©Wellcome Library, London

This important medicine man of Worgaia, Central Australia, could provide little protection or hope of cure to members of his aboriginal community struck down by measles or any other infection to which they had previously been unexposed. Nevertheless, both he and they understood that sickness was caused by a ‘foreign substance' which had been introduced into the body by a magical route. Anthropologists Sir Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) and FJ Gillen (1856-1912) described how the Australian medicine man would bend over his patient and ‘suck vigorously at the part of the body affected, spitting out every now and then pieces of wood, bone or stone, the presence of which is believed to be causing the injury and pain'.

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