I Feel GoodEaster on the North Coast - rain, washed out sporting events and the BluesFest. It’s a tradition - drugs and mud, booze and blues. Previous issues of GPSpeak have championed Dr David Caldicott’s advocacy of voluntary drug testing for festival goers. In April the first tests were run at the Groovin’ the Moo festival in Canberra. The results showed that 50% of the illicit drugs tested contained substances such as lactose, sweetener and paint, while 50% were pure MDMA.

Two of the 85 samples contained ephylone, a potentially fatal stimulant. Further testing is planned at other locations but the North Coast’s Splendour in the Grass is unlikely to participate for the foreseeable future.

Upgrading work in local hospitals is expected to help handle the ever-rising demand for services.

Emergency departments in Northern Rivers hospitals “welcomed increasing numbers of patients” in the latest recorded quarter (Jan-March), to use the words of Northern NSW Local Health District CEO Wayne Jones, with the rise in local demand registering well above the NSW average.

Sheli Nagas

Dubbed ‘Soul Sista’ by regulars at the Winsome soup kitchen, where she played piano and sang for six months after moving to Lismore in 2013, Sheli Nagas is a fourth generation of the South Sea Islander people ‘blackbirded’ from the Pacific to work in Australian sugar plantations in the late 19th century.

Sheli’s forebears came from the island of Tanna in Vanuatu and were among the few - estimates suggest around 2500 - who avoided deportation when it was decided their labour was no longer needed. In all around 62,000 islanders were tricked or kidnapped onto company ships and brought to northern NSW and Queensland to cut cane for miserable wages.

Sheli grew in Bundaberg, the heart of sugar country.

“We were sugar-slaves,” Sheli says, without bitterness but keenly aware of her people’s terrible history.

She fondly remembers her parents, Rev. ‘Tiger’ Gordon, a cane cutter himself, although long after the slave era ended, and a fine Rugby League player, hence his nickname. A cousin is former Canberra Raiders star Kenny Nagas.

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With expanding options of home care and palliative care services we can expect to see more deaths outside our hospitals and aged care facilities.

The latest research shows that 70 per cent of Australians now wish to die at home, surrounded by friends and family. However, only 14% of people are passing away in the comfort of their own home often because advanced care planning has not been put in place. (Source: Dying Well, Grattan Institute 2014)

‘Offering for the King’s child’ from Series 18: the Countess of Suburbia

A recent show at Hobart’s MONA gallery prompts Dr Andrew Binns to reflect on the influence of ‘madness’ on art creation.

The linked question of what is art and who is an artist is forever under challenge and this came to the fore in a recently concluded exhibition at Hobart’s now-legendary Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Featuring a collection of nearly 2000 artworks from 200 non-professional artists from around the world, the so-called “Museum of Everything’ was first exhibited in London in 2009.

The founder and collector James Brett described it as the world’s first wandering institution for the untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, adding that it questioned who can be considered an artist.