RiseVibes: Singsings, Sutures & Sorcery: A 50 year Experience in Papua New Guinea’ by Anthony Radford


David Turnbull reviews ‘Singsings, Sutures & Sorcery:  A 50 year Experience in Papua New Guinea’ and profiles author Anthony Radford.

When embarking on a short-term medical placement one would not have expected to be part of a surgical team amputating a forearm of a burns victim within half an hour of arriving at the hospital. However, this was the reality for Anthony Radford when he travelled from South Australia to the ‘Land of the Unexpected’ in 1959. (Radford, 2012, 9)

Little did he know that the initial move out of his comfort zone would take him on an amazing global journey with God as a doctor and medical academic  The narrative of this journey provides a way to encourage and inspire people to make themselves available to use their God-given gifts in the marketplaces, beyond the church into wider society. As Christianity becomes more marginalised in Australia, the challenge of the 21st century for the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ can be overwhelming for God’s people. Strategies and approaches to mission need to be adapted and modified.  A significant component is Christians engaging in the marketplaces of work and community. Christian professionals have a role to play and a contribution to make to wider society, including using the gifts God has given them at home and overseas. Faith and work can become integrated. Anthony Radford has demonstrated this for over 50 years.

Emeritus Professor Anthony Radford has helped to document his life’s journey in his book, Singsings, Sutures & Sorcery:  A 50 year Experience in Papua New Guinea (Mosaic Press, 2012). This Aussie doctor living in the ‘Land of the Unexpected’ with its distinctive cultural, ecological, spiritual and geographic characteristics, laid a foundation and then built on it to make a more extensive contribution in Australia and beyond for God and humanity.

Anthony completed his medical training in 1960 in South Australia. His desire at the end of the course and after graduation was to practice for a period in an area of need rather than at home in Australia in a capital city.  He was prepared to move out of his comfort zone professionally and spiritually. God spoke to him and he was convicted that medical mission was to be his career calling after hearing the Jungle Doctor, Dr Paul White, in a school assembly in 1952. (Radford, 2012, 160)

The opportunity opened up for him to complete a medical cadetship in Papua New Guinea. This was commenced in 1959-60 with two months as a student in the Highlands within a European enclave. He then had a further ten years there with his family in a number of places in the Highlands, in the capital Port Moresby and in Oro Province from 1963 to 1972.

Working in the Australian colony obviously provided many challenges as it was beginning to be opened up to civilisation, especially in the rural areas. This was certainly the case in regards to the medical emergencies he grappled with as the locals left their treatment to the last minute.  He also had his own health issues like suffering from Hepatitis A.  Anthony had to deal with the difficulties associated with travelling in a mountainous region, engaging with authorities and coping with the isolation of some placements with limited power. On occasions he was the only doctor for 50,000 people.

He contributed to the establishment of the medical school in Papua New Guinea; provided medical care in remote rural villages through regular medical patrols, mostly on foot; and trained indigenous health care workers through the development of comprehensive training programs in rural medicine for undergraduate medical students and interns.  Anthony and his wife Robin became active members of local churches in the locations where they worked and relationships were forged.

Throughout his time in Papua New Guinea he participated in the spiritual activities of the community like church services, preaching in some remote places and encouraging Christian cross-cultural workers in his areas. Lutheran and Anglican Boards of Mission personnel were benefactors. Being confronted by the primal spiritual world and related practices contributed to the growth of his and Robin’s own Christian faith.

After his departure from Papua New Guinea Anthony could not imagine that he would continue to go back regularly as a consultant for a further forty years, and use his experiences to open doors around the world and multiply his interests in medical mission through inspiring others.

God was supporting him in this role while in Papua New Guinea and equipping him for an even stronger and broader role in Australia.  Many of the opportunities in Papua New Guinea opened the door on his return for his role as the Foundation Professor of Primary Care and Community Medicine at Flinders University, where he worked for twenty years. This provided opportunities to become a consultant and develop training programs for remote health care in Australia and primary health care back in Papua New Guinea and other countries overseas.

After completing his work at Flinders University in 1994 he became a medical mission advocate, building on his desire that God’s people embrace God’s heart for the nations. A need to be prepared for such service led him to be engaged in training Christian health professionals for primary health care. Over 1,000 health workers have now attended such courses in countries on five continents, including the United States, Britain, Brazil, Taiwan and Australia. The Australian course is organized by Intermed SA, and takes the form of a three week multidisciplinary and introductory course on medical mission and primary health care. Since its inception, over 300 participants (averaging 25 per course) have come from around Australia and also from countries in the Pacific, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.  Many participants have gone on to work successfully for governments, aid organizations and missions around the world.

Anthony has also worked as a consultant in international health, an emergency physician in a repatriation hospital and is still working as a locum general practitioner in rural South Australia. He is a former Chairman of the Christian Medical and Dental Association and at the time or writing International  Vice-President.

Singsings, Sutures & Sorcery is available through Koorong and other bookstores or  online from the author anthony@radford.id.au  or from the publishers, Mosaic Press, Preston, Victoria.

Anthony’s global outlook shaped this dokta @ large to use his passions and gifting for God’s glory.