UOW Students Holly, Lara, GP Preceptor Nic Cooper and Practice Manager Carol Pachos – GP Super Clinic Grafton

When I was allocated Grafton by my university I expected my year-long placement to occur in a stereotypical small town where everyone knew each other, and nothing ever happened. In my imagination, the sleepy town had an equally sleepy hospital and GP clinics - a close-knit community that made it difficult for outsiders to fit in.

I was prepared to be lonely and bored in yet another bastion of poor immunisation amongst the beauty of the North Coast. However, despite what the locals will jokingly tell you, I found Grafton to be bustling with activity. There was always some festival or local event, from the pomp and ceremony used to celebrate the jacaranda trees with tourists from around the world, to the humble Grafton show or even the competitive weekly pub trivia. Locals warmly included you into the local community. Strangers greet you in the street and generous unexpected hospitality was often offered, even if you had just met them.

Protest at Nimbin Mardigrass, photo dated 2008 by Mombas2 Peter Terry [CC BY-SA 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons]

Call it what you will – names include grass, ganja, hootch, loco weed, whacky tabacky, Mary Jane or her cousin, Alice B Toklas – cannabis has never been regarded by the mainstream as anything but a recreational drug… until now.

Suddenly in Australia marijuana (another of its names) has been moving into the therapeutic ‘space’, sanctioned by government as suitable for prescribing as an aid to alleviating, although not curing, a range of conditions, some of them paediatric.

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.