50. Bush medicine

Chosen by:
Dr Richard Travers

Webster, Victor H.

Webster, Victor H (MB, BS Melbourne, 1930). Bush Medicine : a practical handbook for managing serious illnesses and accidents in the outback. <5>, 91, <1> leaves : 273 x 222 mm. Tennant Creek : Jackhammer Press n.d. (1948).

Webster, Victor H.

Victor Webster (1905-1980) was a remarkable man.  After medical residency in Melbourne and psychiatric training in Perth, he went to Tennant Creek as Medical Officer (and served as a Member of the Northern Territory Parliament).  This book, dedicated to “the Australian Bush Woman and especially the Bush Mother,” is a handsome loose-leaf typescript book, with drawings by Basil Schmidt, who was also from Tennant Creek.  The topics deal with the assessment of the patient (history and examination), first aid (including wounds, haemorrhage, coma from diabetes, fractures, urinary retention and burns), important illnesses (abdominal and obstetric; pneumonia and malaria), sick children, mental and nervous disorders, sickness in natives (scabies, yaws, leprosy, gonorrhoea and granuloma ), snakebite and poisoning. Finally, there is a section on medical equipment for stations. It is written for non-medical people, particularly station owners who, because of isolation, had to deal with emergencies themselves. The book is unusual in that sufficient information is given to allow them to give a good account of the illness, over the phone or radio, if they were fortunate enough to have medical help available to them.

Companies which had industrial developments in the outback were required to undertake some community project to compensate the local inhabitants. Perhaps the best-known example is the feature-length documentary film The Back of Beyond, made by the Shell Film Unit in 1954. It is likely that Bush Medicine was such a project, underwritten by a mining company, who gave their printing department an appropriate name.

This copy of the book was bought at auction in 1985 by Richard Travers. It belonged to Dr G. F. S. Davies, whose path crossed with Webster’s in 1925-28, when he was the Stewart Lecturer in Pathology at the University of Melbourne. The Library of the Northern Territory has the only other copy known to exist outside the family. Biographical details were provided by his son, Dr Victor J Webster, and are available in this library.

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