Dr Bill Williams
A General Practitioner with over thirty years’ experience, Bill worked in both clinical and public health spheres in urban, rural and remote locations in Australia and overseas. Bill worked as a GP on Victoria’s Surfcoast, with ongoing clinical responsibilities as a primary care physician in Aboriginal communities in the western desert region of the Northern Territory.
Bill passed away unexpectedly on 12 September 2016 at the age of 57. Tributes for his life and work can be found here. In the interest of preserving his own words, the rest of this website remains as it was at the time of publishing Bleed in September 2015.
Bill’s public-health activism grew out of his experiences as a medical student in post-conflict zones in Africa and Latin America. His research, writing and teaching interests include the roots of violence, the health of Aboriginal Australians and the risks associated with the nuclear fuel chain. His recent publications have focused on the role of health professionals in eliminating nuclear weapons and healthy pathways to a secure global energy future. He is a co-founder of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and is currently Australian campaign Chair. Bill is past president of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) and former International Councillor of the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.
Bill collaborated with Gisela Gardener in 1989 on Men: sex, power and survival (Greenhouse), and in 1999 wrote his first novel, Kumanjayi’s country (Central Queensland University Press).
He and Gisela have two daughters, Daisy and Lily, with whom they surf and walk and garden whenever they can.
IN HIS OWN WORDS – the story of the author:
I’m a doctor, a GP who has divided his time between clinical care of individuals, delivery of basic public health programs and political activism, in urban, suburban, rural and remote communities over three decades. I grew up in a conservative middle class background; my grandfather and father were both GPs. It was almost a given that I followed them into medicine but I deviated from their pathways – so much had changed. I learned heaps from my dad and my granddad – but I have learnt even more from my patients.
As a student then doctor, in Africa and Latin America and Central Australia I have worked intensively, on the ground, with primary health workers and traditional healers. In Zimbabwe I danced with witch-doctors like Mr Ngumbo and delivered babies in war-torn mission hospitals and held kids as they died of preventable disease. In Nicaragua I lay awake at night listening to gunfire as the revolutionaries tidied up the retreating National Guard, then helped run mother and baby clinics amongst the Muskito peoples of the Caribbean Coast. Later, in Central Australia the Ngangkaris taught me how to apply the wisdom of their Law and I danced corroborees, attended sacred ceremonial grounds in aid of ailing initiates, rescued sick old men on hunting trips into the furnace of the Gibson Desert, survived the assaults of angry compatriots whose territory I threatened, co-ordinated palliative care conversations – mostly in Pintubi – with sixty family members seated in the red dust.
Having completed my medical degree at Melbourne University, and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, I worked in hospitals in Australia and UK in general medicine and obstetrics, then went into general practice. I worked as a Police Surgeon/Forensic Medical Officer for several years – confronting the health implications of dysfunctional masculinity: the sexual abuse of children, domestic violence, murder and suicide. Drawing on these challenging clinical scenarios I co-wrote ‘Men: sex, power and survival’ (Greenhouse-1989) with Gisela Gardener.
Early in my career I became involved in medical activism to prevent war, oppose militarism, eliminate nuclear weapons, organising protests and civil disobedience campaigns to obstruct and highlight the violence of war. I’ve been an active member and leader of Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and am a founding member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. ICAN has grown from a handful of us in Melbourne in 2006 to a global campaign with over 400 partner organisations in 95 countries. ICAN is the vanguard of the worldwide civil society campaign for a ban on nuclear weapons, driving and supporting the over 100 governments who have recently endorsed the “Humanitarian Pledge” at the UN NPT Review Conference in New York in May 2015 – a commitment to negotiate and implement an abolition treaty.
For most of the nineties I worked in Central Australia, as medical officer for remote, arid zone Aboriginal communities, resuscitating and stabilizing kids with preventable diseases like meningitis, dehydration and pneumonia. Stab-wounds, roll-overs, Flying Doctor retrievals, obstinate patients, roaming the bush on outstation visits, hunting and gathering, working with Ngangkaris, dancing corroboree, hunting turkey, roo and mulyardi spear-wood. Learning about old and new, family and individual, western and traditional notions of health and healing, communalism and autonomy. These experiences inform the novel I wrote – Kumanjayi’s Country (CQUP-1999) – a story about three kids who get lost on a camel in the desert – a reflection on race relations in Australia.
It was on a return visit to the West that Gisela collapsed, triggering the story that became Bleed and all of the reflections and understanding and learning about the technical prowess of modern medicine but also the power of love to heal and the magic of healing. Bleed started off as a journal for Gisela – to fill in the weeks lost to brain injury – and grew into a deeper exploration of brain science and medicine, and ultimately into a celebration of human ingenuity, resilience and love.