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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.