home remedies all

Heart and Stethoscope Small

After four long weeks in hospital the patient was finally well enough to start feeling antsy.

The man wanted out and who could blame him.

He’d moved from medical, then surgical to ICU before finally settling in for an extended stay in the orthopaedic ward where he had become so familiar with the rotation of nurses he knew not only all their names, but those of their children, pets and dates of key anniversaries.

He had been so terribly sick that at one point he had four IV poles lined up either side of his bed as they pumped different antibiotics into him.

These wonderful professionals had turned around a critical situation, but now what he really needed was rest.

Hospitals are incredibly noisy places.

By definition they are also the least safe environment for someone with next to no immunity.

And, if he stayed in hospital any longer, it was possible that if not germs then the caterers would get him

My poor man had only just started to feel like eating again when a slab of steamed zombie fish wafted into his room almost under its own volition.

It seems even the kitchen staff felt so sorry for the recipient that one had thoughtfully plonked a sausage roll next to the fish to brighten up the plate a little.

The juice from the fish had been soaked up by the pastry like a surgical sponge.

Lifting the lid on this culinary delight the patient had turned the same pale quivering grey as the ex-fish.

He had already lost 15 kilos. If he was ever going to regain the necessary weight to begin chemo it wasn’t here.

Enter the HITH team or, as one of the doctors referred to them, the HIT squad.

That seems a little extreme,” the human pincushion had joked weakly.

The Hospital In The Home (HITH) program is one of the great untold success stories of the public health system.

Started as a pilot program almost two decades ago, it now extends to 52 sites across Victoria, providing thousands of people each year with an alternative to inpatient stay or allowing them to be discharged earlier.

Patients are still regarded as in-hospital patients and remain under the care of their treating doctor.

Home visits are made by nurses who have elected to make the world at large their ward.

It means people can receive acute care including intravenous therapy, anticoagulation, wound care and chemotherapy in the comfort of their own homes.

For example, a young mother requiring ongoing intravenous antibiotic therapy need not be separated from her children and the impact on normal family routine is greatly reduced.

An elderly patient receiving treatment for, say, a deep vein thrombosis or ulcer can remain in comfortable, familiar surroundings and not fret about who is going to water the plants and feed the cat.

A meta-analysis of HITH published in the Medical Journal of Australia last year showed that the program reduces the number of patient deaths, readmission rates and costs compared to in-hospital care in a “statistically and clinically significant way”.

But the real cornerstone of HITH is the psychological and emotional well-being of the patient and their family.

It’s proof positive that in keeping our community healthy, there’s really no place like home.


stop the racists

boat people 1

No one was really surprised when Gaby became the target of a sophisticated international crime gang, least of all my gal pal herself.

Gabs is the kind of person who can be wandering along minding her own business when out of nowhere a herd of wildebeest will appear and stampede toward her.

She has the equanimity of someone completely accustomed to chaos.

When Gabs calmly climbs down out of the nearest tree and you ask how on earth such a thing could possibly happen to her – or indeed, any one several continents away from the African veld – she’ll reply: “I dunno, just lucky I guess.”

So it was when, on a recent visit to Melbourne, she went to withdraw some money from her bank account and noticed a major discrepancy, Gabs didn’t panic.

In 48 hours her card was skimmed of $2600 – the money having been withdrawn from five locations across Sydney’s south-west while she explored Melbourne’s lanes.

Turns out she had used her card at one of at least 15 ATMs targeted by specialist Romanian gangs who travel the world skimming the accounts of hapless single mums and dental nurses.

Romanian organised crime gangs specialise in this kind of crime. They have targeted Australia many times before, flying in on legitimate visas. Other known fly-in-fly-out criminals include teams of Irish conmen who pose as legitimate tradies then charge home-owners grossly inflated prices for substandard “work”.

If this is the kind of person we not only welcome, but rubber-stamp, why do we insist on demonising the poor desperate beggars trying to reach our shores in boats?

According to the Federal Government’s own figures there are at least 50,000 people living in Australia illegally after overstaying visas.

They have paid for their airline tickets and entered the country legally, then deliberately and calculatedly broken the rules.

Those men, women and children who climb aboard unseaworthy death traps have broken no laws, nor are they seeking to deceive us.

They are out there waving their arms and crying for help.

To see yet another Australian federal election degenerate into a race to the bottom of the ocean on the issue of asylum seekers is way more than depressing.

When politicians talk about our “porous borders”, what really they mean is borders to the poor.

They are appealing to our basest nature on a question which won’t make an iota of difference to the quality of the average Australian’s life.

According to the latest UNHCR figures 45.2 million people were in situations of displacement at the end of last year including 15.4 million refugees, 937,000 asylum seekers, and 28.8 million people forced to flee within the borders of their own countries.

During 2012 some 7.6 million people became newly displaced, 1.1 million crossing borders as refugees and 6.5 million as internally displaced people.

This translates to more than 20,000 people around the world forced to flee their homes every single day.

Put in an Australian context, that’s 4000 more people displaced around the world on any given day than asylum seekers arrive on our shores during the entire year.

For that is the true extent of our cynical, sickening, politically manufactured “boat people crisis”.

In the greatest worldwide refugee tsunami in 20 years, it’s literally a drop in the ocean.

yum! pigface

bush tucker

Walking along the sandy cliff face my guide pops what looks suspiciously like a purple jelly bean in his mouth.

Give,” I say, hand out.

Pigface,” he replies, which seems unnecessarily rude.

Turns out he means the native jelly bean plant which belongs to the species Carpobrotus or – as most of us know it – the common old pigface.

Aboriginals for centuries have known the sweet secret of the fruit which appears after the pigface’s mauve flower.

They also ate the young leaves which taste very like crunchy baby pea pods.

In fact the pigface is a profoundly useful plant.

Mixed with water the leaf juice can be used as a mild astringent to treat diarrhoea and stomach cramps and applied externally as a mild antibacterial to treat wounds, bites and burns.

This ubiquitous plant is just one of many indigenous bush foods which are not only flavoursome but also highly nutritious, with high vitamin and antioxidant and/or medicinal profiles.

From the tips of the newest, most tender leaves of the strawberry gum and tangy ribbons of native lemongrass to the delicately delicious chocolate and vanilla lily flowers – a walk in the bush becomes a veritable feast.

Many of these native plants echo familiar flavours like the native raspberry, the spicy apple flavour of the fruits of the Kunzea pomifera, known as muntries, mountain pepper, island celery, native hairy caraway greens.

Yet most cannot be found on supermarket shelves – or at least not in any meaningful volume.

In spite of growing evidence of the benefits of native foods and ever-more compelling environmental reasons to grow them, the bush tucker harvest remains surprisingly small.

A Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation report published last month (July) found production across 12 of the 13 key native food species averaged just eight tonnes a year in 2010.

The exception was the lemon myrtle leaf harvest – the superstar of the native foods industry with an annual estimated production of between 575 tonnes and 1100 tonnes.

Why is it we so undervalue native crops yet pour precious water onto rice crops in areas where no rice was ever meant to grow?

Part of the problem is the image of “bush tucker” which in many people’s minds still falls somewhere between Les Hiddins-types in silly hats, and witchetty grubs.

That we pride ourselves on our “Mod Oz” cuisine infused with the neighbouring flavours of Asia, but largely ignore what’s in our own backyard, is another form of cultural cringe.

Once I asked an American epicurean to describe the true taste of Australia and she said: “Charred! You are known to barbecue everything from crustaceans to cows.”

Yet the rest of the world has not been so slow to recognise the potential of native Australian foods, with the fabulous finger lime now being grown commercially in California, attempts by an American cosmetic company to patent an extract of the Kakadu plum, and the cultivation of Australian native wattleseed in Africa where local varieties of acacia are not edible.

Do we risk repeating the macadamia experience, with production of this Australia native actually greater for many years in Hawaii than it was here?

It’s time to stop just beating around the bush.

norse code

bjork swan dress


Imagine … every breath you take, every move you make being stalked by song?

My old mum experienced a spell of auditory hallucinations when she’d hear anything from triumphal choruses of Ave Maria to George Formby.

Can’t you hear that?” she’d say, singing along to When I’m Cleanin’ Windowsplaying over and over on a loop in her mind.

Of course, she had had a stroke. In my case it is more as if I’ve been struck by a deeply concordant note like a human tuning fork.

This giant earworm started watching Of Monsters and Men perform their hitLittle Talks on Channel 7’s Sunrise program.

Sure I’d heard the song before, but once I actually saw the band perform it, it was like someone hit repeat.

Don’t listen to a word I say. Hey!

Your mind is playing tricks on you, my dear

The phrase “earworm” is lifted from the German word Ohrwurm, used to describe a sound that crawls inside your head and refuses to decamp.

Studies suggest that 98 per cent of people have at some stage experienced earworms or stuck song syndrome. Presumably the other 2 per cent are either deaf or lying.

A Top 10 of earworms compiled in 2003 by James Kellaris, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati, includes the Baha Men’s Who Let The Dogs Out, Village People’s YMCAThe Lion Sleeps Tonight sung by almost any one and Queen’s We Will Rock You.

Compiling a new list today he would definitely need to add Little Talks.

Part of it I am sure is to do with the band themselves. Hey!

After their performance hosts Mel and Kochie joined them for a chat and it was like Mr and Mrs Gulliver among the Lilliputians.

These tiny little pocket people twinkling with good humour are from Iceland.

The lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir has a look of dark-eyed impishness very much like that other Icelandic singer – the one with a name that sounds like a startled chicken.

And, all of a sudden, I really, really want to go to Iceland.

Honestly, what do you know about Iceland? asks the bucket list scrutineer.

My mind is a blizzard of dazzling white; across this vast empty tundra I stumble seeking a single fact.

The Prime Minister is? Don’t know

Currency? Not a clue

National dish? At a guess, herring or some other smallish fish.

Main export? Little singers who look like Bjork

National dress? Fur skin hats and swan suits

Climate? Very, very cold.

National sport? Something to do with snow

Main leisure activities? Something to do with snow

The capital is? Reykjavik I say triumphantly.

But secretly I am ashamed. Hey!

How is it possible to reach such a great age and know so little about another country.

I’m sure the average Icelander knows more about Australia.

But, one thing I do know is that you have reached the end of this column I’ve successfully passed on at least one highly infectious earworm.

Just to make absolutely sure and with sincere apologies to Paul Simon.

In Iceland, in Iceland, in Iceland

I’m going to Iceland



a view on the loo

The president of the Loo-vre photo by Brendan McCarthy

While not wanting to be a potty mouth, the United Nation’s official proclamation of World Toilet Day seems like the perfect opportunity to spruik my favourite loo.

Admittedly, it’s a tad out of town, but truly this is no ordinary convenience.

The Warracknabeal and District Ladies Restroom Committee may sound like a title borrowed from an Alexander McCall Smith novel, yet this is a real institution of the Australian outback variety.

Time was when many country towns had similar restrooms – most under the auspices of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) or other existing voluntary organisations.

The Warracknabeal restroom, opened in 1928 in the heart of the town, is perhaps the last stand-alone private toilet with its own dedicated committee and membership – founded as a matter of convenience by women of the Wimmera.

Before the restrooms were built the women used to come in from the farms with their husbands, travelling miles in horse and buggies,” committee treasurer Laurel Schulz explains.

The men had the Coffee Palace, but the women were not welcome there. They didn’t have anywhere to go to feed their babies, change them or freshen up.

So some of the farmers’ wives got together and decided they would form a committee to raise funds for their own place.”

Since then the restrooms have served as a oasis for generations of women, only closing their doors for a brief spell in 2005 when the floorboards were replaced.

Now it’s the committee members themselves who are concerned about giving way.

We are all getting very old. The average age of the committee is about 80. I’m 84 and I’m still treasurer, but I would dearly love to retire,” Laurel admits.

Flicking through the visitors’ book it is clear how much this quaint amenity is valued by travellers, like the troupe of passing belly dancers who were so impressed they left a $100 donation.

Another visitor, Val, wrote: “So charming. I love to come in here so we always make Warrack a stop on the way through to Adelaide – even when I don’t really need to use the restroom.”

A more recent entry in childish looping hand says simply: “Awesome!!!!” Then, perhaps realising this may seem a strange admonition to a group of 80-somethings, adding a qualifier: “It means not bad.”

Now people do tend to laugh and snicker about toilets and the business thereof as anticipated by Singapore charge d’affaires Mark Neo before the UN Assembly last week voted unanimously in favour of his country’s proposal to make November 19 World Toilet Day.

But contrast the genteel Warracknabeal institution – or indeed the throne in your own bathroom – with the grim reality of the third world.

More than 2.5 billion people around the world do not have decent sanitation.

According to the UN, six billion of the world’s seven billion people have mobile phones — but only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines.

And almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases which flourish in unsanitary conditions.

Whether the man of the well-appointed western house leaves the seat up is really a very first world problem.

Let’s lift the lid on the real issue.

* Photo by Brendan McCarthy. The president of the Warracknabeal & District Ladies Restroom Committee