South East Asia & Darwin

The two-week visit to South East Asia and Australia (25 May – 5 June) in 2004 was the first one east of Israel for the TSS, whose members are entitled as Fellows to accompany College visits abroad. This occasion offered the opportunity to visit Singapore and Darwin, the latter being the place of work of the son of PRCS Sir Peter Morris. Twenty-two of the TSS were amongst the 75 people on this long-distance trip, which began with three days in Singapore, the pivotal seaport of south-east Asia. Here we stayed just off Orchard Road at the Regent Hotel, where the scientific meeting was held. There were two days of academic sessions and half a day of hospital visits. Singapore General Hospital, with nearly 1600 beds serviced by 5000 staff (10% of them medical), was spotless and spacious. Here in the urology theatres a da Vinci robot – one of few outside the United States at this time – had been used in 40 prostatectomies with a mean operating time of less than three hours. The research laboratories and the Experimental Surgery facility were also state-of-the-art.

The scientific meeting began with a welcome from Professor Satku (Master of the  Singapore Academy of Medicine), PRCS Sir Peter Morris (who recalled his early days in Singapore as a WHO expert in immunology) and neurosurgeon Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Minister of State for Health and Transport, who delivered the keynote lecture on the demography of Singapore’s health services which he said were on a solid British foundation. There are 6300 doctors in Singapore (800 of them surgeons) serving a population of 4 million Singaporeans through a public-private partnership. A healthy lifestyle was being promoted against the diseases of affluence and against infections, particularly HIV-AIDS of which 242 cases were diagnosed in 2003. There was a medico-legal debate on the unusual case of Mr Kromer who suffered a high impact injury to his limbs and abdomen, and another on surgical research and its value to the practising surgeon and to the trainee. Partners visited Little India, Chinatown and Santosa Island, and enjoyed lunch at the Prima Revolving Restaurant.

The meeting in Darwin, a city originally called Palmerston but subsequently named after (but never seen by) Charles Darwin, was held jointly with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in our hotel over two days. There were interesting insights into the eclectic surgical service and skill of surgeons in this town which is closer to Bali than to any major Australian city. The hospital provides surgical care for Northern Territory’s population of 200,000 spread over a geographical area accounting for 17.5% of Australia’s land mass; its coastline alone is 1100 kilometres long. The newly opened north-south Ghan railway will bring Darwin closer to its distant nearest neighbours, and reduce the number of long road-trains thundering along the Stuart Highway which connects Darwin and Alice Springs.

The social tour of Darwin included a visit to Old Fannie Bay Gaol, closed in 1982 and now a museum conveying some of the rigours of early Australian life. It also houses a gruesome account of the murder of a taxi driver which resulted in a double-hanging in 1954, after which capital punishment was abolished. From Dudley Point we overlooked Darwin harbour (twice as large as the one in Sydney) but saw no lethal salt-water crocodiles or box jellyfish. A happy evening was spent aboard the two-tier Spirit of Darwin catamaran admiring a rather reclusive sunset, said normally to be a great spectacle. Our adventures were recorded photographically on CD by John Henderson, an energetic retired surgeon from Victoria.  Another highlight of our visit was the reception at Darwin’s elegant Government House given by the incumbent Administrator Ted Egan and his Welsh wife Nerys Evans. A former songster, he treated us to a ballad to which the visitors responded with Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Some took the opportunity to travel east of Darwin to spend a couple of days in Kakadu National Park, staying in the eponymously-shaped Crocodile Hotel from which they forayed into the local bush to see the many sites in this Aboriginal homeland. Certainly we had explored the Top End of Australia in style, and our memories were rekindled at a reunion dinner at the Royal College of Surgeons later that year.