Patricia McPherson – Becoming Sister Pat (Part 2)

By the mid-1960s, Patricia McPherson had been working for two years as a nurse at the severely under-resourced AIM (Australian Inland Mission) Hospital at Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. (See ‘Sister Pat – A Legend of a Nurse’ Part 1)

Pat and her fellow AIM nurse Gloria (Nat) Natoli were deeply affected by the repeated experience of watching Aboriginal babies die despite their best efforts to save them. 

“After our arrival in Fitzroy Crossing, we soon experienced the first of many major gastroenteritis epidemics. We admitted 20 dehydrated babies, who despite our 24-hour nursing care, nearly all died because they came to us too late. This was to be the pattern of our next two years. 

My strongest memory is of working night after night on moribund babies; of watching them die. Of wrapping little bodies in a blanket and leaving them in the engine shed for the Missioner to pick up and bury the next morning. Of the mothers wailing and hitting their heads with stones in their sorrow. Of walking up to the police station in the middle of the night to report the death/s to the policeman. Of being told off for waking him up (despite this being his requirement). Of biting my tongue when he invariably asked if the death was caused by a spear or other suspicious circumstances. Of always replying “No, just a preventable disease”. 

I would often say “If only we could get out into the camps and pick them up in the early stages, before it was too late”. If only! 

The opportunity to do just this came my way in 1966 with the commencement of an itinerant child care service as an outreach of our traditional hospital service.” 

AIM Hospital Fitzroy Crossing circa 1963 when Pat arrived

 

In 1966, Dr. Davidson, the Commissioner of Public Health in Western Australia asked the AIM to find a way to reduce the exceptionally high infant mortality rate and the number of hospital admissions of the Indigenous peoples in the Fitzroy Crossing area which were the highest in the state. The AIM accepted and handed the challenge to Patricia McPherson. 

Pat was eager to take up a task she had long felt was necessary – treating and getting the sick children to the hospital in the early stages of illness before it was too late.  In taking on the task, Pat McPherson pioneered and established the Itinerant Child Care Service in the West Kimberley.

She created and developed an accessible, unique system of routine preventative treatment and holistic healthcare education that was available to the Indigenous population where they lived and worked. Pat’s project would save lives, reduce infant mortality to almost none, and raise the standard of child care in areas where people lived at subsistence levels. It would also usher in a new public health nursing service to remote areas of Western Australia.

Pat began her task by routinely driving in her donated Land Rover in the cooler hours of the very early mornings to the Aboriginal camps that were attached to 4 stations in her region of the Kimberley – GoGo, Brooking Springs, Fossil Downs and Jubilee Station.  Using the tailgate of the Land Rover, she set up a mobile clinic in whatever shade and circumstances that these impoverished camps could provide. Pat did not see her role as simply dispensing medicines.  She recognised that the illnesses prevalent in the communities she was tasked to serve arose from the powerlessness, abject poverty, and filth in which the people in the camps were forced to live, circumstances that were far removed from their traditional way of life and culture.

Pat’s tailgate antenatal clinic

CONDITIONS IN THE CAMPS

Pat approached her work by first observing the situation in each camp and grew familiar with the people and culture of the place. She wrote:

The Aborigines lived in small, overcrowded camps on million-acre cattle stations (privately owned ranches) and formed part of the feudal society which a cattle station was in those days. They had no rights. Furthermore, if they left the station they would be turned back by all the other stations and have no hope of employment or livelihood anywhere else. 

The camps are usually built on high bore ground within calling distance of the homesteads.

They consist of rows of small tin huts, the ubiquitous bough sheds and a washhouse-cum-ablution block, usually communal and detached. A perimeter is formed of old cans, bags and general rubbish and the old bones and hooves of many ‘killers’ – leftovers of the camp’s meat supply.

Goats, cats and pigs stroll around unconcernedly and dogs bark and fight and sleep as one with the inhabitants.

A few trees struggle for life in the rocky ground and the white cockatoos screech and wheel and settle on them.

From the shade of the huts, the people sit and watch. Overall, is the ever-present heat and dust and smell of old bones. The people lived at subsistence level.”

 

INITIAL ASSESSMENT 

“The original aims were to cut down the infant mortality rate and hospital admissions by raising the standard of child care.

My initial health assessment of the Aboriginal people showed that there was over 60% trachoma; one in 12 had leprosy; about 10% suffered from diabetes; at least three-quarters of the population had chronic anaemia; 27% of the babies and pre-schoolers had chronic ear infections with one or two perforated ear drums; about one-third of the group exhibited signs of deafness; 25% had suppurating sores; and nearly all carried a heavy bowel parasite load. Upper respiratory tract infection was rife and gastroenteritis was endemic and very often terminal. No comprehensive immunisation program had ever been carried out; and no ante-natal care was sought by the pregnant women who usually delivered in a creek bed and only presented at the hospital if something was wrong. Sub-nutrition was a way of life and no child under the age of two could be safely expected to last the distance, and most didn’t.

My area covered six such camps within a 30-mile radius of Fitzroy Crossing in which seven hundred Aborigines lived. I drove to each camp twice a week thinking at first that all I had to do was to pick up the sick children early and take them to the AIM hospital. My thinking proved very wrong.”

Thoughtful and analytical, Pat expanded the scope of her service to include a crucial component – health education that involved the participation of the entire community. She methodically worked with the people of the camps to bring changes that would bring a measurable improvement to the health of adults and particularly, their children. 

Health education program

HEALTH EDUCATION – Expanding Scope of the Service

“My area originally covered ‘GoGo’ station and Brooking Springs station, the United Aborigines Mission camps and Aboriginal families with children who camped and worked at three of the houses and at the pub in the town of Fitzroy Crossing. I extended it to include Jubilee Downs and Fossil Downs stations.

“Getting sick children to hospital early did become part of my work, along with medical checks, minor treatments, antenatal care, trachoma and anaemia treatments, immunisations and leprosy checks. This was my ‘hospital half hour’, conducted from the tailboard of my Land Rover, before my major work for the day – health education. 

The nurse became a teacher of: 

Child Care with emphasis on adequate and appropriate food and water, hygiene, clothing and care of it.

Environmental Care  with emphasis on rubbish disposal, camp cleaning, housekeeping and vegetable growing. 

First Aid with emphasis on self-reliance. I taught the mothers how to care for their children’s sores, treat their infected ears, and administer treatment for their anaemia on an on-going basis.”

A NORMAL WORKING WEEK 

“A normal working week consisted of five days in the camps. Trachoma treatments were carried out at dawn and at dusk for maximum cover when the people were either getting out of, or getting into, their swags. Then I’d conduct my ‘Hospital Half Hour’, routinely checking the health of babies and preschoolers and seeing anyone else who was sick or pregnant. Then I’d carry out my various health education programs. 

After lunch I’d go to a second camp and repeat the process there, returning at sundown to the camp receiving the trachoma treatment that week to administer the oily Achromycin eye drops. This treatment had to be administered morning and evening, for six months to each patient.

On Saturdays, I did all my writing up for the week in comprehensive records that I’d established for each child, as well as the graphs and the action research data that I happened to be working on at the time. On Sundays, I cleaned my Land Rover and gear and washed my clothes, which were always filthy. I played tennis on a Sunday afternoon at the AIM Hospital tennis court. After two years I had a holiday. “

In 1966, at the end of the first year of the project, she wrote:

“I have now worked for a full seven months in the Aboriginal camps and have driven 13,532 miles. An average of 1,933 miles each month and roughly 86 miles each working day.”

Ear examination ‘Hospital Half Hour’

REDUCING INFANT MORTALITY 

Pat researched the causes of the illnesses prevalent amongst children in the camps, especially anaemia and gastroenteritis. She reached the fundamental conclusion that “our greatest weapon is to implement a full-scale teaching programme with more Aboriginal participation.”  

ROUTINE MEDICAL EXAMS 

“On each station I visit, the first thing I do is to quickly do a routine check on all babies and pre-schoolers. This means that each week I do 274 checks on the 128 children in the camps in my area.”

INFANT CARE

“I followed a six-point plan for babies’ daily needs – bath, clean clothes, milk, solids, water and sleep.

The first step was to get the mothers to clean their children up a bit, so I spent time observing their facilities and watching their own efforts, and gradually improved on them with what was available. Demonstration baths were done in wash troughs, old coppers, buckets, camp ovens, drums, the guttering in a shower room floor and in an old horse trough on another station.

Clean clothes were a problem at first as most mothers did not have many at all but this was overcome when the AIM Sisters at Fitzroy and the nuns at Derby Native Hospital started issuing layettes to all babies they delivered. These were supplied by the Native Welfare Department and purchased with money from the baby bonus.

The conventional wisdom in the Kimberley was that Aborigines successfully breast-fed their children for two years. Of course, I knew from my hospital experiences that this was not so because most children reached a low ebb at 9–10 months and died from either gastroenteritis or broncho-pneumonia, a complication of their poor general condition. In the camps, my research showed that the breast milk supply began declining after 4 months. I came to believe that in order for Aboriginal children to survive, they had to bridge the nutritional gap between breast and solids.

The aim was to ensure that the baby was well established on an alternative food source when the breast milk supply eased off at four months and mostly petered out at ten months.

As the only alternative food available was damper dipped in tea this raised a host of issues about sourcing a supply of complementary food (baby tucker) and feeding utensils and their storage and preparation. 

The implications of these findings for the Aboriginal women were great. There were no problems about breast-feeding, that was traditional, but they had to grapple with and ultimately accept the difficult notion of the introduction of food and water (of all things) at a time when breast milk was available and at a time when the baby least appeared to need it. 

Bridging the gap proved simple when their weight charts showed periods of decline at 4 and 10 months and I discovered their motor ability was far more advanced at three months than that of a white child. So, I started the early introduction of solids in the form of pre-cooked cereal and water to drink. With almost constant supervision and practice, by four months, they were on to three meals a day with a pannikin of milk to follow and water in between times, and I found they thrived and never really looked back. Their diet then increased, depending on what was made available to them on the various stations and from the store in Fitzroy – whether it was kitchen tucker of porridge, bread and milk, or soup and stew, or tins of baby food and cereal.

 

Regular health checks

 

On the GoGo Station where the endowment money is pooled and food and clothing are issued from the station store, I received a weekly supply from the Manager and issued it and supervised feedings three times a week and just before the ‘wet’, the mothers knew exactly the weekly requirements for the babies; they then went to the station store each Sunday to ask specifically for the various items they had been handling all year – and I had worked myself out of a job!

On Brooking Springs Station, where the Aborigines are supplied with food for the babies from the kitchen and keep their own endowment money and buy from the Fitzroy store, I tried to change their ‘biscuit and cool drink’ mentality. With the co-operation of the local storekeeper, I gathered a crate of ‘good’ food on endowment and pay days and I myself peddled it to the mothers – the bonnet of the Land Rover looked like a self-service grocery store on these occasions and I had great difficulty working out change in (the recently introduced) decimal currency but fortunately, some of the young Aboriginal girls fresh from school could help me out! Eventually, I came to realise that it was easy for the mothers to have money available on these two days so I started taking the goodies out every week and this became a regular thing and slowly the mothers started keeping some money for next week so that the tucker box wasn’t completely bare always.

One thought I had in the back of my mind was to make them familiar with that which was good food value so that when they went into town to do their own shopping and were confronted by a range in the local store (which was made self-service this year), they would see something familiar on the shelves. 

Lately, I have stopped taking food to Brooking Springs and tend to run a delivery service instead. The mothers give me money and tell me what to buy and I take it out next visit. They themselves do most of their own buying now – true, they still buy biscuits, lollies and cool drink but they also buy Weeties, milk, tins of fruit juice and packets of dried fruit.

A slow change has started but whether it will gain impetus I cannot tell.”

Sterile drinking water for babies

WATER TO DRINK

A critical component of Pat’s 6-Point plan to reduce the very high mortality rate was the early introduction for babies of plenty of boiled and cooled, sterile drinking water. Babies who weren’t doing well were put onto water from a bottle to complement their waning breast milk supply.

“Water became my private obsession although I fully realise it is a national one too and this proved to be the most beneficial, yet most difficult, to introduce as Aboriginal mothers just did not give their babies water to drink at all and it wasn’t until the kids were old enough to dip their heads into the billycans themselves that they began to get an adequate intake.

Eventually, all this changed. I found myself constantly reiterating ‘water to drink’, ‘water to drink’ and slowly established a pattern. New babies were put onto a bottle straight away. The first step was to show the mothers how to make a billycan out of a milk tin which was not to be used for any other purpose. When the bottle was cleaned and boiled it was left in the billy, covered with a net and hung up to cool. This was done after a drink so that there was always a supply of cool, boiled, sterile water whenever the baby was thirsty.

When they started drinking from a pannikin at six months, I took the bottle away and the baby’s billy then went into general circulation.

My final aim in this total child care programme was to extend the care from camp to wherever they journeyed and I had the ‘wet’ season walkabout in mind. I had to get the mothers to take food and water for the babies with them wherever they went – and finally settled on the idea of a ‘Walkabout Bag’ fashioned on the principle of the ‘rabbiting bag’ my brothers and I made when we were younger. It is a flour bag with a piece of rope tied to one corner and finishing with a noose around the neck, and both of these are available on any station. This is then carried over the shoulder and rests on the back. Into this went the cereal and tinned milk, tin opener, plate, spoon, pannikin and a bottle of water.

These things were stored in the bag always, and this kept them out of the dirt, and, when they left camp, this was automatically shouldered and the needs of the babies could then always be met, whether they were in Fitzroy for the day or out on the tractor or on their ‘wet’ season walkabout, and this caught on. So much so, that on one station the mothers themselves went one step better. They chose to cover the water bottle with hessian extending into a handle and this they kept wet from time to time to cool by evaporation, and carried it by hand.

After this huge initiative, health education continued to environmental care such as rubbish disposal and housekeeping, teaching mothers personal care and eventually growing a vegetable garden.

This then, is my health education programme. Not a great contribution and, perhaps, of doubtful benefit but time alone will put it into perspective and reveal its worth, if any.”

Tending Veggie Patch

 

Time did indeed reveal the worth of Pat McPherson’s initiatives.  Three years into her work, the benefits were evident and dramatic. Fitzroy Crossing had held the record for the highest infant mortality rate and number of hospital admissions in Western Australia. But by 1968, Pat recorded that:

“At the end of three years, the infant mortality rate at Fitzroy Crossing had dropped dramatically; my records indicated only one infant death in that time. Gastroenteritis was episodic rather than endemic. The gap between breastfeeding and solids, a critical factor in Aboriginal child rearing had been bridged. Complete immunisation cover for the community, (Aboriginal and white) had been achieved, including direct BCG at birth, which in those days, was considered to be a preventative measure against leprosy.”

“It took over two years for my health and education program to be translated into routine behaviour. However, with the health of the babies and pre-schoolers under control in 1968, I spread the work from a child oriented service to a more public health oriented one to cover the family unit. This involved the introduction of school medical examinations and more emphasis on the care of the mother, especially during the critical phases within her reproductive life cycle. 

PAT’S PROGRAM – A TEMPLATE FOR COMMUNITY NURSING SERVICE 

The success of Pat’s program and pioneering work led to the decision by the West Australian Health Minister and the Commissioner of Public Health to appoint other itinerant AIM nurses based in Halls Creek, Kununurra, Derby, Wyndham and Broome.

The success of these pioneering efforts would subsequently lead to the establishment of a new branch within the Western Australian Health Department in 1972, called the Community Health Services. The enabling Act of Parliament established the infrastructure to carry a statewide public health nursing service, which was called the Community Nursing Service.” 

In 1970, Patricia McPherson received the British Empire Medal for her pioneering work in the Fitzroy River region. Sister Pat had become a legend of a nurse.

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Sontag - 'On Women'

On Women Ageing

 

“For most women ageing means a humiliating process of gradual sexual disqualification.” Susan Sontag

I remember that as a young second wave feminist, we never gave a thought to being old. We can probably blame it on the arrogance of youth. The  incredulity that you will ever age. The feeling that you will live forever. We were soaring with strength and feeling invincible, fighting for the rights of women – for gender equality, the right to higher education, employment, control over our reproductive rights with contraception and abortion. These were all fundamental women’s rights and we were totally justified in fighting for them. They were issues that directly affected us. But we never really realised that they were primarily issues affecting younger women. We were essentially advocating for feminism for younger women. 

The issues that affected older women never even crossed our minds. And why would they? At the time, there was nothing approaching a feminist perspective on ageing. The ageism, the invisibility, the loss of value, the toxic combination of sexism and ageism that bars older women from the workforce, the homelessness, the poverty, and what Forbes describes as the “woefully understudied “ health issues specific to older women.  

Feminists in the late 20th century simply did not see older women. They were invisible to us, just as now that we are older, we have become invisible to the rest of society.

But there was one woman who did write about women ageing. It was Susan Sontag, a highly esteemed and controversial American essayist, critic, novelist and filmmaker. In 1972, when she herself was a beautiful and very cool young woman at the centre of  New York cultural and social circles, she had the intellectual depth to explore what happens to women as we age. With razor sharp insight and devastating language, she denounced the double standard facing women compared to men. 

Sontag’s writing is particularly relevant today because we are witnessing the consequences of this double standard of ageing. 

Below is an excerpt from her essay ‘The Double Standard of Ageing’ (1972)  re-published in the book ‘Susan Sontag – On Women’. 

‘The Double Standard of Ageing’

“It is particularly women who experience growing older (everything that comes before one is actually old) with such distaste and even shame.

The emotional privileges this society confers upon youth stirs up some anxiety about getting older in everybody. Getting older is less profoundly wounding for a man, for in addition to the propaganda for youth that puts both men and women on the defensive as they age, there is a double standard about ageing that denounces women with special severity. 

Thus, for most women ageing means a humiliating process of gradual sexual disqualification.

Since women are considered maximally eligible in early youth, after which their sexual value drops steadily, even young women feel themselves in a desperate race against the calendar. They are old as soon as they are not very young.

Ageing is much more a social judgement than a biological eventuality.

Ageing is a movable doom. It is a crisis that never exhausts itself, because the anxiety is never really used up.

Added on to the pressure felt by everybody in this society to look young as long as possible are the values of ‘femininity’, which specifically identify sexual attractiveness in women with youth. The desire to be the ‘right age’  has a special urgency for a woman it never has for a man. A much greater part of her self-esteem and pleasure in life is threatened when she ceases to be young.   Most men experience getting older with regret, apprehension. But most women experience it more painfully: with shame. 

For the normal changes that age inscribes on every human face, women are much more heavily penalised than men…In women this perfectly natural process is regarded as a humiliating defeat, while nobody finds anything remarkably unattractive in the equivalent physical changes in men. Men are “ allowed” to look older without sexual penalty. Good looks in a man is a bonus, not a psychological necessity for maintaining normal self-esteem.

The single standard of beauty for women dictates that they must go on having clear skin. Every wrinkle, every line, every grey hair is a defeat.

This is not to say there are no beautiful older women. But the standard of beauty in a woman of any age is how far she retains, or how she manages to simulate, the appearance of youth.

…Society allows no place in our imagination for a beautiful old woman who does look like an old woman…An older woman is, by definition, sexually repulsive – unless, in fact she doesn’t look old at all…

The double standard about ageing converts the life of women into an inexorable march towards a condition in which they are not just unattractive, but disgusting. ..

Ageing in a woman is a process of becoming obscene sexually, for the flabby bosom, wrinkled neck, spotted hands, thinning white hair, waistless torso, and veined legs of an old woman are felt to be obscene.…a withered repulsive crone. 

There is no equivalent nightmare about men.

..Men are not subject to the barely concealed revulsion expressed in this culture against the female body – except in its smooth, youthful, firm, odourless, blemish-free form.

Women have another option.They can aspire to be wise, not merely nice; to be competent, not merely helpful; to be strong, not merely graceful; to be ambitious for themselves, not merely in relation to men and children. 

They can let themselves age naturally and without embarrassment, actively protesting and disobeying the conventions that stem from this society’s double standard about ageing. Instead of being girls, girls as long as possible, who then age humiliatingly into middle-aged women and then obscenely into old women, they can become women much earlier – and remain active adults, enjoying the long, erotic career of which women are capable, far longer. 

Women should allow their faces to show the lives they have lived. 

Women should tell the truth.”

 

 

 

Patricia McPherson – ‘Sister Pat’ A Legend Of A Nurse

In 1963, 25 year-old Patricia McPherson crossed Australia’s vast continent from her home in pastoral Gippsland in Victoria to arrive at Fitzroy Crossing, a tiny remote settlement in the centre of Western Australia’s rugged Kimberley region.There she would begin work as a nursing sister at the Australian Inland Mission (AIM) hospital. By the time she left her work with AIM some ten years later, she had made an extraordinary and indelible impact on the health and well-being of hundreds of people in her region, and by extension, in other remote regions of Western Australia.

Nurse McPherson became ‘Sister Pat’ a legend of a nurse who transformed the delivery of health services to a vast region of Australia’s outback and set the template for public health nursing that was adopted statewide. In acknowledgment of this work, Pat McPherson received the British Empire Medal in 1970. 

Pat McPherson’s story is one of exceptional service and far-reaching achievements.

But it’s also a story of great adventure. It is a remarkable Australian story.

Pat is now 86 years old and lives in Victoria. Pat McPherson’s own words best tell her extraordinary and heretofore not generally known story. WomanGoingPlaces is therefore presenting in several instalments, some excerpts of her diaries, letters and interviews from her time in the Kimberley. 

PAT’S STORY – BEGINNINGS

Pat became a nurse because she wanted to work  with the AIM in the Outback.

“I took the right subjects at high school to gain the right entrance qualifications to a nursing school. I sought and undertook the most comprehensive nurse training available to me at the time and I undertook further training as a midwife. And I didn’t only learn to pass exams. At every stage of learning during these years of training I extrapolated from The Royal Melbourne Hospital and The Royal North Shore Hospital to the bush. I’d say to myself, ‘If this or that happened in the bush and I was IT, what would I do?’ or ‘If I had to do this or that procedure in the bush and I didn’t have all the equipment, how could it be done?’ And so, I asked questions of nurse tutors, doctors, my senior nurses and became a bit of a pest. I also read widely and pursued some ad hoc preparation like learning to pull teeth, to suture wounds, to make bread, and to do a grease and oil change on an engine.

So, armed with these impeccable credentials and a sound Presbyterian background, I volunteered for the inland service with the AIM and, accompanied by another young volunteer nurse, Nat (Gloria Natoli), I arrived at Fitzroy Crossing at the beginning of the Wet season in 1963.”

FITZROY CROSSING, BUNUBA COUNTRY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

“Fitzroy Crossing was a small, isolated trading post in the heart of the Kimberley cattle country, an area where white settlement was only 80 years old. It consisted of six buildings – post office, police station, AIM hospital, United Aborigines Mission, state school, and pub/general store. These buildings were widely separated from one another along two miles (approximately 2.25 km) of the banks of the Fitzroy River. In the winter (the Dry), the river was a dry gully. In the summer (the Wet), it was about 36 feet (11 metres) high and spread across the flood plain for 30 miles. The town was isolated for 3 months”.

 

THE LOCALS

“Besides we two nurses there were three other single people employed by the pub. Fitzroy Crossing’s other residents were couples at the post office, a police station, school, hotel and the United Aborigines Mission. There were no children in any of these households.

We were totally unprepared for Fitzroy Crossing. We found ourselves in a society that had a different value system to ours. People went to the session at the pub on Sundays and, whenever the Lord’s name was mentioned, it was used as a blasphemy. The other people in town – the postmaster, the policeman, the school teacher and the publican – were there for either promotion or money, or both.”

“There is no real community spirit in this small town of 23 whites. We have no one to turn to for help. There is absolutely no maintenance done here (at the hospital) other than what we do ourselves. We have had to mend doors and fences, prop up the bough shed when it sags, mend toilets and fix the engines. We couldn’t even get anyone to chop our wood for us when the Aboriginal helpers were sick so we did that too.  The partnership (2 families) running the pub has crashed and has split the town.  One family doesn’t even speak to the other. There is friction between the 2 policemen, but they still speak to each other, which is their saving grace.  The postmaster who is a recluse and uncooperative, won’t speak to anyone, and the mission folk hold themselves apart and have nothing to do with the community.  So is it any wonder that our friends and interests are the station people.  We only see them occasionally, but these meetings are full of pleasure for them as well as us, and are free of petty gossip and back biting.”

Sister Pat’s Bush Clinic at Brooking Springs station camp 1969

THE STATION PEOPLE 

Sixteen stations within an 80 -100 mile (129 – 161 km) radius of Fitzroy Crossing were served by the AIM hospital. Almost a thousand Aboriginal people lived and worked on these stations and fewer than two hundred white people.  

The stations in the area primarily covered by Pat were: Gogo Station, Brooking Springs Station, Jubilee Station and Fossil Downs Station, all in the country of the Walmatjarri, Bunuba and Gooniyandi peoples.

The station people looked to the Hospital for something else. Very few sought medical help other than in an emergency such as a suicide, burns and mustering or a motor vehicle accident. The white station community saw the hospital as their social centre. Whenever they were in town, they came to the hospital. They came for a cup of tea or a meal or just to talk and relax or to wait for the mail plane. We saw this as a very important part of our work and are pushing ahead with our policy to try and consolidate this place a social centre as well as a hospital.  We are getting to know a lot more station folk now and they show us appreciation and great respect.

 

THE HOSPITAL AT FITZROY CROSSING

“The Hospital was a shock. It was built in 1939 of unlined tin. It had cement floors, fly wire ‘windows’ and tin shutters which had to be closed when it rained, thus excluding both air and light. It had a wood stove and a kerosene refrigerator. There was no hot water system. We boiled a copper for the washing water. There was a 240KVA Southern Cross lighting plant and a water pump. We generated our own power and pumped our own water. There were two wards: a ‘native’ ward (the gauzed-in verandah) which had eight camp stretchers and a ‘whites’ ward which had two hospital beds. A divided bed in the corridor next to the lavatory served as the labour ward. 

Our nearest doctor was the Flying Doctor (Royal Flying Doctor Service) at Derby two hundred miles (322 km) away with whom we were in radio contact each day and who held a clinic at our hospital once a fortnight.

Despite my well-thought-out preparation, I wasn’t really prepared for bush nursing. The day we arrived the lighting plant wasn’t working and the kerosene fridge was smoking and the water pump wasn’t pumping. Within an hour of our arrival we set to and had fixed the lot of them. 

It was a tremendously busy hospital. We had a daily bed average of eight in-patients, all Aboriginal. They presented with anything and everything, mostly caused by infectious diseases or trauma. Most of the patients were children under the age of two with gastroenteritis. Because they were breast-fed, their mothers stayed too and camped in the shed. During some gastro epidemics, we nursed up to 22  babies, in the passageway and on the verandah, in potato crates, cardboard cartons and even in the wheelbarrow.”

THE TASKS: NURSE AND COOK

“Nat and I took turns sharing the work. For one week, one of us was the nurse and the other was the cook. 

The nurse looked after the in-patients and did the out-patients’ clinics every morning and did all the radio work ( communication with the Derby Hospital doctors, the RFDS, the stations etc.). One rarely slept for the whole seven days when one was on nursing duties. My main recollection is working night after night with desperately ill babies, getting some through and watching many others die. 

But there was another part of the work. On the week when one was cook, one cooked meals for about 20 people each day – the patients, the breast-feeding mothers, 3 Aboriginal staff and ourselves, and baked the bread every second day (6 high tins). One also supervised the cleaning of the hospital; did the washing and ironing; looked after the chooks; grew the vegetable garden in the Dry season; organised the huge bi-yearly orders for supplies from Perth; entertained the station visitors, and looked after the lighting plant and water pump. In the Wet season, one measured the river height twice a day and reported it on the Royal Flying Doctor radio to station people downstream.”

 

Pat’s bi-weekly clinic from tailgate of Land Rover Gogo station camp 1966. Photo by Hamilton Aitken.

PIONEERING ITINERANT PUBLIC HEALTH NURSING

Patricia McPherson pioneered itinerant public health nursing in the Kimberley. Before she came to Fitzroy Crossing, the established practice was that people needing medical attention were expected to make the arduous journey of miles, to the AIM hospital in Fitzroy Crossing. Pat changed all that. 

Pat travelled hundreds of miles to introduce a comprehensive immunisation program to the whole community; Aboriginal and white. She administered all the childhood immunisations and those against other common diseases of the region such as Tetanus and Measles, as well as the Sabin oral vaccine against Polio. Pat immunised everyone and went everywhere, wherever people happened to be – in the Aboriginal communities, the stations, the cattle camps, at work on the roads, in the hotel bar and the local gaol.

In a pivotal departure from past practice, she went out to treat the Indigenous people in the camps on the million acre cattle stations where they lived and worked. She did it by driving miles every day and working from the tailgate of her donated Land Rover while battling considerable odds – environmental, bureaucratic, human and cultural.

“As God’s people, we recognise social injustice and, in the name of Christ, we move to correct it. Therefore, after years of watching Aboriginal babies die (at the hospital), I responded immediately to the opportunity to do something about the infant mortality rate in Fitzroy Crossing which was the highest in the State when the Commissioner of Public Health in Western Australia  (who had long wanted preventative health work there) asked the AIM if they would provide this service. The AIM agreed and offered me the challenge. 

I was in Perth at the time completing my Infant Welfare training. So in early 1966, armed with my Third Certificate, I set off in a short wheel based Land Rover equipped as a functional clinic and a two-way radio, a swag, and a tucker box, to become AIM’s first Itinerant Child Care Sister in the region.” 

 

THE LAND ROVER

“The trouble-free performance of my vehicle has been a great joy and I have a great affection for the ‘Gypsy’ which is my second home. At first, there was no-one available locally to do the grease and oil changes every thousand miles. After I had done one myself and bungled it somewhat, I was very glad when the new mechanic on Brooking Springs Station took over this task for me every month. I now take it into Derby for the major checks about every three months after the Mechanical and Plant Engineers (a W.A. Government workshop) who had heard about my pioneering efforts kindly offered to do the work on it.

Pat in ‘Gypsy’ Rover in radio contact with Royal Flying Doctor Service.

 

I have enrolled to do a course on Motor Maintenance by correspondence this wet season and this should enable me to do minor repairs myself and give me a working knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the vehicle. The mileage meter at the end of my first year (1966) reads 17,748 and the tyres are 50% new.”

Pat changing flat tyre on ‘Gypsy’

PAT’S PROGRAM OF HOLISTIC HEALTH CARE

Pat realised that she had to expand the traditional role of nurse if she was to make any difference to the lives and welfare of the people in her care. First, she carefully observed life in the camps attached to the stations and kept meticulous records of all the infants and children. 

She researched the causes of illnesses such as anaemia, broncho-pneumonia and gastroenteritis, prevalent amongst children in the camps, and stemmed the epidemic of gastroenteritis through early detection and treatment. 

From her observations she created a new holistic program of care that engaged and paid respect to the people and their culture, especially that of the women whose cooperation was vital to its success. 

Pat also introduced antenatal care for Aboriginal mothers.

Pat’s holistic program almost completely eliminated infant mortality and morbidity rates in Aboriginal communities in her area. These rates had been exceptionally high. In three years, Pat’s program reduced the number to two deaths and cut hospital admissions by 50%.

“My instructions were to reduce the infant mortality and morbidity rate and hospital admissions by raising the standard of child care in the Aboriginal camps. My area covered six such camps in a thirty-mile radius of Fitzroy Crossing, in which 700 Aboriginal people lived – Gogo, Brooking Springs, Fossil Downs and Jubilee Stations all in the country of the Walmatjarri, Bunuba and Gooniyandi peoples.

I drove to each camp twice a week thinking, at first, that all one had to do was pick up the sick children and bring them into town for early hospital care. My thinking proved very wrong. This did become part of my work, along with daily medical checks, antenatal care, trachoma and anaemia treatments, leprosy checks, minor treatments, immunisations and perhaps our greatest role, health education.”

Routine baby check on tailgate at the start of each visit UAM 1967

 

This was a rare approach at that time. Education in hygiene, nutrition, hydration, child and infant care were all key to her belief in the crucial role of preventative care to lessen the need for symptomatic or curative treatment of preventable illnesses. Her program was comprehensive. It also led to working together to clean up the living environment and planting vegetable gardens to enhance nutrition.

“The nurse became a teacher – of child care, hygiene, care of clothes, budgeting, toilet training, housekeeping, rubbish disposal and growing vegetables. One also had to teach the mothers to care for their children’s sores; treat their infected ears; give medicines, trachoma and anaemia treatments; and postural drainage and percussion – all from the tailboard of my Land Rover.”

SISTER PAT’S SCHOOL FOR LITTLE KIDS

Pat extended her concept of care to set up kindergartens to stimulate the toddlers. They were very successful and became known in the communities as Sister Pat’s School for Little Kids.

“Towards the end of my third year (1968) when this ( the health care program) had become more or less routine, one had to ask, ‘for what have I helped rear these children? Do I now abandon them because they are past the danger period health-wise?’  To me, the answer was no, so I took the next natural step and commenced pre-school play and kindergarten – this time in the shade of my Land Rover. I asked the teachers at the Gogo Station and Fitzroy Crossing schools  to help me develop this programme because the rationale was to bridge the gap between camp and school.”  

Fundamental to all her activities was Pat’s view, rare at the time, of how Indigenous people should be regarded and treated. She believed in the necessity of understanding the values and social relationships in these communities. 

“Concern for the health of Aborigines must be supplemented by increased interest in their view of life, and cultural issues surrounding health practices.”

 

Sister Pat’s school for little kids 1968

CREATING THE TEMPLATE FOR PUBLIC HEALTH NURSES IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Pat advocated for a dramatic re-definition of Public Health, to locate it within the context and conditions of a community and maintained that the “diseases of a community – endemic infections, sub-nutrition, anaemia, growth retardation, maternal stress etc were all as destructive as tuberculosis and leprosy.” 

She pointed out that “Poverty is a disease of the community. So too is ignorance. Until the notion of Public Health is re-defined, we will continue to concentrate on infectious diseases and leave these equally pernicious situations untouched.”

“With the health of the baby and pre-schooler under fair control, the work then spread from a child-oriented service to a more public health oriented one to cover the total family unit. I introduced school medical examinations, and a more direct attack on leprosy in the adults.

At the end of three years the Aboriginal infant mortality and morbidity rate in the Fitzroy Crossing area was less dramatic and life would never be the same again for these people. 

The Public Health Department of the Western Australia Government evaluated this experiment and made a decision to spread this work to other areas where large numbers of Aboriginal peoples lived at subsistence level. 

This was a real breakthrough – Government recognition that we had delivered what the Commissioner had wanted, so we rejoiced when the Government appointed their own nurses whom they called Public Health Nurses, to work out of the hospitals in the three government towns in the Kimberley – first Derby, then subsequently Broome and Wyndham.

In order to take the work out of the Kimberley, in 1971, I myself went to Roebourne in the Pilbara, 1,000 miles south of Fitzroy Crossing. This was  iron ore country and the construction of a massive new mining facility there was rubbing off in a disastrous way on the Aboriginal community. Soon after, the Government appointed their own Public Health nurse to spread the service to a second area in the Pilbara – Port Hedland. 

They continued to do this until 1972 when an Act of Parliament was passed in the Western Australia Parliament which set up the Community Health Nursing Service. This Act set up the infrastructure to carry the development of the work to all areas of the State where people lived in low socio-economic circumstances.

We had pioneered a new service – two actually, for the pre-school work in the camps led to mobile AIM pre-schools staffed by pre-school teachers. Subsequently the WA Education Department set up pre-schools in the Kimberley towns.

It was a time of great rejoicing.”

 

Sister Pat introducing Sabin polio vaccine Fossil Downs station stock camp 1967

 

Patricia McPherson subsequently continued her innovative work in community nursing after her return to Victoria when she worked for twenty-five years for the Royal District Nursing Service in management, service planning and the policy sector. During these years she also did an Arts degree in Sociology and Politics and achieved a Masters Degree in Nursing Studies. 

In 2001, as part of Australia’s Centenary of Federation celebrations, Patricia McPherson received the special honour of being included on the inaugural Victorian Honour Role of Women – Women Shaping the Nation. She was one of 250 Australian women who were honoured because they made key and enduring contributions to Victoria and the Nation.

 

Patricia McPherson’s story to be continued in the next instalment.

 

 

I Won’t Celebrate International Women’s Day 2024

I have been a feminist all my adult life. In my personal and professional life I have campaigned to fight discrimination against women. A major proportion of my articles and documentaries have been about the inequalities and injustice women routinely face. I choose to be a feminist.

But now I won’t be celebrating International Women’s Day 2024 as I choose not to identify with international women’s organisations.

You see, I don’t believe you can ever ‘contextualize’ rape. I don’t believe you can ever ‘contextualize’ sexual atrocities. I don’t believe that ‘by any means’ can justify the sexual brutalisation of women. And yet this is precisely what has happened regarding the rape, sexual atrocities and massacre of Israeli girls and women by Hamas on October 7th.

Those that didn’t seek to ‘contextualise’ this sexual barbarism, sought to deny it. For the most part, there has been silence. U.N. Women has been most notable in its silence. No recognition that these crimes against Israeli women were perpetrated. No condemnation. Nor did any international women’s organisation issue any condemnation.

The evidence of sexual crimes has been documented and published since November 2023. 

But for months after 7 October, the UN ignored appeals from Israeli women’s organisations to investigate, and only recently sent a team. Now, 5 months after October 7th, a report to the U.N. Secretary-General by the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has finally confirmed widespread sexual violence by Hamas.

“Overall, based on the totality of information gathered from multiple and independent sources at the different locations, there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred at several locations across the Gaza periphery, including in the form of rape and gang rape, during the 7 October 2023 attacks. Credible circumstantial information, which may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence, including genital mutilation, sexualized torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, was also gathered.”

This report also confirmed that Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for 150 days are being subjected to on-going sexual violence.

“With regards to the hostages, the mission team found clear and convincing information that some hostages taken to Gaza have been subjected to various forms of conflict-related sexual violence and has reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing.”

Has there been a single feminist institution anywhere that has condemned this ongoing sexual torture of Israel women in captivity and demanded that Hamas release them?

Apart from Jewish demonstrations, has there been a single feminist organisation anywhere demonstrating for an end to the sexual violence against Israeli hostages and their release, as there were protests against the sexual enslavement of Yazidi women?

Brutal Consequences of Gender Pay Gap

 

The long term consequences of the gender pay gap are brutal. There is a direct connection between unequal pay and the rapidly escalating numbers of women aged 50+ becoming impoverished and homeless in Australia. 

It has been 50 years since equal pay was enshrined in law in Australia, and yet the pay gap appears to be enshrined in practice. The statistics confirm this, year after year.

This year however, we are able to learn not only of the range of the gap, but which companies are perpetuating it. 

This year is the first time individual companies have been named and their pay disparities between men and women disclosed as part of WGEA’s annual Employer Census. The Labor government changed the law to enable this groundbreaking transparency.

“Men continue to outstrip women in the salary stakes, with men’s median annual salary $11,542 greater than women’s, according to newly released data for Australian private companies. It’s a gap of 14.5%, down from last year’s 15.4%.

When bonuses and overtime are added – common for high-paying jobs mostly held by men – the gap in total remuneration widens to $18,461, equivalent to 19 per cent and hardly budging from the previous year’s 19.8 per cent.”  https://www.indaily.com.au/opinion/2024/02/27/how-australias-gender-pay-gap-has-endured-50-years-after-equal-pay-laws

Naming and shaming is one way of exposing discrimination against women. It might strengthen the bargaining power of women to improve their pay. It could also apply pressure by channeling skilled female employees towards companies with better practices.

There are a number of factors that together entrench discrimination against women in the workforce. These include the concentration of women in low paid fields such as teaching and caring, time out of the workforce having children, part-time work due to caring for children or family members, and the prejudicial practices of advancing men over women to senior positions. These all need to be addressed. 

Unless they are, we will continue to have generations of working women ageing into poverty. This is why too many women in the workforce face a grim reality. They must be aware that despite leading exemplary lives dedicated to their work and their families, they are more likely than men to end up on society’s scrapheap.

 

Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue: Against All Odds

We need to take the time to reflect on the heroism of Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue who passed away on 4 February aged 91.

Consider the odds against her.

She was stolen from her Aboriginal mother when she was only two years old in 1932.

Lowitja was stolen from her siblings and her extended family.

Her identity was stolen from her when she was forcibly placed in a mission home, her name anglicised.

Her heritage and her culture were stolen from her as she was prohibited from speaking her own language and removed from contact with her mother or with any Indigenous community.

Her agency was stolen from her as she was left alone and powerless.

Her education and prospects were stolen from her as she was trained for a life of servitude.

Her sense of self worth was stolen from her as she was repeatedly told by the matron of the home that she would never amount to anything.

And yet.

With extraordinary courage, she reclaimed her identity and her family, even though it was over 30 years before she could meet her mother and learn that she had named her Lowitja.

With extraordinary courage, she challenged racial discrimination to become, in her early twenties, the first Aboriginal trainee nurse at Royal Adelaide Hospital.

With extraordinary courage she fought not only for a better life for herself. This Yankunytjatjara woman spent the next 60 years fearlessly advocating for justice and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue became a formidable leader in the fight to achieve Indigenous rights and recognition, including the success of the 1967 Referendum. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating recalls that in 1993 Dr. O’Donoghue played a key role in drafting the Native Title legislation that arose from the High Court’s historic Mabo decision. As the founding chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) she assembled Aboriginal representatives to act as an advisory group. “ It was the first and only time the Aboriginal community of Australia was brought into the Commonwealth Cabinet Room for what became a deep and eight-month consultation in the design of the Native Title Act,” says Keating.

Kevin Rudd was another Prime Minister who sought her counsel in preparing his Apology to the Stolen Generation in 2008.

Dr. O’Donoghue kept on setting precedents and winning recognition as an Indigenous leader. She was the first Aboriginal person to address the United Nations General Assembly. She became the first Aboriginal woman to be made a member of the Order of Australia in 1977 and in 1984 she was named Australian of the Year.

Dr O’Donoghue also held two Honorary Fellows, nine Honorary Doctorates and a Professorial Fellow from various universities. 

In 1998 Dr O’Donoghue was declared a National Living Treasure.

Against impossible odds, Lowitja O’Donoghue took her place as a truly great Australian woman.

 

 

Why Is The Israel-Hamas War Different From Other Wars?

The Israel-Hamas war that began on October 7, 2023 is a war different from other wars in the modern era. It is a war in which women are a strategic target.  It is a war spearheaded by sexual violence. Female casualties are not ‘collateral damage’, the unintended consequences of war. They were designated by Hamas as military and political objectives.

Since Hamas launched its assault on Israel on October 7, it has succeeded in winning multiple victories despite not winning any military victory.

Its victories stem from its use and abuse of women.

Israel’s losses stem in part from its failure to listen to women.

When Hamas, the Government of Gaza, launched its surprise attack on Israel, it did not intend to engage Israeli soldiers in combat. Instead, as Hamas documents at the scene of the massacre of 1200 Israelis reveal, there were detailed plans of where to attack Israeli civilians in their homes and at a music festival. Specific plans of attack for each village included the intentional targeting of women and children.

The objective of Hamas was not only to kill the maximum number of civilians, but also to unleash bestial sexual brutality against them. This mission can best be described as – ‘to dishonour and to provoke’. The well-disciplined and well-equiped army of the Hamas Government carried out premeditated and systematic mass rape, sexual atrocities, mutilation and murder of Israeli girls, young women and old women. 

Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general described some of the actual footage of the Hamas assault:

“Some smartphone clips came from the perpetrators of the October 7 attacks in Israel, who delighted in the footage, and others from victims documenting their last moments. It is the most horrifying thing I have ever watched. It includes subtitles but no commentary on scenes of murder, mutilation, and bestial cruelty.”

This type of warfare harks back to basic tribalism throughout history whereby one of the most compelling ways to defeat your enemy was to dishonour him by defiling and capturing his women. Still today in the Middle East, a man’s honour is fundamentally tied to his ability to protect and control his women. Honour killings are still a widespread occurrence. In Gaza under Hamas, Palestinian women have no legal protection against honour killings, as noted in a 2018 UN report.

Hamas celebrated its sexual victory over Israel and did not cover it up, as was the case with the sexual violence recently committed by Russians in Ukraine. For Hamas, sexual violence against Israeli women was not a shameful by-product of war, but instead, it was an integral part of their military and political strategy.

Victories on International Level

The assault on Israel on October 7 gave Hamas a victory on the international level in public opinion by establishing Hamas as the leader of the Palestinian people and by propelling the Palestinian issue into the headlines. 

Hamas correctly calculated that its attack on Israeli women would be hailed as a victory and not as a war crime. That is why Hamas used bodycams and phones to record their sexual atrocities as they performed them and uploaded them in real time to Telegram and other social media. Immediately, thousands of Gazans and tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian supporters around the world marched in celebration of the Hamas assault. The savagery of mass rape and sexual atrocities against Israeli women were ‘contextualized’ and lauded as acts of resistance. This was the case even before Israel launched its counter-attack. It was also before the back-pedalling and denial of the sexual violence by Hamas and its supporters. And despite it being one of the most documented mass atrocities in history, neither U.N. Women nor any other U.N. body has condemned the sexual violence against Israeli women as it is mandated to do in conflict-related sexual violence. Nor have the major international women’s rights organisations issued condemnations.

Hamas also correctly calculated that its assault would trigger a major Israeli military counter offensive against Hamas. And Hamas was fully prepared for the war it had provoked. It quickly retreated into the safety of its massive network of underground tunnels in Gaza, with the added protection of 250 Israeli hostages. Here too Hamas ensured that there were plenty of female hostages. They included mothers, one with a 10 month-old baby, little girls aged 2 and 5, and many old women in their eighties. Another unprecedented war crime. There are still 17 young women being held in the tunnels since October 7.  “Many girls experienced severe sexual abuse, they are injured – very, very serious and complex injuries that are not being treated,” said 17-year-old Agam Goldstein-Almog, who was released after 51 days in captivity. 

Hamas preparations for war

For over a decade, Hamas had spent billions of dollars building more than 500 kilometres of these underground tunnels. Much of this money was from Qatar and delivered regularly in suitcases with the full knowledge of PM Netanyahu. Netanyahu thought this would stymie Hamas as a military and political threat. But instead Hamas used this money and its vast financial empire to execute its long term plan for war. It built a sophisticated underground infrastructure that included its headquarters and weapons factories concealed below hospitals, schools and mosques. Most importantly, the tunnels were designed to provide protection for Hamas leaders and operatives.

Such lavish spending and meticulous preparation for war and the inevitable Israeli counteroffensive, could not have overlooked the danger to the Palestinian population in Gaza. But it would appear that Hamas, despite being the Government of Gaza since 2007, chose not to provide protection for Palestinian civilians.

It did not spend any of its billions to build bomb shelters or any other defence structures to protect them. And when the war started, Palestinian civilians were denied entry to the safety of the tunnels and left exposed, defenceless in the face of Israeli bombing and the crossfire of battle. 

When questioned about its failure to provide bomb shelters for the people in Gaza, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the Hamas deputy political leader acknowledged in an interview that “ the tunnels in Gaza were built to protect Hamas fighters and not civilians. Protecting Gaza civilians is the responsibility of the U.N. and Israel.” 

The vast majority of over 23,000 Palestinians killed so far in the war are women and children. 

It would not have been hard to predict that Hamas would seek to translate this terrible toll to its political advantage. Images of dead and injured Palestinian women and children flashed around the world and spurred protests. 

Another Hamas victory was achieved with the international condemnation of Israel and the world-wide upsurge in anti-Semitism.

These protests were then translated into political pressure on governments to call for a ceasefire at the U.N. A ceasefire would certainly save lives, and it would also rescue the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

Now Hamas has achieved another extraordinary victory as a consequence of its October 7 assault. It has succeeded in having Israel brought before the International Court of Justice accused of genocide. And yet it is the Hamas attack that has been described as a pogrom against the Jewish people, and over 200 legal experts argue that it meets the criteria of genocide.

The Spotters

Is there any basis for arguing that this sequence of developments could have been otherwise? 

Nothing would have deterred Hamas from executing its long planned attack. But perhaps Israel might have been better prepared had it listened to women.

There were 24 young Israeli women called the ‘Spotters’.

Spotters are the young female conscripts whose task it was to sit all day in front of their computers in their base on the Israel-Gaza border monitoring surveillance cameras in order to spot any unusual activity on the other side of the border. They were unarmed. They were amongst the first to be sexually abused and massacred by Hamas as it burst across the border on October 7. Of the 24 spotters at the base on that day, 15 of them were killed and 7 abducted as hostages. Only 2 escaped.

For months prior to October 7, these young women had been doing their job meticulously. They noticed military style preparations by Hamas near the border. They warned that an attack was being prepared and even surmised that it would be carried out on a Jewish holiday. They repeatedly sent the detailed information and warnings up the chain to their IDF superiors. But their information and warnings were dismissed with consummate male chauvinism. They were made to feel that they and their observations and opinions as young women in the army hierarchy were worthless. They were even told that unless they stopped bothering their superiors with these reports they would be court martialed.

The terrible tragedy is that had the IDF listened to these young women, the scale and the devastation of the Hamas assault might have been mitigated. And so too the consequences.

Press Conference of Families of Israeli Hostages on Day 59 of the War. "Time has run out for the hostages - they have no time left, no food and no air".

The Power of the People

October 7th had a transformative impact on Israeli society. But it was probably not the impact that Hamas had intended when it launched its meticulously planned massacre of 1200 Israeli civilians and the taking of 240 hostages. A key element of the Hamas plan was the assault on Israeli women and girls. “The torture of women was weaponized to destroy communities, to destroy a people, to destroy a nation,” said Dr. Cochav Elkayam-Levy, the head of a nongovernmental commission investigating crimes of murder, rape, sexual atrocities, beheading and mutilation perpetrated by Hamas. 

But instead of destroying a nation, it unleashed a dramatic upsurge in ‘the power of the people’ civic activism and an intensification of solidarity amongst Israelis. 

In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, Israelis spoke out against the Government, the IDF and the intelligence agencies for abandoning them and not upholding their social contract to protect the people. They had failed to prevent the worst pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust. In the following weeks, the Government ministries seemed frozen and incapable of meeting the immediate challenges of the situation. 

In the vacuum left by the Israeli Government, civic groups, local government and tens of thousands of volunteers sprang up around the nation to take on the basic functions normally conducted by the central government, particularly in war time.

Ironically, it was those whom Hamas had calculated to be fragmenting Israeli society who were actually amongst the most effective in strengthening its solidarity. For example, the Brothers and Sisters in Arms and the women’s movement Bonot Alternativa (Building an Alternative). They had been the main organisers of demonstrations of over 250,000 Israelis each week for the 10 months prior to the war against the Netanyahu Government’s attempts to undermine Israel’s judiciary and democracy. 

After the Hamas massacre, these groups quickly pivoted and used their exceptional organisational skills and connections to set up the community services, supplies and support for Israelis whose lives and livelihoods were threatened and disrupted by the conflict. This included the hundreds of thousands of Israelis internally displaced from the northern and southern border regions under fire from Hamas and Hezbollah rockets and artillery. Civic groups even coalesced around soldiers in order to supply the logistics of the mobilisation.

#BRINGTHEMHOMENOW campaign

At same time, the survivors of October 7th and their families came together and forged themselves into a force to support each other and to campaign to free the hostages. They included Palestinian, Bedouin and Druze Israelis who had family members killed, taken hostage or both.

The surge in public support for these families grew into a phenomenon of ‘the power of the people’. This became evident in their ability to change the priorities of the Israeli Government. Following the Hamas assault, the Government had announced that it had two objectives in its counter-attack in Gaza: First, to remove Hamas as a military and political force from Gaza;  Second, to return the hostages. In that order.

But the relatives of the hostages knew very well, that the Government’s priorities could leave their family members captive interminably. And given that 18 of the hostages were aged over 65, and 22 under the age of 18, without access to medication, they might not survive. So the families launched the #BRINGTHEMHOMENOW campaign to reverse the order of the Israeli Government’s priorities. 

However, the deeply unpopular Netanyahu Government was not listening to them. It was preoccupied with its own survival.

So the families of the hostages tirelessly and heroically campaigned in Israel and around the world to raise awareness of the hostages. They set up ‘Hostage Square’ in central Tel Aviv as the focus of the #BringThem HomeNow campaign, held countless press appearances and rallied Israelis in long marches. Their campaign engaged the empathy and respect of most Israelis. Remarkably, the mounting public pressure forced Netanyahu to finally agree to meet with them and to announce that returning the hostages would now become the Government’s first priority. 

During the seven day truce, 110 Israeli hostages were released. However 17 women and children and 119 men remain in captivity. The truce agreement stipulated that all women and children would be freed first. Hamas denied that it was still holding civilian women and children hostage, despite the evidence, and refused to release them. When Israel insisted on their release, Hamas responded by firing missiles from Gaza thereby ending the truce. President Joe Biden blamed Hamas’ refusal to release civilian female hostages for the end of the temporary cease-fire.

The end of the truce is a terrible blow to the families of the 136 hostages still being held by Hamas. But even those who have had their family members freed have nevertheless publicly committed themselves to continuing to pressure the Government to keep the release of hostages as its foremost priority.

 

  • Translation of the text in Hebrew in image above: Press Conference of the Families of the Hostages on Day 59 of the War.   ” Time has run out for the hostages – they have no time left, no food and no air.”

 

 

 

The Moral Clarity of Marcia Langton

Indigenous leader, Professor Marcia Langton, has expressed once again the moral clarity at the core of courageous leadership in her article on the Hamas-Israeli war. Published in The Australian on Wednesday November 15, she made some of the following points:

“ The loss of thousands of lives in Gaza is unjustifiable. I condemn Hamas. I am horrified and deeply saddened by the loss of lives in the Levant, the Israelis who were murdered and kidnapped by Hamas and the innocent Palestinians who are being used as human shields by Hamas.

As an Indigenous Australian, I can have little effect in stopping these horrors but it is necessary to be clear about a few matters.

“Blak sovereignty” advocates have entwined two extraordinary propositions – one that is simply untrue and one that is a moral outrage. First, they claim that “ Indigenous Australians feel solidarity with Palestinians.”

This is false; it is the view of a tiny few, if put in those words. Most of us are aware of the complexity and that there is very little comparable in our respective situations, other than our humanity.

Second, they refuse to condemn Hamas. I am aghast and embarrassed. They do not speak for me. I fear and loathe the possibility of further loss of life in this terrible crisis. I also fear that our multicultural society is being torn apart by people deluded about terrorism who have used their protests as a cover for anti-Semitism.

Our Jewish and Palestinian communities deserve respect and compassion. I do not support the violence we have seen In Australia recently as a result of this conflict.

Hamas are terrorists; Palestinian islamic Jihad are terrorists. The slogan “ Not all Palestinians are Hamas” denies the fact that innocent Palestinians are being used as human shields by these terrorists.

No legitimate Aboriginal leader will permit our movement to be associated with terrorists.

I grieve for the largest loss of Jewish life in a day since the Holocaust. I grieve for every Palestinian who has died since the conflict. I grieve for the Israeli families whose loved ones are held hostage by Hamas. I grieve for the displaced, starving and terrified Palestinians who have been displaced in Gaza. Let us not lose our humanity.”

Marcia Langton is chair of Australian Indigenous Studies, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor at the University of Melbourne.

The Sophisticated Strategy of Barbarism

The Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th, had been meticulously planned for over a year. It was the expression of a sophisticated strategy designed to implement barbarism as a means of achieving Hamas’ political goals. The primary goal of Hamas, as part of  the regional alliance led by Iran and its other proxies Hezbollah and the Houthis, is to bring permanent war to all Israel’s borders in order to ” annihilate Israel “.   The timing was targeted to shatter a trilateral deal between the U.S, Saudi Arabia and Israel to normalise relations and change the face of the Middle East. 

The key elements of Hamas strategy were:

First: Kill as many Israeli civilians as possible in the most heinous way imaginable.  NBC  verified “Top Secret” documents” found on the bodies of Hamas terrorists with instructions to target civilians. Instructions even showed detailed surveillance of how many children were in each house and whether they had a dog. Hamas did not launch the attack to battle Israeli soldiers. They went to unleash barbarism without bounds as they tortured and massacred 1,400 babies, children, families and old people, using Iranian and Russian weapons.

Second: Video and stream this carnage. Hamas terrorists had cameras attached to their heads filming themselves slaughtering civilians. Their purpose was to gloat and to goad Israel into revenge. The greater the atrocity, the more ferocious the Israeli response would predictably be. Telegram immediately streamed these videos and images reaching 800 million viewers.

Third: Take as many hostages as possible including babies and the old. Close to 250 Israelis were abducted to serve both as bargaining chips, and also to provide physical security for Hamas when Israel would launch its counterattack.

Fourth: Mobilise international support. Even before Israel launched its counter attack, those justifying or ‘contextualising’ the massacre flooded social media, the mainstream media and the streets. In mobilising international support for Palestinians, Hamas was reaping endorsement for its own organisation and its actions.

 

Fifth: Leave the Palestinian people in Gaza out in the open, defenceless against the Israeli counter-attack. Hamas is deliberately allowing the death toll amongst Palestinians to escalate by denying them protection.  Hamas has built over 500 kilometres of underground tunnels, including weapons manufacturing and command centres under hospitals, mosques and schools. From these it has so far launched over 7,000 missiles into Israel.

But when Israeli air and land forces responded to Hamas provocation as expected, only Hamas political and military operatives were allowed to shelter in these tunnels. Palestinian civilians were excluded.

When asked in an interview why Hamas as the Government of Gaza since 2005,  did not provide protection for Palestinian civilians, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the Hamas deputy political leader said it was not Hamas’  job, “it’s the responsibility of the U.N. and Israel.”

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the terrible toll on Palestinian lives are an integral part of Hamas’ strategy of barbarism. The more Palestinian babies, children and families killed, the greater the numbers of people who will demonstrate worldwide in protest against Israel and in support of Hamas. And in the Middle East, those Arab leaders who were considering taking part in peace talks with Israel and forming a political relationship will not dare to ignore the public opposition in their own countries.

The Hamas leadership is quite prepared to sacrifice Palestinians to increase its power and political objectives. As Khaled Mashaal, Head of Hamas Political Bureau said: “The Russians sacrificed 30 million people in WW 2. ..the Vietnamese sacrificed  3.5 million…the Algerians sacrificed 6 million martyrs. The Palestinian people are just like any other nation.“

And the Iranians are happy to sacrifice Palestinians in their determination to eliminate Israel, rather than risk their own people or regime.