Letters to the Editor

The New Perils of Remote Medicine

Madam: I was recently advised that the doctors’ accommodation on Mornington Island (Queensland) had been changed from individual quarters to shared accommodation because of continuing and worsening break-ins. The break-ins are usually violent, with drugged teenagers armed with clubs and machetes.

Apparently the idea is that all the staff can be together when attacked. I have visions of a group of medical staff huddling in a corner armed with stethoscopes to throw at the intruders and perhaps a copy of Harrison’s Pocket Textbook of Internal Medicine to whack them over the kneecaps if things really get bad.

This is the same community where there have been numerous gang rapes, including of a six-year-old girl. Bloody bareknuckle punch-ups on the street are seen as legitimate ways to sort out problems. Most cases of violence don’t make it to the media so it remains conveniently hidden.

Medical staff (especially nurses) are used to being attacked in remote communities, but it is wearing. More than new housing is needed to retain a medical workforce.

Name withheld by request


The Wedding Ring

Madam: My father returned from the war with ten quid in his pocket. He’d been flying Spitfires and Hurricanes over Europe and later in Burma. He was invalided out, worn out by what he’d seen and done. One dream had kept him going during the three years away from Australia—to marry his fiancée, settle down and become a farmer.

He arrived in Melbourne, with his faded RAAF uniform hanging off a lanky body scrawny from bouts of malaria and burnt near-black from the tropical sun. His aim was to buy a wedding ring, as the long-awaited event was planned for two days hence. My mother’s family was not about to allow time for any pre-marital hanky-panky!

Dad found a jeweller’s shop near Flinders Street station and went in to purchase a ring. The shop was run down and gloomy and the counters dusty. Buying jewellery had obviously not been a priority for Melburnians during the hard years of war. The elderly jeweller shuffled out from a back room.

“I need a wedding ring, please. Doesn’t have to be fancy, just something simple will do the trick.”

The old man looked at him thoughtfully. “You have been over there, to my side of the world?” 

“Yeah, just got off the boat, and I’m getting married in a couple of days. She’s been waiting three years.”

“Well,” said the jeweller slowly, setting the dust motes dancing as he pulled out a tray of rings. “I am thinking, perhaps one of these?”

Dad’s heart sank when he saw the prices.

“I only have ten quid,” he said, embarrassed.

“Let me see, this one here should suit. It’s excellent quality, and wide enough to last a lifetime or more. That’s what you want, is it not? One day your great-great granddaughter will wear it.”

Dad shifted from one foot to another. “It’s just fine. In fact, it’s more than just fine. It’s a beautiful ring, but …”

“I’ll wrap it for you then.” The jeweller polished the ring carefully and found a small box.

“I can’t afford it,” said Dad loudly.

“You see my name up there, on the sign? Ezra Lieberman. You know what that means? Of course you do. So this ring is a gift, an offering of thanks, from someone who was too old to go and fight for his people. Now leave me, my friend, and get married and live happily ever after. Otherwise, what was it all for?”

And so Dad left, with the tiny box in his pocket. He married my mother as planned, brought up a large family and eventually owned the farm they so desired.

Eighty years later, as shrieking ghouls from earlier times rise up to stalk our streets, his great-granddaughter will wear this ring when she marries her beloved. And that is just as it should be. Otherwise, what was it all for?

Joanna Hackett


Schoenberg in Australia

Madam: Regarding “Bruckner, Schoenberg and Mahler in Australia” (April 2024), for the sake of accuracy, whatever may have taken place in Sydney on March 15, it was certainly not the Australian premiere of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder.

I was privileged to take part in a performance of this work in Melbourne’s Hamer Hall over thirty years ago, with distinguished soloists including Rita Hunter, Alberto Remedios, Gerald English, and I believe Geoffrey Chard, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Melbourne Chorale, conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite.

E.J. Pitt

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