A retired remote area doctor who worked with murdered outback nurse Gayle Woodford has told a coronial inquest that Fregon was the most violent community she had ever worked in.
- A coronial inquest began on Monday into the murder of nurse Gayle Woodford in 2016
- Former GP Glynis Johns told the inquest Fregon was the most violent place she had worked
- She suggested the community should be closed
Mrs Woodford’s body was found in a shallow grave near Fregon in South Australia’s remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in March 2016.
Mrs Woodford had worked as a nurse with Nganampa Health Council (NHC) for nearly five years and was on call the night she was killed.
Dudley Davey was sentenced to life in prison with a non-parole period of 32 years for her abduction, rape and murder.
“[Gayle] just had such skill and patience and she just really wanted to try to the best of her ability,” former GP Glynis Johns told the inquest into Mrs Woodford’s death opn Tuesday.
She said Mrs Woodford had worked “miracles” in a community that Dr Johns described as the most violent she had worked in during her 15 years in remote Aboriginal communities.
Dr Johns told the coronial inquest Fregon required a permanent police presence, and she had requested that numerous times.
“This is like the old Wild West, this is such a lawless place,” she told the inquest.
“I was very worried about Fregon, everyone who worked in that clinic was concerned about the level of violence … I was particularly worried that young children were exposed to this violence.
“A lot of the other communities, there was violence in the communities and there was always immediate police response.
“I know that NHC had often approached the police requesting better police presence in Fregon … the reason given by the State Government was obviously funding, and I can understand that, but it wasn’t a functioning community.”
Lack of facilities and funding
Dr Johns told the inquest she never feared for her own safety.
However, she said violence in the community was handled “inadequately” by the federal and state governments, SA Police, NHC and Anangu elders in Fregon.
She said Fregon was the only remote community she had worked in that did not have a safe house for women and children to escape domestic violence, which meant victims would often present to nurses’ houses after hours to ring the police.
The inquest heard Dr Johns found the violence so concerning she had suggested the community be closed without the provision of those services.
“In no way would I ever think of that as a punitive measure at all, I just think these are people who have to be looked after,” she told the inquest.
“They’re marginalised people who have suffered a lot in the history of white occupation in Australia and I think we have an obligation to provide a safe environment.”
She acknowledged there was still a “crying need” for a health clinic in the community.
She said verbal threats were common against health staff, but often not recorded.
“Otherwise we would have spent our whole life writing incident reports,” she told the inquest.
Former Fregon nurse Belinda Schultz told the inquest the health clinic was closed on a weekly basis due to violence in the community.
But she said there was a “dismissive culture” by NHC management when clinical staff raised safety concerns.
“You were being told that it was OK for this culture or violence to be happening in this community and this is just the way it is out here,” she said.
“And if you can’t cope with that level of violence and that level of risk, then perhaps you’re not the right fit for this job, perhaps you’re not strong enough, tough enough.”
Ms Schultz said there were very few ways to be able to contact police if there was an emergency in the community.
“Very few households had landlines, there was no mobile phone coverage and the majority of the … pay phones were not in service,” she said.
The inquest continues.