Story telling from Australia
Outback ER is a documentary set in the emergency department of Broken Hill hospital (here’s a trailer). It was designed to make you feel like Broken Hill was the most remote place on the planet, with limited emergency facilities that make it an extremely challenging place to live.
That may be true (notwithstanding the shameless over dramatization about being the most remote place on the planet) but watching it made me homesick. It wasn’t just the sweeping plains of red earth and a sky studded with stars, or the gritty mining history of what was recently declared Australia’s first ever heritage listed city, it was also the people; the unique humour and love in everyone they interviewed.
For anyone not familiar with Broken Hill you get in a car in Sydney, point it across the Blue Mountains and head northwest. Put your foot down, drive flat out and when you haven’t passed a town for several hours and all you can see is red dirt and sparse scrub, the next place you reach – providing you’ve driven for at least eleven or twelve hours – will probably be Broken Hill.
It’s true that the local emergency medical facilities aren’t as sophisticated as those you’d find in a capital city, and quite frankly some bits of the programme had me peeking through my fingers (at least I still had fingers to peek through, the poor station owner whose finger got mangled by an angry steer faced the prospect of driving five and a half hours to Adelaide for surgery, with every chance his finger would be amputated when he got there.)
But medicine isn’t always about the latest equipment, the top specialist or the most sophisticated facilities. Sometimes, medicine doesn’t have the answer, and when the moment comes for life to end I can’t help thinking that nothing matters more than having someone there to hold your hand – someone who cares. It was heart breaking to watch a loving wife say goodbye to her husband, and equally moving to hear another local admit, as he held his burnt hand under cold running water, that he’d thought about his wife every day in the eight years since she’d died. If I’d passed that man on the street I would have looked askance at his grizzled appearance and never guessed at the love and devotion that lay behind the rings he wore in his ears. They were his wife’s, his way of keeping her close.
Broken Hill forced me to look beyond first impressions and preconceived ideas and I soon realised beauty and love are anywhere and everywhere. The authenticity of Broken Hill reminds me of Keats; Beauty is truth, truth beauty.
There’s a lime tree in the car park of Broken Hill hospital, and I know that because the green grocer on Argent Street told me. I’d gone to buy limes for a meal that night and he’d run out. ‘Try the car park at the hospital,’ he said. ‘They’ve got a lime tree, should be quite a few on it, no point them going to waste is there?’ In the end I changed the recipe and made something else, so I never got to find out if what he said was true.
I don’t doubt it though. I grew more fruit and veg in Broken Hill than I’ve ever grown anywhere, including an allotment style garden in England. I wondered the other day how long we’d last if we had to survive on what’s growing in the back garden here in Sydney.
In Broken Hill I could confidently have said several weeks, thanks to chooks that produced four eggs a day, fruit trees so productive I dried my own peaches (and plums, nectarines and apricots) and a veggie garden with abundant supplies.
Here in Sydney we’d struggle to make it past lunch. The seven figs would do for breakfast (it was a bumper crop this year, I’ve eaten two already), and lunch would consist of three undersized beetroot, a handful of parsley and a smattering of baby rocket. The tomatoes are long gone and I suppose I could save the leeks until dinner (one each, with one left over) but that would be about it. The six grapefruit won’t ripen for months, and we certainly wouldn’t last that long.
It’s funny how many preconceived ideas I had about Broken Hill before I went to live there. The first episode of Outback ER reinforced some of those, especially the brooding silhouettes of old mining equipment and long tracking shots of seemingly empty desert. I grew to love it.
I didn’t think I’d last when I first went to live there but I’d certainly last a lot longer in Broken Hill if I had to feed myself from what I grew myself than I would here in Sydney.
I’m heading to the community garden this weekend, to remind myself that food comes from the ground not from a supermarket then I’m off to a tomato festival in the Botanic Gardens.
And next time I’m in Broken Hill I’m going to look for that lime tree.
How long do you think you would last if you had to feed yourself from your back garden? Please tell me, I’d love to know.