After a fun weekend exploring East Gippsland it was time for 2 days in Lakes Entrance before returning to Bairnsdale and the ‘Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative’.

Lakes Entrance is a nice seaside town with a healthy mix of permanent and holiday homes. A lot like Whangamata or Wanaka in NZ. I worked at one of two GP practices in town. It had an abundance of consulting and treatment rooms with a pathology lab and radiology facilities next door. It was great working with the doctors and nurses, seeing a wide range of patients, including my first case of Ross River Virus (I was headed down rheumatology road!). Consequently, there is a mosquito born illness epidemic in Australia after the summer’s cyclones and Queensland floods. So watch out for your Kiwi patients coming over the ditch this year!!!

Crossing the tracks (literally) to the Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative (locally known as GEGAC) provided a vast contrast in primary health care. GEGAC is a cooperative of multiple services providing free care for Australia’s indigenous people in the Gippsland. It provides accommodation, meeting places, an aboriginal business, social services and a primary health care unit. I was attached to the medical centre, working with the GP and nurse. Though the clinic was booked out in advance, the majority of patients were walk-ins. The bookings didn’t show up.

The clinic is a sterile looking building with sterile and cluttered consulting rooms. The people involved made up for it however. The doctor, nurses and admin staff were great, providing plenty of laughs and have great influence in the GEGAC community.

The ‘closing the gap’ initiative ensures that all services (care, prescriptions, transport to care, etc.) are absolutely free. However it is obvious that this alone is not enough to ensure a healthier aboriginal community.

Social issues are massive. Violence, child abuse and drugs are massive issues. I was amazed that one patient’s epilepsy and mental retardation was alcohol induced. She was 47. Methadone was a common prescription and I was careful to clarify ‘social drinking’ after being told half a cask of wine was a quiet night.

I was disappointed in the lack of aboriginal culture on offer. Visiting a Maori health service in NZ entails some degree of Maori influence, whether it language or tikanga. The only language difference I heard was ‘grog’. The loss of culture is plain to see and I was proud talking about the ‘Maori for Maori’ services at home. The GEGAC workers admit that ‘aboriginal for aboriginals’ is the way forward, but so few aboriginal are reaching university, let alone high school, to be able to fill professional positions. Clearly there is a long way to go on the road to a healthy aboriginal population.

GEGAC provided a brief yet dramatic insight into some of the indigenous health issues faced in Australia and Lakes Entrance GP introduced me to a new ‘mossie’ borne disease. Put together it produced a fun and typically Aussie week of medicine.