Friday, September 14, 2012

The Dr Tabubil Files: The Absence of Nightlife in a Small Town

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!
Driving into town from Mount Isa, Cloncurry begins when you pass the first pub and the lawn bowls club.

The Cloncurry Lawn Bowls Club
Cloncurry's pubs are very important to the social (and cultural even!) life out here.  There are 4 main drinking holes in town.  The most popular is the Leichardt (Named for the 19th Century explorer Ludwig Leichardt). One of the big draws of the Liechardt is it’s restaurant – they serve quite an adequate steak (we’re in steak country after all, although the Wagon Wheel has the BEST steak in town).  But the pubs aren't really about the food.  Next door to the restaurant, the Leichhardt has a pub, that turns into at disco after 10 pm. The place really fills up after midnight with a hundred sexually active young men and women.  The dance floor is packed and the crush at the bar is three people deep. (Which is very deep for a little town!)

The Leichardt Hotel

Alcohol isn’t cheap out here – it costs to have it shipped in - but the booze flows all night long. What else is there to do for sexed-up young people in a little town in the middle of the bush one hundred and thirty kilometers from Isa and a thousand kilometers from the coast?  There’s a lawn-bowls club, but that is for the over-60 crowd. There is a cinema.  It’s open-air, where you bring your own chairs, but it’s been closed for a few years now.  

The Cloncurry Cinema

And the young people have money to burn.  So they drink. And they shag. And they come to see me the morning after. The ladies dress up in their smallest, slinkiest dresses (not high heels though – this is the Australia's Red Center!  High heels'd get too darned dusty.) and the gents refuse to put in any effort: they wander into the pub wearing shorts and thongs (note to North American readers - thongs are what you would call flip-flops.  You wear 'em on your feet) - a costume that's the perfect recipe for being denied admission to any pub in Brisbane. 
            One night I was sitting at a bar, nursing a drink and chatting with work colleagues, when a rather unsteady gentleman moseyed up next to me to order a Bundy and Coke (that’s Bundaberg Rum and coca cola for the uninitiated).  He seemed inordinately pleased with his wallet, holding it out and catching my eye like he was begging me to comment.
            “Nice wallet,” I obliged. 
            “Yeah,” he slurred.  “It’s like green and sh**t.”
            And there ended his chances for further conversation.  
            The incidence of sexually transmitted infections out here really is spectacular.  Currently, the Mt Isa medical is fielding a Syphilis epidemic. In Australia -  in 2012!  At our clinic it is standard practice to offer an STI screen along with every Pap smear (regardless of the age of the woman).  And we offer a full STI screen at every doctors visit for every patient – of any age and gender.  Our standard tests are Chlamydia and Gonorrhea swabs, and we always encourage HIV, Hepatitis C and a Syphilis serology along with them.  This we do even for backpackers from overseas, who are passing through and who don’t have medicare (editor's Note: Medicare is Australia's national health care system.) and have to pay the full costs of the tests.  If you’re interested, it costs $488 dollars to be screened for those five infections.  Only three of them are easily treated.  So play sensible, okay?
            And then there are the backpackers.  Cloncurry is a major destination on the working-holiday track.  Kids come through all the time, and most of them pick up work in the pubs, where the fun is.
            And this is my medical conversation, about a week after every single one of them arrives: 
            "Hi Doctor.  I've come to inquire about what sort of birth control you offer here in Cloncurry."
            "Well, we've got condoms. And the pill. And the IUD. Condoms are good."
            "Ah - I think that the pill sounds exactly like the sort of thing I'm wanting."
            "You work in a pub, right?"
            "I do."
            "You party a lot?"
            "Indeed I do."
            "We'll start with the condoms, then." 

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