Bonnie Shuttleworth – Interview Transcript

Interview Transcript from Illawarra Stories Wollongong City Libraries Oral History Project – Bonnie Shuttleworth

Interviewer: Tom Hadley

Interview Date: 1995

Tom  Hello, you’re listening to “In My Day”, a weekly program presented by me, Tom Hadley on 2VOX FM. In this program I’ll be talking to interesting people from the Illawarra about their lives and times. My first guest today is Bonnie Shuttleworth, who’s lived in Bulli for more than 40 years, is an adventurous woman and amongst other things, she’s trekked in the Himalayas and been a mobile nurse in the Northern Territory. Welcome to “In My Day”, Bonnie, and I’ll let you tell some of your stories.

Bonnie  Thank you Tom. Hello listeners. The trekking in Nepal was done after the mobile nursing and I had a wonderful time in the Northern Territory. I moved up there after my husband died and used my nursing certificate to see different parts, as I thought of Australia, but I was hooked on the Northern Territory. They’re very friendly people up there and I first worked in a clinic out in the Tanami Desert, about 700 miles southwest of Katherine and about 450 miles northwest of Alice Springs, so it was rather isolated. There were only twenty-three European people there and on and off, three thousand Aboriginals. We had many unusual things happening. I did ask the Health Department when I first applied to work in the Northern Territory for a place where I could swim, and of course being government body, they seemed to have applied just the opposite. They sent me right out on the edge of the desert and the only time there was water in the creek was during the rainy season and that was for about 3 weeks and you didn’t feel like swimming very much with all the dead cattle and animals and whatever you like to have going down the creek, so I didn’t get to swim very much for the first three years I was there. Then I applied for and was given a position as a mobile nurse from Mataranka. That’s 100 miles south of Katherine and I worked over an area of 30,000 square miles. Going east towards Queensland down the Roper River and then south to Daly Waters and then all stations west of Stuart Highway back to Mataranka. I did that over a month. We had a doctor who flew in every six weeks and you saw your patients along the way and I found it very different from nursing in the hospital. You have to coach people to do the things you would like them to do. It’s rather wonderful to do preventative medicine rather than curative medicine. But some funny things happened when I was at Hooker Creek or Lajamanu as the Aboriginals call it. I was on a call this particular night and 2 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on my door Sister Bonnie, help me please. Now I went out and here was this Aboriginal man who was holding his left hand against his right shoulder and his right hand against his upper right, left thigh. And beside him, his first wife was holding up her hands, and she had four broken fingers and his youngest wife was holding her head. Oh my goodness, what’s happened here? So I took them over to the clinic and sewed the youngest wife’s head up with seven stitches. The gentleman, um, had nine in his shoulder and he had this spear wound, a blunt spear wound in his thigh. I splinted the first wife’s fingers and gave them all painkillers and told them to come home and if they had any problems come and see me. They came back the next morning. The elder lady had taken her splints off because she thought it hurt too much. The younger woman said she didn’t like the tight feeling in the head with the stitches. And I said, oh, it’s a terrible thing and he said, oh yes, that young man he, he shouldn’t have done that. He shouldn’t have done it. And I said oh, what happened? I said when they told me the story, their side of the story. They left and I said oh what a dreadful young man he was and the Aboriginal health worker said, Sister Bonnie come into your office. O oh, when I’m called in to my office, I know I’m in for ?? I will tell you once and once only that did not happen that way. The gentleman with the wounds on his arm and leg were, was a little bit drunk. And his wife is jealous that he spent so much time under the blanket with his third wife. So while he wasn’t near the fire, the campfire, she hit the first, the youngest wife with a nulla nulla. It’s a piece of hardwood, about 2 1/2 foot long and about oh, shall we say the size of a baseball bat. It necessitated putting seven stitches in her head. He came back and saw the young wife holding her head, so he picked up the nulla nulla and went to hit his first wife and she put her hand up and that was what broke her fingers. And she was very angry, so she kicked him where it hurt him most and he didn’t like that because he had the wound on his right hand, he picked up his boomerang with his left hand and went to hit his wife. Now had he of hit her, he really would have killed her because they’re very strong these boomerangs, they’re nothing like you see people throwing…

Tom  Right.

Bonnie  …around in the air now. And it’s turned and travelled about 40 feet and hit this young man who was sitting at his campfire with his family. Now he didn’t like that very much, so he took the barb off the top of his beer and come over and jabbed it very hard into the older man’s thigh. And the nice thing about it was it’s, it really sobered the older man up. But where they hit, is for pain, is right on the sciatic nerve. So, although the wound heals quickly, the pain is still there for a couple of months. And that’s why I was told I wasn’t allowed to call the young man, no good. Lots of things happened.

Tom  Yeah, yeah.

Bonnie  I was out at Lajamanu for two years and we used to commute to Katherine. Really, each three months for about a week and you would have as they call a position to orientate you back into living amongst people of your own kind…

Tom  Yes.

Bonnie  …because isolation can do funny things to lots of people. And one of the trips back, I was in one of these small planes, Till Air used to fly us from Katherine to all the places and the young pilot Keith was flying and I always like to sit in the seat beside the pilot, and I said, oh, look at that poodle…

Tom  [laughs]

Bonnie …and the pilot looked down to his left, what on board, he says. And I said, no, no, I mean in the clouds. And he goes Bonnie are you feeling alright and I said yes, look can’t you see that, look it looks like a poodle. And the passenger getting off at Victoria Downs was sitting behind the pilot he says, yes I can. And I said, well to me, it looks like an elephant and the pilot says you’re both mad. Now, what’s going on with you pair? And we’re going flying along a bit further and he goes, oh I’ve caught it, it must be a disease. We said what’s wrong with you Keith? He said, well, look at that airplane flying towards us and I said here was his cloud formation that looked just like an aeroplane. All these sort of things, we used to have a lollie, so that uh, on the desk when you saw a patient, particularly the children but the thing I found was it didn’t matter who came in, they all wanted one of the snakes, the jelly snakes you used to have. And for hygiene sake, the doctor said, can I have one of those when he finished his clinic that day or he and the Air Med nurse was flying back to Katherine and I said, oh yes, I said you’ll have to take one for the pilot. We better take two each. And the next day on the radio the doctor says, do you know Bonnie I won a competition. I can stretch that snake to nearly 18 inches.

Tom  [laughs]

Bonnie  We had a wonderful time, I enjoyed the Northern Territory. I came back to the South Coast after I had my holiday. I’d worked for seven years in the territory and decided that I wanted to do things and see things like the Taj Mahal in India and Mount Everest. I wanted to go to England and Scotland, Ireland, all these places I’d read about and heard about. So, in 1987, I’d ask for a year off and away I went and I enjoyed myself so much. Then I stayed in and around British Isles and southern Europe for four years and the last year I was able to travel from Morocco in Africa down through Algeria, Burkina Faso to the Ivory Coast, right across what they call the Central African Highway. Yeah, we had to get out of the old truck with machetes and cut the bamboo across so we can find the road. We went down as far as Kenya and as we stopped at different camping areas along the way, we met other people who were doing the same thing. So while in Harare in Kenya, I uh, Nairobi, in Kenya, I met another young lady who was travelling and we both wanted to see South Africa, so we decided to go to South Africa so we hitchhiked. And we were given rides by everybody, all nationalities, all types of people, all colours of people. All of them were very friendly, helpful and informative. And to go to Port Elizabeth, and we were just going past the airport in Port Elizabeth when a police truck pulled over. He said we’ll, the driver said, we’ll hitchhike give you a lift passed the airport, but he said, don’t anymore because he said, uh, a man was killed last night by a hitchhiker and no one will pick you up and he said we don’t want you camping on the side of the road. So he stopped a car, which happened to be a chemist who was going towards uh, Durban and uh, he gave us a lift all the way to Durban, and we caught a bus to South Africa. I had a wonderful time there until I had all my things stolen and usually you hear children say, oh, I better ask mum for some money. This way I had to ask my children for some money…

Tom  [laughs]

Bonnie  …for the airfare to come back to Australia.

Tom  That’s great. Thank you, Bonnie. It’s been a real pleasure speaking with you.