Doctor to the disadvantaged
Gary Bates chats with Dr Lara Wieland
Lara Wieland1 (MBBS, FRACGP, FACCRM, Grad. Dip. Rural GP) is no ordinary medical doctor. Her burning ambition is to help the most disadvantaged and impoverished group in her homeland of Australia. I am referring to Australian Aboriginals, who, in the main, do not share the common benefits of being born into one of the wealthiest nations on Earth.
Lara turned down the luxury of a comfortable general practice in rural suburbia to spend several years in remote disadvantaged communities on Cape York, far north Queensland (a State of Australia). This is “the outback” where conditions are tough; the climate is searingly hot, and the nearest town could be hundreds of kilometres away.
Sadly, Australia’s Aboriginals suffer basic health problems more akin to those of a third world country. Endemic diseases include rheumatic fever, leprosy, tuberculosis, STDs2 and even malnutrition on a gross scale. For example, when a toilet breaks down in a house occupied by 17 people, one cannot call a repairman, and the resultant unsanitary conditions lead to gastrointestinal problems. Life spans are about 20 years shorter, and infant mortality rates three times higher, than the national average.
Speaking up for the disadvantaged
Lara attributes her motivation to serve to her upbringing. Her father is Dr Carl Wieland (pictured below with Lara), the founder of Creation magazine and Managing Director of Creation Ministries International (Australia). And because Lara was raised in northern Queensland, she also encountered many indigenous people.
It had an impact. She recalls documentaries about Charles Darwin’s view that Australian Aboriginals might be the “missing link”. She knew this was incorrect, and remembers the pain that such an evolutionary view inflicted upon this already impoverished group. Lara says, “I saw the tears in their eyes when my Dad would tell them that we were all created in the image of God and that regardless of skin colour we were all equal. If Aboriginals are provided with the same opportunities they can be just as productive as anyone else.” One of her favourite passages is Proverbs 31:8–9, which says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Interestingly, Lara initially received criticism for her “career” choice. Some commented that perhaps she could not get a “real job”. These misperceptions only drove her further.
Train a child
Growing up, she considered becoming a medical missionary, but thought, “Why go overseas when there is such a need in our own back yard?” She adds, “God instilled in me a love for Aboriginal people. Everywhere I turned I saw great hardship and injustice, and other effects of the Curse. These were being ignored by the medical establishment and even Christians.”
Lara admits that both she and her sister, Lisa, had their “wilderness experiences”—i.e., a period when they drifted away from the faith. But, she stresses the importance of parents spending time with their children on the subject of origins saying, “If not for the strong Christian foundation we received, beginning with creation, it could have been much worse.”
“Even though I was not strong in my walk at the time, my creationist convictions never wavered through six years of medical school, being bombarded with zoology, biology, anatomy etc., all soaked in evolution. Because I had heard so much about creation, it taught me to think critically about the evidence presented.”
She laughed and said, “I remember being taught about Haeckel’s famous embryo drawings at the same time my dad was preaching about them being a fraud!”3
It also brings home the problem that evolutionary teaching can have when young Christian minds are not prepared. She advises students coping with evolution, “Remember, you’re marked on regurgitating what you’ve been taught. You’re not required to believe it. I often used to write ‘The theory of evolution says … ’, for example.”
When she first met her future husband, Ron, he was an evolutionist who did not believe in God. Of his subsequent conversion, Lara teases, “He didn’t have a chance. I loaded him up with creation materials and dragged him along to all my dad’s meetings!”
Why are there problems?
Because of evolutionary thinking, even those who feel sorry for the plight of Aboriginals often don’t treat them as true equals. They will campaign for Aboriginal rights, but attempt to push them back into the cultural practices they had before European settlement. Driven by the “noble savage” concept fostered by evolution, it only prolongs their hardship.
Conversely, Lara simply views Aboriginals as equals—as human beings—recognizing that she could just as easily have been born into one of these communities. She understands they are people under the same Curse as everyone else, separated from God like all others, unless reborn—and that they, too, desperately need the Lord. She says, “And once again, I had this attitude because I saw my father live this out practically.”
Lara points out that when missionaries first arrived, Aboriginals resonated with many Christian values and readily accepted them. Compared to current conditions, communities were relatively stable. But when the government came in and took over the mission stations, they had the misguided evolutionary view that the Christian influence was destroying Aboriginal people by changing their culture. This created a moral vacuum that was filled by alcohol, drugs, sex and violence, a situation that Aboriginal elders also recognize.
These misguided policies have contributed to the problems we see today. For example, most Cape York communities went from government control to limited self-governance. Although they were reasonably self-sufficient beforehand, the introduction of government welfare reduced the need to work, and the resultant dependence on handouts destroyed the culture and morale of the communities.
Lara has experienced the social dysfunction first hand. Alcohol abuse, for example, takes away money for food, destroys parenting and the ability to raise children in a safe environment. She explains, “It is heartbreaking when a young child is brought to you as the result of sexual abuse. While governments concern themselves with being ‘politically correct’, people are being horrifically damaged. It’s an ongoing cycle. Children with simple ear infections that could easily be treated with antibiotics go deaf because community money is being squandered. Corruption is rife but government is frightened to speak up for fear of being called racist.” Such frustrations led Lara to leave Cape York for Cairns, where she now intervenes directly by running a health clinic for “at risk” Aboriginal children and families. But she regularly returns to “the Cape” to help run Christ-centred vacation activities for Aboriginal young people.
Worldview makes a difference
Due to evolutionary teaching, many subconsciously believe that Aboriginals are somehow less than fully human, and perhaps should be treated differently from everyone else. From experience, Lara says, “Aboriginal people really respond to compassion and being loved. The responses might not always be the way that most might expect or want, but this could be due to some underlying problems. For example, when someone has been abused they find it difficult to love. When you’ve been ‘hunted’ it’s difficult to trust.”
Lara believes that most Australians think the problems are insurmountable, and so they don’t bother trying. But she says, “If we believe the Bible, then Australian Aboriginals are individuals whom God loves. Even a single life changed is one lost sheep restored to their Creator, even causing the angels to rejoice.”
She highlighted that there are lots of opportunities for people to serve in Aboriginal communities and it doesn’t have to be unpaid. They are desperate for teachers, nurses, plumbers, carpenters and electricians. There are even vacation programs that Christians can be involved in, which provide a great springboard for the local Aboriginal Christians to work from.4
Lara’s story once again provides ample evidence on how worldview makes a difference. Our views about where we came from ultimately affect the way we live our lives and the way we treat others. I thank God for Lara and her upbringing, and commend her efforts to reach the lost.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS)
Royal Flying Doctor Service
For 3½ years, Lara served with the RFDS (also known as the “Flying Doctors”). It is a world-renowned air ambulance service that provides emergency medical care for Australians living in remote locations. For some families, even a ‘drive’ to the local grocery store can take several days. The RFDS was formed in 1928 by Reverend John Flynn, the first Superintendent of the Australian Inland Mission (AIM), a branch of the Presbyterian Church of Australia.1 In some areas signs can be seen on remote Australian highways to alert drivers that the road sometimes doubles as an emergency landing strip for RFDS planes.
References and notes
- Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia, <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Flying_Doctor_Service>, 20 October 2008.
Intervention—A National Emergency in Australia
In June 2007, incumbent Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, declared a National Emergency and ordered teams of medicos and social workers, backed by the police and military, into many Aboriginal communities. This was due to a commissioned report that revealed extensive sexual child abuse within communities in the Northern Territory of Australia. It was revealed that health workers, teachers and even family members had been assaulted for speaking out for the abused.
Subsequently, many welfare payments have been diverted to food coupons, ensuring that the money is not spent on alcohol or drugs. The intervention included bans on alcohol and pornography, as well as compulsory medical examinations for all children under 16.1
References and notes
- See Walker, T., National emergency in Australia, <creation.com/aboriginalemergency>, 29 June 2007.
On 13 February 2008, Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, issued a national apology for the treatment of his country’s Aboriginals, and in particular, for the removal of children from their families from the late 1800s to the 1960s. This was nationally known as “Sorry Day”. Lara readily admits that there have been problems, but also bemoans that the positive influence of Christian heritage has been rewritten. She says, “Scores of children were removed for their own safety, and many good loving families cared for them. But others, mostly those with some ‘white’ parentage, were removed in an attempt to breed out the Aboriginal ‘race’, and many suffered harm.” Lara attributes many problems to racist Darwinian ideas.
References and notes
- Doctors in Australia commonly keep their maiden names. Return to text.
- STDs = sexually transmitted diseases, e.g. gonorrhea and syphilis. Return to text.
- See Grigg, R., Fraud rediscovered, Creation 20(2):49–51, 1998; <creation.com/fraud>. Return to text.
- If you are interested in helping in this area see <www.outtherekowanyama.com.au>. Return to text.
I find it interesting that the history of the christian drive behind the stolen generation and disruption of culture have been completely ignored by this article. Although missionaries tried to protect indigenous communities from harm, it ended with the usual convert or perish tactic used around the world. Your attempt to present a snowy white history of australian christianity and the blame of all evil on 'evolutionists' is misleading. Much of the cultural and social harm done to indigenous australians was done by forcibly separating children from family in order to 'christianise' them. To present it otherwise is an outright lie.
I fully expect my comment to disappear but It needed to be said
I think you will find that you have been a little misled on this matter. In the book One Human Family, for instance, it does not fail to grasp the nettle of Christian failings in all sorts of areas, but the extensive documentation strongly indicates that the real driver of racist atrocities against Aboriginal people was applied Darwinism. Here is an extract which shows not just that, but how the Genesis account acted as a brake on the worst excesses:
Australian secular historian Joanna Cruickshank acknowledges, if somewhat reluctantly, not only the baneful effects of the Darwin-inspired ‘scientific racism’ on Australian Aboriginals, but the way in which belief in our common descent from Adam and Eve operated to temper such thinking. In a recent article on the topic, she writes:
“Supporters of Darwin have understandably often been reluctant to acknowledge how closely entangled Darwinism and social Darwinism were, preferring to distance Darwin from his theory’s evil twin.
“Yet those who debated the theory of evolution in the late nineteenth century were keenly aware of this connection … . Nowhere was this more obvious than in Australia.”
She writes how by 1876, the library of a typical squatter (pastoralist) consisted of books by Shakespeare, John Stuart Mill, and Darwin. The pattern, widespread today, of church leaders anxious to compromise with this new ‘scientific’ ideology, was already evident. She writes how in 1869, a Reverend Bromby gave a public lecture defending Darwin’s book, in which he
“followed Darwin’s logic in using the apparent dying out of Aboriginal people as evidence for evolution.
“In response, the Anglican Bishop of Melbourne, Charles Perry, attacked both Bromby’s evidence and his conclusions. Perry critiqued what he saw as the scientific inadequacies of Darwin’s book.
“In particular, however, Perry attacked the view that human beings could be divided by race—or any other category—into ‘savage’ and ‘civilised’… .”
Cruickshank explains that Bromby represented the ‘progressive’ wing of the Church of England. Betraying her pro-evolution bias, she calls him “open to scientific evidence” and “dismissive of biblical literalism.”
“ Perry, by contrast, was a staunch evangelical, uncomfortable with the theological implications of Darwin’s theory and horrified at what he saw as a threat to the biblical claim that all humanity was formed of ‘one blood.’”
Cruickshank goes on to say that when legislation was passed
“enshrining the ‘White Australia’ policy and effectively denying Aboriginal people the vote, few voices were raised in protest. Progressives and conservatives alike saw the preservation of the more evolved white race as central to national identity.
“Those few protests against the policy came from unlikely quarters. The fledgling New South Wales Aborigines Mission, a small evangelical organization, pointed out that while most politicians claimed ‘to be ultra-democratic, they are sadly conservative in democratic practice, and unChristian both in theory and in practice when they say that a native born Australian is not a man and a brother because his skin happens to be a few shades darker than their own.’
Finally, and very significantly for our purposes here, this secular historian [i.e. Cruickshank--CW] states:
“In earlier periods, one of the few persistent barriers to social Darwinist theory in Australia was the Christian doctrine that all human beings were of ‘one blood.’”
I.e, the Bible's teaching on human origins. 'Nuff said.
This article is a blessing and what this Doctor is doing is Great. I am sad to say this but I am so tired of Evolution making some races think they are superior. God made us all in his image and no race is more superior than another, I wish at times I could live a more simple life like some of these cultures. This article touched My heart and I hope these people see that evolution causes division and not unity.
Thank God for people who take God’s Word seriously and treat ALL people on this earth as human beings created by God in His image. It is such an encouragement to have people like Lara doing the work of God for aboriginal Australians. It is not an easy task, and I pray that she will see physical and spiritual progress through it.
I agree that the Aborigines have been woefully abused, e.g. they were fauna rather than citizens until the 1960s.
However, I believe that this article is portraying the Aborigines as hapless victims, which is an unbiblical view very close to Marxist victimology.
Your article says “Why are there problems … Because of evolutionary thinking, even those who feel sorry for the plight of Aboriginals often don’t treat them as pure equals. “. That is true in and of itself, but there are at least two other aetiologies behind the problems of the Aborigines:
- The effects of a world view that only thinks of today and does not plan for the future.
- The effects of sin: when child abuse is so rampant that Aboriginal leaders are asking for government intervention you cannot blame Darwinism: that is simply sin.
Let’s not forget the biblical concept of personal responsibility when talking about the problems that ‘victims’ have.
Another quote from your article: “For example, when a toilet breaks down in a house occupied by 17 people, one cannot call a repairman, and the resultant unsanitary conditions lead to gastrointestinal problems.”
This statement is based on the presupposition that a professional repairman is needed. I would have thought it very likely that someone in the community would have had sufficient mechanical talent and/or experience to figure out how to fix a toilet (basic mechanical devices suit ‘bush mechanics’ well, unlike electronic devices).
If people really cared about their medical situation (we’re back to personal responsibility again) they would either learn to fix the toilet themselves or appoint someone from the community to go and learn how to do such repairs. At the very least they’d ask the government to train someone from their community.
For the sake of balance, I will say that this part of the article is probably very accurate:
“Lara points out that when missionaries first arrived, Aboriginals resonated with many Christian values and readily accepted them. Compared to current conditions, communities were relatively stable. But when the government came in and took over the mission stations, they had the misguided evolutionary view that the Christian influence was destroying Aboriginal people by changing their culture. This created a moral vacuum that was filled by alcohol, drugs, sex and violence, a situation that Aboriginal elders also recognize.
These misguided policies have contributed to the problems we see today. For example, most Cape York communities went from government control to limited self-governance. Although they were reasonably self-sufficient beforehand, the introduction of government welfare reduced the need to work, and the resultant dependence on handouts destroyed the culture and morale of the communities.“
Government intervention in moral matters usually to leads to “alcohol, drugs, sex and violence”.
Thank you for an excellent article. Well done Lara—you are indeed an inspiration.
I have travelled often to Outback Australia and it is incredibly distressing to witness the decay over the past two decades in what have become ‘Aboriginal Towns’ like Wilcannia in NSW.
Lately I have been thinking that ‘white’ man needs to butt out and let Aboriginal people take greater responsibility for their own communities.
Instead you have challenged my thinking to recognize again that the church has a huge role still to play in seeing these communities transformed by the message of Christ and his kingdom—even at the risk of being criticized by Neo-Darwinists all over again!
I would much rather take notice of the opinions of someone like Lara who has and is working with Aborigines than an uninformed Christian from NZ.
I think we need to be very careful when commenting on something with which we have not had practical experience and therefore knowledge, otherwise you just make the soup thicker.
I recently spent 5 months working with indigenous kids in a community in the north of Australia and can testify to the truth of the sentiments expressed in this article. Thanks.
I am delighted to read about Lara and to know that there are still young people whose commitment to Christ is absolute. … To hear of Lara’s love for the Lord Jesus and his aboriginal people fills us with great joy. God bless you Lara. We are praying for you.
Excellent article. Well done to her dad who invested much in her earlier years. As a parent myself, there is no greater joy than too see your children fulfil their God-given purpose on earth. Truly they are the disciples that God has given us to reach out to the ends of the earth. Keep on going Lara. Well done!
Good on you Lara.
Please don’t make personal comments such as “uninformed Christian from NZ”—such comment gives those who are hostile to the faith ammunition and unless you know JM you do not know what this person’s “experience” and “knowledge” actually is. In fact all JM’s comments are relevant and do not contradict what Lara says, only expand on it.
I would caution us especially not to attribute everything that is a result of sin to Darwinism. Romans 1 clearly shows that sexual impurity follows on from exchanging the created for the Creator:
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”
Unfortunately many Aboriginal people are turning back to animist beliefs as part of ‘reclaiming’ their culture.
An excellent article. God bless you Lara. Just wanted to add, that these problems are not isolated to the far north of Australia. These medical and other problems are very much part of life for Aboriginal communities in the larger towns and cities, where there is free access to excellent medical care, numerous support groups, and much government funding.
We have worked with Aboriginal families in one of these cities for almost 10 years now and can testify of the power of God to dramatically set people free, in every aspect of life. For those who have accepted God’s free gift of forgiveness and have a vibrant relationship with the living God, we have found that, without specific teaching or coaching in these areas, health improves, surroundings improve, school truancy drops off, children are well fed, clean, happy and loved.
The difference comes from within, and no government program can achieve what Almighty God can when He is given a chance. Yes, there are still problems to work through, but there is a huge difference, and there is Hope, and “tools” to work through problems and break out of the binding, destructive cycle. I believe this would be true for any segment of society. By the way I am not refuting the urgent and real need for improved medical facilities and training in remote communities all over Australia.