Title: Put Your Feet in the Dirt, Girl
Author: Sonia Henry
Published: 30th May 2023, Allen & Unwin
Status: Read May 2023 courtesy Allen & Unwin
Despite the success of her provocative semi-autobiographical debut novel Going Under which highlighted the brutal treatment of medical interns in Australian hospitals, the stress of her Fellowship exams, a broken heart, and being on the frontline of the pandemic left Sydney GP Dr Sonia Henry desperate for a change of scenery. Told with honesty, humour, and heart, Put Your Feet in the Dirt, Girl recounts Sonia’s experiences over the next two years or so while serving as a locum in the outback regions of Australia.
Within days of joining an agency specialising in staffing remote areas, Sonia was making the long journey to the Pilbara region in Western Australia to fulfil a 40 day contract as the sole doctor in a mining town with a population of 300 people. It’s an experience that inspires a mix of awe and terror, both personally and professionally, as Sonia struggles to better understand herself while doing her best to provide health care for the people who live there. She highlights the human cost of the challenges of access to treatment equipment and resources, for both staff and patients, and the frustrating failure of the wealthy mining companies to invest their obscene profits in the health and welfare of the people who work for them.
After three months in the Pilbara, Sonia moves on to outback New South Wales, and from there, to the Northern Territory. In each region she exposes communities plagued by similar disadvantages due to a dearth of access to medical care and resources. I learned that with great swathes of regional and remote Australia having few, and/or no permanent GP’s, severely understaffed hospitals and, at best, sporadic access to specialists, chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and mental health issues including depression and addiction, are badly managed, if it all. First Nations people are particularly vulnerable to poor health outcomes, though poverty among the population in general is a major contributor, especially for anyone living some distance away from metropolitan or well resourced regional centres.
Only by ‘putting her feet in the dirt’, and her interactions with colleagues, friends, and patients whom she meets on her travels, including a ringer who reads Tolstoy, a dream-walking elder, and a woman determined to end her life on her own terms, has Sonia come to understand some truths about Australia, but also herself, and she urges others to do the same.
Put Your Feet in the Dirt, Girl is an entertaining, candid, and thought-provoking memoir that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$34.99
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