Mark SheldonPsychiatric Assessment in Remote Aboriginal Communities of Central Australia
MBBS (Syd. Univ) FRANZCP
19 July, 1964 – 28 May, 1998
A pioneer psychiatrist with a mission to provide psychiatric services to remote Aboriginal communities, Mark died of bowel cancer in Sydney, age 33 years.
In the vastness of Central Australia, Mark learnt to overcome cultural and language barriers in his dealings with indigenous people and was honoured by having an Aboriginal name bestowed upon him.
Mark did have some natural advantages, his love for the land which he shared with the Aboriginal people and his early education in the Northern Territory.
He soon realised that our western model of psychiatric assessment and examination was sadly deficient in meeting the needs of Aboriginal people living in this environment. The medical literature was of little practical help.
Working with the Ngungkari (local healer) Mark developed a flexible methodology of investigation, convinced that the best outcomes were often obtained when traditional methods and modern medicine were used together. Designing his own clinical strategies, he was able to confront the psychological and social problems endemic in many communities.
Mark put his heart and soul into this dissertation hoping it would become a ground work for further research. Professor Bashir (Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Sydney) described it as “a beacon for those who wish to practise in this field”.
Compelling reading, not just for workers in mental health, but for people of other persuasions destined to serve in remote areas.
This is Mark’s legacy to the people of the remote Aboriginal communities of Central Australia,
Born in Wollongong, his family moved to Darwin where Mark attended Larrakeyah Primary School from 1970 to 1974. His memory of the people and the environment of the Northern Territory remained with him always.
Returning to Sydney, he attended Blakehurst Primary School, where he was dux and school captain in 1976. Progressing to Blakehurst High School, he was elected school captain and won the swimming championship in his final year 1982.
He entered the Faculty of Medicine at Sydney University the following year. Membership of the Sydney University Bush Walkers enabled him to explore the wild places and scenic landscapes of Australia, New Zealand and New Guinea.
After graduating in Medicine in 1988, Mark spent 2 years as a Resident Medical Officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He was then appointed Registrar in Psychiatry. Having passed the College examination in 1996, his next step to the fellowship was the submission of a dissertation.
From October 1996 to the end of 1997, as Senior Registrar in Psychiatry in Alice Springs, he determined that his dissertation would explore “Psychiatric Assessment in Remote Aboriginal Communities”.
Mark was awarded the Fellowship of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in October 1997. Memorial prizes in the name of Mark Sheldon have been established by the RANZCP and by his old High School. A memorial service at the John Flynn Church was held in Alice Springs and another at the Rozelle Hospital. A permanent memorial to his memory will be erected in Alice Springs in 1999.