Bernie Kersh prefers having nothing to do.
She’s the on-location nurse for the production and ap
art from standing on the sideline
s keeping a vigilant eye on the action, she hopes not to be called on. So far, she’s only had to attend to minor cuts as people hit their heads on the tunnels, un-used to how low they are... and she’s administering decongestants as people find it hard to breathe due to the amount of dust in the air. Fortunately all the serious wounds on set are fake, courtesy of the make up team.
Beneath Hill 60 is Bernie’s first experience of being an on-set nurse. But she is used to dramatic real-life situations - as a nurse at Townsville General Hospital she’s looked after premature babies in the Intensive Care Unit and she’s also had extensive experience in the mines around the city, dealing with industrial accidents in high-risk situations.
‘It was a bit of a dare going into that world’ says Bernie. ‘I just answered an ad in the paper ..I thought the work I had done in Africa had prepared me for pretty much anything, Traveling in Kenya, I had worked in a remote, very poor orphanage and set up a mobile wound clinic to
deal with things like flesh eating bug infections, machete slashes, child abuse burns and ulcers due to poor nutrition .’
She found herself as one of the small group of women working among four to five hundred blokes at the Gunpowder mine four hours west of Mount Isa. ‘They always rib you at first and check out ‘the new meat’ , as they call you. But I grew up with seven brothers so I could handle it. I wore an engagement ring at first, which was a tip I got from Connor (one of her brothers, who is also an investor in the film). It made everyone feel safer.’
Bernie learned to use full breathing apparatus so she could go down into the mines in case she needed to. ‘ I like it down there!’ she says. ‘There’s a great sense of fellowship.’
She dealt with severe crushing injuries, heart attacks and death with her usual down-to- earth calm and compassion.
‘I was born with club feet and I think having had surgery at a very early age has made me better able to empathise with people, whether it’s the patient, or, in the case of tiny babies, their parents, who are suffering just as much,’ says Bernie, who would like to extend her experience in ICU into combining her skills wit
h education to work with underprivileged kids or NGOs like Medecins sans Frontieres.
When she’s not on duty, Bernie’s favourite way to relax is ‘hanging out at my mum’s place (not far from the location for the Waddell homestead) with the horses, friends and family around a camp fire with a guitar - or ten pin bowling, at which I’m hopeless but it’s a great laugh!’
Bernie with orphaned twins, William and Willikista, in Kenya.