Sentient member Dr Lynn Simpson was featured on the 7.30 report for her role in exposing the atrocities on live export ships. She lost her government job in the process but has gained respect from everyone else. A true inspiration.
“The front-page test” A Very Personal Piece by Lynn Simpson
Ok, call a priest and pixilate my photo!
My introduction to the world of animal welfare is possibly not conventional.
It started with my dad accidentally running over a dog on Christmas Eve whilst driving home from work. It was the 70s. Instead of taking the dog to get medical help, like normal people would, we nursed him in our laundry for a week feeding him only milk, mixed with raw eggs and a generous helping of brandy.
So I guess protein, fluids and analgesia were provided. Shame about the massive gash on his neck. I, as a 7 year old, bandaged it in a manner that was more akin to a cervical stabilization collar. Thank goodness for secondary healing. I’m sure I did him no favours. Except, he must have been ‘pissed as a maggot’ as I kept topping up his ‘fluids’. As it turns out, Cairn Terriers love Brandy. The dog was named Christo, no owners found, and lived a not so pampered life with us, spending most of his time in the backyard of a suburban house, as was common in the 70s. I didn’t like that and snuck him inside any time I could.
He earned his brandy one day when my mum was chasing my jerk brother through the backyard trying to give him a flogging. Her weapon, my hairbrush. Did I mention this was the 70s? She caught my jerk brother. Held him with her left hand and whacked him with the brush on his butt. How funny was it when Christo took offence, jumped up and grabbed hold of her right wrist! But she was too smart for him, she dropped my brat brother and transferred the brush to her left hand and began to whack the dog off of her right arm. I think lame justice was served all round; it was like watching a Monty Python skit! One of life’s injustices… you can’t pick your family.
Roll forward about 20 years and I’m now in Vet school. Stunned to find Brandy is not on the current treatment list of medications. However, an odd sheep lecturer taught me that cold sheep benefit from a hot cup of tea. Oh, boy. Flashbacks of the 70s again!
However, soon after graduating I found myself to be working on one of Australia’s infamous Live Export ships. I’m a firm believer that it’s easier to change the score of a game from within and not just screaming from the sidelines. This was my opportunity and I grabbed it.
One day sailing west, somewhere between the Nullarbor and Antarctica, a storm funnelled freezing freak waves of water through our upper decks, drenching and smothering thousands of sheep. Once we got them into a single vertical layer and somewhat sheltered, I found some poor welder’s bucket, tipped his gear on the deck and raced to the ship’s galley. Whilst there, I quickly made about 20 litres of the strongest, sweetest tea ever. More like a black syrup. I gave as many recumbent and freezing sheep as possible at least 40 mls orally whilst instructing crew to squeeze as much water from their wool as possible. To my amazement after the debacle subsided and the sheep dried out, the ones who had been force fed ‘Liptons yellow label’, were the strongest. Sure, the ship’s crew laughed at me- for years, but it was unanimous that the warm, caffeine filled and sugary hit probably did have a place in veterinary medicine.
I went on to do 57 voyages over 11 years. Travelled to more shitholes and warzones than I expected, and if I never see another pirate I won’t be sad.
There was no shortage of welfare needs to be met, and they weren’t just mine. The animals clearly had issues too. But, by being at the coalface I had the access to address what I could immediately, and report back to shore, and try to influence legislative changes on a big picture scale. I’ve been trying to bring about reform for 15 years now. Some ground has been taken, but most is still protected and resisted by stronger shields than my artillery can currently breach.
I managed to train a heap of people to better care for cattle and sheep in unique shipping situations, often using a mutual third language known from charades. Most of which, unsurprisingly, was not covered during Vet school.
Ironically the majority of welfare reforms I have managed to influence have been through circumventing the Government department responsible for animal health and welfare and going directly to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). AMSA are now more informed and have greatly enhanced ship designs. These changes mean the animals stuck in this draconian and crap practice travel under safer and more animal friendly environments.
However, after having my eyes opened in 2011 by ‘Four Corners’ and “A Bloody Business” to the practices I was delivering them into, I wished I had euthanased more, and not put them through the pain of healing only to be brutally handled and killed elsewhere.
I dipped my toes into work on land occasionally. I was employed with an “assess and destroy” team of Vets for the Victorian “Black Saturday” bushfires. We were on the fire ground whilst it still burnt around us. Residents still barred from entering, dead bodies remained in cars and dead and suffering livestock wandering as most fencing and infrastructure was 100% destroyed. The morning of our initial briefing, our group of vets, called in from all over Australia, was told the only pain relief available for us to use was lead. And they meant it. I was appalled. Yet again, our Australian Government was letting down our animals in their hours, days, weeks of need. I could have stayed at sea for that.
I soon took my rental car and designated local ranger to the nearest towns and personally bought as much wound/ burn cream, anti-biotics and sedation as I could get my hands on. I had brought a ‘westerngun’ with me. Most people are unfamiliar with them, we use them on the ships to deliver injections from up to 2 metres away. My ranger and I were soon circumventing the roving shooting teams and sedating, treating or euthanizing (my ranger had a captive bolt gun, another staple of a shipboard vet), you know, actually doing Vet work. Our work practice got back to the incident controller and head quarters, and they soon started to provide other vets with gear to treat animals. Late, but commendable.
The fire zone was hard work, made the ships seem like a walk in the park. But it piqued my interest in disaster relief work and I see scope for much improvement in this area globally. I have always worked by “the front page test”. If I ever had a difficult decision to make and I would have regretted or been embarrassed by making the wrong one and finding it on the front page of a newspaper, I wouldn’t do it. Simple. I’m no saint, but my ethics ensured I was a clean player in a dirty game.
It appears I now suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), from a combination of things but definitely in part due to my involvement in Live Export and work with the Government. I wear this as a badge of honour, as I’ve been told that “only good people get PTSD”.
When I started vet school I never thought I’d end up doing 11 years with the Merchant Navy. I also never expected to develop PTSD. I’m now, unexpectedly, planning on setting up a mental health farmstay for people who have been affected by trying to do good things for people/ animals through their career choices. Again, this was not in my life plan. I don’t seem to have a say anymore, maybe I never did, I’ve stopped fighting it. It appears I’m still taking orders, but I like these ones.
I’m hoping now to influence mental health acceptance and healing whilst continuing to do as much for animal welfare improvements as I can. I’m in a unique position of experience and support from the right people, and am now embarking on integrating animal and human welfare into our challenging world.
If you’re reading this, then we are probably of a similar mindset. Keep up the good work!