Black Bag Moon

Sophisticated, not what I expected
Valerie Brown, Australia, AO

Black Bag Moon: Doctors’ Tales from Dusk to Dawn drives us straight to the heart of human communication and collides head-on with the business of living and dying and the things that matter, those impacting small and large issues of daily life like neighbours and deluded loved ones, difficult patients and bureaucrats. We even encounter one of the casualties, a doctor’s wife.

General readers and healthcare professionals alike will enjoy a journey to the place ‘where the science that is medicine bumps thrillingly against human fear, passion, despair and hope’, as Dr Alec Logan said in his Foreword to Secrets from the Black Bag.

A companion volume to Secrets from the Black Bag, Black Bag Moon, Doctors’ Tales from Dusk to Dawn is based on interviews with general practitioners across the globe. This fictional work probes different aspects of medical practice, like euthanasia, indigenous health, Alzheimer’s disease and how to treat patients one just doesn’t like – and does so in the planet’s cities and suburbs and such unexamined locations as

* a cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea
* a remote village in the west of Scotland
* an island off an island off an island in one of the farthest flung corners of the British Empire
* an Australian mining town
* the Australian Outback
* a naval vessel in the Indian Ocean

Secrets from the Black Bag

secrets_from_the_black_bag_lgTerrific and original … deserves wide celebration … you might be reminded of James Herriott … Butler stands on the shoulders of writers like William Carlos Williams … where the science that is medicine bumps thrillingly against human fear, passion, despair and hope. There is a whiff of pipe-smoke on colonial balconies, a sepia-tinted glimmer of grateful patients and be-chauffeured physicians. There is no political correctness, yet to be invented …

Secrets from the Black Bag presents doctors hurrying through the night, from the early to late 20th century, from Pakistan to Tanganyika, from Scotland to New Zealand, all over the planet. They carry little black bags into the private worlds of people struggling with the business of living and dying and trying to make sense of things.

Visit …

  • A perplexed forester in the Scottish Highlands who confronts love for the first time, gun in hand
  • A rebellious London nurse who stitches up an arrogant surgeon near the Benin border
  • Mrs Babbadge, whose anosmia inures her to the mouldering stench of the home she shares with a rotting husband and two frenetic terriers
  • A 5-year-old who has died alone in a hovel in the middle of the night, killed by the negligence of a psychopathic stepfather

Companion volume to Black Bag Moon, Doctors’ Tales from Dusk to Dawn

Recommended Text of General Practice Training Tasmania and Recommended Reading for the [medical] Association of Course Organisers in the UK.

Now available as an ebook from Smashwords: books/view/151877


Susan’s biography – mostly in her words


Short Bio

Susan was a freelance writer, researcher and editor specialising in international development, medical fiction and local history. She published regularly in medical humanities journals worldwide and was President of Benevolent Organisation for Development, Health & Insight (BODHI) ( and from 1989 until her death in 2014. This gave her experience in overseas development.

Long bio

Act I. Childhood.

Scene 1. One starry night a few months before she was born, Susan Woldenberg’s mother, Irene Violet, sat on the front porch in Lafayette, Louisiana, USA, craving ice cream and staring at the stars. Hence Susan’s love of sweets and her middle name: Starr.

Scene 2.

Later childhood in Southern California: fast forward please.

Act II. Peripatetic globe- trotting

Scene 1.

Susan seized experiences with both hands to provide later memories for when she’s drooling over her porridge in an old folks’ home.

Scene 2.

Susan dropped out (again), quit Hollywood television job and went to India in 1985. Met future husband, Colin Butler.

Act III. Tasmania

Scene 1.

Susan assumed mantle of DW (doctor’s wife) in 1991.

Scene 2.

Two more trips to India (one in 1990) resulted in formation of BODHI.

Scene 3.

The Woldenberg – Butler Roadshow perched in Campbell Town, Tasmania in 1992, where it stayed until 2009.

Setting: Small town, 850 people, millions of sheep in surrounding district, no traffic lights.

Scene 4.

While managing the medical practice for Colin, Susan found time to complete a university degree in history, work for BODHI and write and desktop publish Stories of Campbell Town and True Tales from the Roaring 40s.

* Stories of Campbell Town example Allan Bye took his Travelling Picture Show all round Tasmania for many years, including during World War II.

* True Tales from the Roaring 40s examples: death masks of the rich and infamous inhabit a Launceston museum, and more heads of animals amassed by a big game hunter into the largest collection in the Southern Hemisphere.

Scene 5.

Susan ventured into fiction in 1994 with her first short story. She kept her ears open at dinner parties and elsewhere and gathered enough medical tidbits for two volumes of medical stories. One, Secrets from the Black Bag, was published in December, 2005, by Royal College of General Practitioners Publications in the UK.

Scene 6.

Public health, climate change, recurring diseases: these were on her mind when she began More Stories of Campbell Town. Susan’s gardening buddy Fairlie Nicolson provided unpublished photographs and memories of her grandfather, Dr Walter Toft, who founded a progressive tuberculosis sanatorium in Campbell Town in the late 1800s.

Scene 7.

Rewind to the beginning: food. More Stories of Campbell Town and the cookbooks, Midlands Morsels and Heritage Highway Cookery, which honour the unsung cooks who keep the whole show on the road. The cookbooks feature recipes, photos and anecdotes from the 1800s to the current day … recipes from the 1800s, 1900s and 2000s, like Cinnamon Chocolate Meringues … yum … … And her detective novel, looking for a publisher: Just Add Nauseam, Death at the Dinner Party, set in present day Tasmania.

Scene 8.

Through it all, wild birds wing past and two pet sheep cud-chew outside the office window (looking at them now) … here come … A second volume of medical stories, and The AFTBACK Chronicles, wherein three stuffed animals — two bears and a Scottish terrier who belong to a young married couple — embark upon astounding adventures in their efforts to negotiate a bewildering world, all from the safety of the bedroom, with a little help from the Internet.

Act IV  Canberra

Colin and Susan then moved to Canberra, Australia’s capital. Colin became an epidemiologist and then a Professor at the University of Canberra. Before then he worked at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University. He specialises in global environmental change and human health, and in global food security. Susan completed a third volume of medical stories (Black Bag Fix) and does freelance academic editing and research.

BODHI is flourishing.

In loving memory of Susan Woldenberg Butler

My beloved wife Susan Starr Woldenberg Butler passed away, peacefully, surrounded by Buddhist prayer, on Saturday October 4, at midday in Canberra, ACT, Australia. In California, where most of her (Jewish) family still live, it was just at the start of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the day of atonement. It was also the start of the Sabbath.

Susan was born in Layfayette, Louisiana, USA, on May 4, 1948. Her father, Newton Glassner Woldenberg, had only recently returned from the Pacific theatre of World War II, where he had served as a soldier in both Australia and New Guinea. Her mother, Irene, had moved with Newt to the US South from Madison, Wisconsin, soon after their marriage, to work for his uncle, the businessman and philanthropist, Malcolm Woldenberg. Uncle Mal lived in a grand house in Napoleon St, New Orleans, and Susan loved to visit.

Susan lived in two other Southern cities, Bogalusa (LA), and Vicksburg, on the Mississippi river, still haunted by a great siege from the American Civil War. One thing from that time that Susan remembered was a frightening visit from the Klu Klux Klan. Her father had invited one of his employees (an African American) to his home; “we know you are Jewish, and we don’t do that here”. Perhaps this was in Bogalusa, reported as having in the 1960s perhaps the highest per capita KKK membership in America. “Klansmen held offices in city government. They assaulted and terrorized blacks — and whites who didn’t share their bigotry.”

Susan also remembered a trip by train to Los Angeles, in the 1950s, and the love and care her mother had shown in protecting her from exposure to polio, then a greatly feared epidemic affecting children.

(much to be added)

Susan and I met during Diwali (the Hindu festival that signifies the triumph of light over darkness) at a Buddhist guest house in the New Delhi suburb of Shanti Niketan (abode of peace), in October, 1985. By that time, Susan was working in Hollywood, for a TV station. She was on pilgrimage with fellow students of Geshe Gyeltsen, who had founded a Buddhist centre in Los Angeles. Geshla was to marry us in 1991.

I remember the fortnight in which I met her as if it was last month. I had a half hour meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama (at his meeting room in Dharamsala) only 2-3 days before I met Susan. Although I had attended teachings from His Holiness in 1982 when he first came to Australia, and again (for ten days) in 1985, when he gave the first Kalachakra teachings in Europe, this was my first ever face to face meeting with him. He was so generous with his time.

Later, Susan and I were to meet him twice, once in Los Angeles (just shaking hands) but also for about 30 minutes, again in Dharamsala, in 1990 (maybe October). The year before, he had become BODHI’s founding patron; we had asked him in late 1989, just before he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and became so very much in demand.

Susan is survived by her younger sisters, Jill and Anne, her mother Irene, a large extended family, and the author. Her father, Newt, who was a member of Mensa, died before I met Susan, in the late 1970s.

Susan was a talented author and editor. She had two books published in the UK, called Secrets of the Black Bag and Black Bag Moon. She was to sign the contract for a third, Black Bag Fix, but this was thwarted by her death. I am now in the early stage of negotiation with both this publisher and also the Royal College of General Practitioners, who published Susan’s first book.

When Susan second book was launched her stories were likened to that of the great A.J Cronin. whose writings (incuding Country Doctor) formed the raw material for the TV series Dr Finlay’s casebook. This was broadcast on the BBC from 1962 until 1971.

Susan also has two unpublished manuscripts. One, Just Add Nauseum, is a murder mystery set in Tasmania. The other is The Aftback Chronicles, the secret lives of stuffed animals. A leading character in this is the distinguished dyko-analyst, Sir Bligmund the black dog, whose patients range from the neurotic sniffer beagle at the airport to Rin Tin Tin. But even Sir Blggie pales in comparison to the real star, Sturgess Ursule, entreprenuer extraordinary.

Susan did a lot of editing. She was an active member of the Canberra Society of editors, who published a tribute in their October-November 2014 newsletter. Many of my articles, not to mention my powerpoint slldes, were improved, the latter especially visually, by Susan’s input. Susan also self-published four booklets, two of them cookbooks from the heart of Tasmania. These can still be purchased at the Tasmanian Wool Centre, in Ross, the historic village in the heart of Tasmania, near to where we lived from 1992 to 2008.

Susan was also a trustee of the Clifford Craig Research Trust, following a visit to Campbell Town by Dr John Morris, in 1992.

To be continued..

Professor Colin D Butler

University of Canberra and co-founder of BODHI