Maureen Kerr was a nurse in White Cliffs, a tiny opal-mining town of about 200 people in far northwest NSW, when a dramatic incident happened at the health clinic.
A handful of drunk men arrived at Kerr’s door from a very long Friday night in the pub. One of them, Mick, had been bitten on the finger by a snake.
When Kerr asked the men if they had the snake, all of them, including the patient, staggered out the door to find it.
Mick returned with a wriggling brown snake, holding it triumphantly in his bandaged hand, and stepped right up to show it to Kerr.
This is one of the stories in Nurses Of The Outback, Annabelle Brayley’s book that profiles 15 nurses working in remote areas.
“I just admire nurses so much for their resilience and commitment to what they do,” says Brayley, whose previous book Bush Nurses looked at the history of rural and remote nursing in Australia.
Brayley’s new book focuses on today’s breed of outback nurses. We meet Anna, on duty in Georgetown as Cyclone Yasi tears through north Queensland; Aggie, who overcomes her demons to help young people in the Kimberley; and Catherine, a newly graduated nurse determined to make a difference in Julia Creek, west Queensland.
Brayley, who trained as a nurse and lives in southwest Queensland, retired from healthcare after 10 years to pursue her passion for telling stories.
She had no trouble finding inspiration for her writing among her friends and former colleagues in the bush.
Brayley says many of the nurses she chose to profile were surprised or hesitant to be included, because they thought their contribution to the world around them was pretty ordinary.
But Brayley believes these men and women are heroes, because they do extraordinary things in geographic isolation.
“Heroes are ordinary people who step up and do whatever extraordinary things are required of them to help others, usually in a time of crisis,” she says.
“Nurses definitely are in that category.”
*Nurses Of The Outback, 15 Amazing Lives In Remote Area Nursing, by Annabelle Brayley, Penguin, $29.99