Friday, September 7, 2012

The Dr Tabubil Files: An Introduction to Cloncurry

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!

Cloncurry is a very pretty town.  She's a small town -  a little Queensland town of three thousand permanent inhabitants, a thousand kilometers inland from the east coast, and a hundred and twenty kilometers from Mount Isa - the nearest big smoke, where the trans-Australian highways meet.  But she's always been big for her size.  She's a cattle town - the local seat for the surrounding cattle stations  (editor's first note:  Stations are what Australians call Ranches. They get awfully big - Anne Creek in New South Wales covers 34, 000 square kilometers.  By contrast, the country of BELGIUM is less than half that size!) and she's a mining town. There is a great deal of mineral wealth in the outback and Cloncurry is the Big Night Out and the party town for the workers at half a dozen of Australia's largest mines - The Earnest Henry Mine,  Eloise, and Cannington are some of the more well known ones.    In World War 1, most of Australia's copper came out of the mines around Cloncurry, and until the 1960s, the town was jumping.  The second half of the century saw something of a quiet patch, but things are starting to jump again, as the mining boom gets into full swing.
            Cloncurry may be isolated, and very far away from the other cities - and towns - of Australia, but with all the wealth from the mines that comes into town, Cloncurry is a town that has pride – an army of street cleaners keep the streets swept and clean.  Verges are trimmed, mowed, and filled with flowers, store fronts are tidy, and the corrugated iron is freshly painted.  (And half of everything is made out of corrugated iron.  It's the rural material of choice - for roofs and sheds and house extensions - the third bedroom of the house next door to mine  is made out of corrugated iron) and the shopping can be equal to anything you would find in a larger town - There’s a library, a large police station, and two shops selling cowboy duds, where I bought my Akubra - the classic Australian cowboy hat.  
            There are two supermarkets. One of them, the local Woolworths (editor's note - Woolworths is a major general supermarket chain in Australia) was a surprise to me – it’s better organized and stocked than many of the more upmarket supermarkets in Brisbane. The fruits and vegetable are beautifully presented, and they’ve got everything you could want – tofu, prosciutto, organic butter even, city stuff like that. Everything except for currants. There are no currants.  A cafĂ© started up six months ago, and three weeks ago a hair salon opened as well.  (It’s for women only at this stage. Men have to get pretty elsewhere - or else, men are already pretty.  Hmm….) We have two boutique shops selling all of the knick-knacks and novelty items you can get in Brisbane.
            There are no tumbleweeds, but when the wind kicks up, it sends willy willys (editor’s note: twisters or small tornados) tearing down main street and through the gardens behind people's houses.  

The shire council lent me a house for while I'm here in town.

It has an amazing view.

Cloncurry is deep in Queensland's bush land and right now it's the dry season.  The Chinaman Creek Dam is a kilometer out of town.  It’s got a few backed up streams draining into it, and when you go tramping through the bush chasing flies, they look like something straight out of a Hans Heysen painting.    
            I expect Clancy to step out from behind a tree, kick dirt over his fire, whistle for his horse and as the lowing of the cattle fills the silence, he would settle into his saddle, adjust the brim of his hat and gaze out at the endless plains. 
            Waterfowl abound, to be frightened into flocks by the jet skis and motorboats that the miners play with on the weekend, and when you drive back to town, wallabies startle and skitter out of sight, blending into the red dirt so that all you can see is moving dust. 

We have a fantastic General Practice clinic here in Cloncurry. We have 6 full-time GPs, the same number of doctors as in Mt Isa, which has a population of 20,000 - almost seven times as large as Cloncurry.  The scale is deceptive.  We have a smaller permanent population, but we draw from the surrounding towns and stations and the mines and at present, there are7,000 permanent patients on the clinic's books.  Ironically, the scale of our facility means that people will come the 120 km from Isa to see a really good GP, because our waits are shorter than in  their local clinics. 
            Our clinic has two medical superintendents, one of whom is the principal practitioner of the practice, a practice manager, four general practice registrars (doctors on training programs, studying and working toward a specialty) and me - a resident (or junior doctor, not yet in a training program).  There are generally also two medical students here on-and-off out of James Cook University in Townsville.  So we are very well staffed!
            My position is a provisional training position for second-and-third year residents interested in taking a registry in General Practice.  We work a 10 week rotation, and there is always one of us here in Cloncurry, all year-round.  I’m not particularly interested in GP, but this post sure beats a second-year rural relief post as the only doctor for hundreds of miles in any direction in a tiny small town clinic for five weeks straight, which is what most residents get on their mandated rural rotation. 
            The GPs here also run the hospital on the edge of town, so the day starts with a ward round every morning.  It’s a real GP luxury to be able to follow up the patients that you have admitted from clinic.  The hospital has 22 acute beds (the remaining 3 are used by the nursing home patients as the nursing home doesn’t yet exist) and even a padded cell.  The cell has been out of use since the seventies, but the padded room with the foot-thick wall makes a great storeroom for hospital supplies!

Here is a view of Cloncurry, taken from the lookout on the way out of town.

This is the Chinaman Creek Dam.  It's the dry season right now, and the dam isn't very full, but there's enough water to sit and watch the birds.

And again.

And a spray of eucalyptus, just the way Clancy would have seen it.

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