he seemed to get the impression that none of the meet-cute animals in the tourist adverts were  worth the bother of going to Australia to meet-cute in person,  if it'd mean he'd have to put up with some of the smaller, slitherier things I told him about.
Huh.  People are funny like that.

In all seriousness - the snakes and the spiders might give you the visceral wobblies  in that unreachable spot in the small of your back, but as far as genuine outback hazards go, the kangaroo is way at the top of the list.  Kangaroos on rural roads scare the bejeezus out of me.  They've got no road-sense, a hell of a lot of momentum, and they come out to play when you can't see them coming.
Back when she first moved to Australia, my sister Dr Tabubil had a boyfriend who I thought was just the coolest thing on the whole continent.  His parents ran a cattle farm a few hours from Brisbane, out where Dr Tabubil said "there are like, a million kangaroos per square meter," and he drove an ancient ford sedan that was pocked and dented and dinged six ways from Sunday.
            "Every time he drives home"  Dr Tabubil told me "He gets hit by at least two of them.  Per mile.  They just come doinging out of the bush into the road and -"
            "Bam!" I said. 
            It was so exotic that there just weren't any words.
            When I came home to Australia myself, and moved out into the real bush, I got an education.  We had a friend who drove up from Adelaide one afternoon, and when sunset hit, he finished the last 150km at a crawl with his eyes swinging back and forth across the brush on either side of the road - and he got hit by a kangaroo anyway.  I saw the car.  The front right corner was a write-off, and all along one side of the car, from the driver's side door to the rear bumper, there was a long wide hollow that marked the tail of a Big Red Kangaroo.  Eight thousand dollars worth of Big Red Kangaroo.
            Right now, Dr Tabubil is working a rural placement at a clinic in a town called Cloncurry.  Cloncurry is a cattle-and-mining center a thousand kilometers inland from Brisbane, as deep into the red center as you can get. 
            She likes it there.
            She wrote to me:  "The town has less than 3000 people, so it's a lot smaller than where you lived when you were in the outback.  Only seven blocks square.  But  the 'population' doesn't count all the miners and the grey nomads (retirees in caravans) that come through.  Heaps and heaps of them. The practice has 7000 permanent patients, out of the mines and the stations around it, and people will drive  hundreds of kilometers to see a doctor."
            The shire council issued her with a house, and a car, but she's only allowed to drive it inside city limits. Ten months ago, the last locum doctor drove the car five kilometers out of town and hit a kangaroo.

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