Half a lifetime ago I went to Australia for my medical elective, a joyous interlude just before finals that allows doctors-to-be to savour, for one last time, the freedom of life as a student. Eight weeks is barely time to get over the jetlag let alone to adjust to the stark and breathtaking landscapes that unfurl in any journey across this large and mystifying country. Yet long enough to leave the lasting impression that no matter how impressive the delights of Sydney and Melbourne and Australia’s other cities and towns, this is a country only a blink away from submission to its own awesome forces of nature.
It’s also of course a country that, like the USA, remains ill at ease with its own history and continues to struggle to find a fair and effective response to the social and cultural aftermath of the attempt of one people to subjugate another; a country that inspires determination, doggedness, and fierce, defiant passions; a country that can be at the same time both unreservedly welcoming and hospitable and curiously old fashioned in its attitudes to women, outsiders, and still, all too often, the native Australians whose stories tell of times long before European settles ever landed on its shores.
If you, like me, want to understand this complex country a little better I’ve two suggestions to help. First you could try visiting this month’s edition of Medical Humanities where you’ll find a research paper and an editorial exploring problems and solutions Australia style. Kabir Matharu describes how Indigenous Australian drama, steeped in the ancient stories told from one generation to another, can illuminate human suffering from an indigenous perspective and inform understanding of the socio-cultural basis of poor health.