Sunday Tasmanian- Sunday, June 12 2005
What the doctor ordered By Christopher Bantick
Doctors are people we all go to see, eventually. The relationship that can be
established between a doctor and a patient can be one of certain kind of intimacy.
Doctors now our aches, pains and what ails us.
More than this, we trust them to relieve our colds and tell us that's wrong. Doctors
as writers are not common. This is perhaps a pity as their patients, living unusual
lives, can be stories in themselves.
is a Launceston general Practitioner. He is also a writer with a wonderful
bedside manner. His debut book If You Faint, Fall
is a collection of antecdotes, yarns and portraits of people he knew and
situations he found himself in over 40 years as a GP. More than this, he has been a
farmer, Member of Tasmanian Parliament in 1992 and Speaker of the House in 1996. In 2004,
he had a regular radio segment on ABD Northern Tasmania, entitled, Medicine - Then and Now.
Madill's book is a rare delight. Besides it providing his own story as to how he became
a doctor, stories include his residency at Launceston General Hospital and later his GP
work in Launceston's northern suburbs. It is both a book of social history and warmly told
tales. Many will remind readers of times now gone. Madill says that why the book came
into being was through a family missed opportunity.
"The thing that really galvanised me was my mother. I had wanted to get some details of
the family history but delayed in doing so. After my mother had a severe stroke, she
recovered but had no memory, I missed my opportunity of recording her past."
"I felt that I should leave a record of what I had gone, even if it was for no one else
than my two daughters. When I began the early drafts, what I wrote sounded like medical
factual accounts rather than stories. After I had got about 30 or 40 pieces, i started
to put them into some form."
The book is self-published. In a way, this is entirely fitting. Madill has maintained
control of the manuscript and where editorial changes were necessary, they were done
by one of his daughters. Exquisite illustrations have been provided by
The result is book which many publishers would envy.
Madill says that for him posterity was a primary aim.
"The stories reflect a lifestyle that has gone and gone forever. The isolation was one
thing. Many of the people I saw didn't have a car let alone a telephone. Medicine and
the whole of society has changed massively. As I have been giving talks to groups since
the book has been published, I try to emphasise that we are all part of the most rapid
change ever to occur in human history.
"As much I have had a varied life, what has been the thing that I come back to is the
patients. Medicine is a wonderful. People come to you with their problems, you fix them
and they are grateful. In the 20 years I was in the same area before going into politics,
many people had chronic illnesses. I also made many friends. Some are still my patients.
"As people pass away that you've known for many years, this has its own kind of
personal costs. It was beginning to upset me, so going into parliament was a good break
Madill, now out of politics, is back practising part time. As the book shows, he has a
real affection for people and gratitude for what his patients gave him.
"It was the humanity I saw every day and being part of it that gave me great satisfaction.
In the early days in the 1960s, I worked all night every third night and all weekend
every third weekend. The patients came first always. I found the night work was difficult
as it was hard to overcome tiredness. Still, being a GP in northern Tasmania taught me
much about life.
"The first thing was that I came to the belief that the most important thing in life is
people. The patients taught me a lot about living and I have met a huge range of people.
What writing the stories has meant to me is that I have looked back and reassessed things
about life generally. It has been an important and gratifying thing for me to do
Former governor Sir Guy Green will launch
If You Faint, Fall Backwards! on Saturday at 4pmat Hobart Bookshop. All welcome.