Woman versus wild

Smithton’s Nicole Anderson has returned from a week-long trip to Costa Rica where she completed a jungle medicine course, learning how to hang a hammock (below right) and encountering deadly vipers in rough terrain. Picture: Bodey Dittloff.

Career. As a child, Smithton doctor Nicole Anderson could have likely been found making a bow-and-arrow from scratch or catching fish from the creek.

Queensland’s outdoors were always calling and with three younger siblings in the household growing up, entertainment was often left to the imagination.

“I was a wild child!” she laughed. “Mum would kick you outside and you’d come back when you were hungry and it was dark.

“I’m a very comfortable person outdoors. From a young age I would make fire, cook my own food . . . it was all very natural sort of stuff.”

Coincidentally born in the same year as UK-based survival expert Bear Grylls, Nicole would end up following a similar-yet-different path that would make her extremely useful to the television presenter in a remote emergency situation.

Completing most of her nursing training in Brisbane, she married husband Jon Woods in 2000 and moved south to Circular Head four years later to begin her general practitioner training.

Describing herself and her partner as similar “outdoorsy sorts”, the couple took to the rural lifestyle fairly quickly, coming back to live after a six-month stint in Hobart for part of Nicole’s studies.

“I missed the community and diversity of cases down here in Smithton,” she said of returning from the state’s capital.

“Because of the agriculture side of things, a lot of people here are outdoors. The fellowship that I’m doing is incredibly relevant to this area.

“They want us to have competent skills across a range of environments. It doesn’t sound much like Tasmania, but it is.”

The 40-year-old recently travelled to the rainforests of Costa Rica for a week, undertaking a jungle medicine course as part of her current studies for a Fellowship of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine (FAWM).

From deadly scorpions and vipers on the uneven ground to porcupines scaling the trees, Nicole’s group of six encountered various animal species while battling the elements of high humidity and consistent torrential rain.

The short trip focused on “the human side” of jungle medicine, with protective skills such as machete use and hammock erection vital in the rugged terrain.

“I enjoy the physical challenge,” Nicole said. “I expected to struggle, but I didn’t. I was happy with how I coped.

“There were actually times where I lost feeling in my fingers for 10 minutes. We think it was due to touching trees where a poison dart frog had been.”

She also witnessed some of her own blood being mixed with viper venom, with an untouched sample providing the clear comparison: normal blood clotted after 40 minutes while the mixed sample was described as “runny as water”.

Staying an extra two days to discover more about the Costa Rican flora and fauna, Nicole said the environment is surprisingly “very similar” to that of Tasmania, where she has encountered her fair share of differing landscapes.

Involvement in SPRATS (Sea Spurge Remote Area Teams) and eight years of RASAR (Remote Area Search And Rescue) has provided her with plenty of practical experience, including a polar medicine course in New Zealand.

Specialising in wilderness and expedition, nutrition and environment and ultra-endurance sports, it’s the latter that has her increasingly involved first-hand, intrigued in people always “doing things that we didn’t think the human body was capable of”.

Although just 18 months in to a five-year “internationally renowned” course, her prior study credit should see the Smithton Medical Centre practitioner fast-track her graduation to the end of next year.

An expedition trip to Antarctica is already on the cards for around the same time, and while Circular Head will likely remain her home in the near future, the pull of a new adventure is never too far away.

“Once I get the fellowship clinched, I’m going to start looking for expedition opportunities,” she said, “probably a more complex environment expedition just to keep that life going.”

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