CANBERRA - Allegations of horrific mutilation of female patients by a doctor with a history of mental illness have emerged from the town of Bega on the New South Wales south coast.
In a valley famed for its cheese and herds of Friesian and Jersey cows, police and medical authorities are now - belatedly - investigating Graeme Reeves, dubbed the Butcher of Bega by the Australian media.
For years, patients who had allegedly suffered sexual abuse and deliberate mutilation of their genitals during operations performed by Reeves had kept silent from fear or shame.
But the dam broke when one of his former patients, Carolyn Dewaegeneire, told her story to Channel Nine's Sunday programme, describing in terrifying detail the surgery she underwent in 2002 at Pambula Hospital, one of the two in which Reeves worked.
As she was slipping under a general anaesthetic for an operation to remove a lesion from her labia, she said Reeves whispered in her ear.
"As he put the mask over my face, to send me into unconsciousness, he leaned right over me - and I'll never forget this to my dying day - and said `I'm going to take your clitoris too'." All her external genitalia were removed in the operation.
Now as many as 500 former patients have sent similar accounts to the Medical Error Group, a pressure group established a decade ago by activist Lorraine Long, whose mother died after three doctors misdiagnosed an asthma attack.
The allegations are being investigated amid calls for a full inquiry into yet another appalling failure in a health system that has suffered a serious of fatal blunders.
The case has been compared to that of "Dr Death", Indian surgeon Jayant Patel, who fled to the United States after claims he had caused as many as 17 deaths during his time at Queensland's Bundaberg Base Hospital. Australian authorities are now seeking Patel's extradition from the US.
In New South Wales, police and medical authorities have urged former patients to add their stories to a list that allegedly includes the unintended loss of a kidney during surgery and the stitching or removal of parts of genitals. One woman said Reeves performed a hysterectomy during an operation to repair her bladder.
Others have reported cases of sexual assault, including one woman who claimed Reeves had fondled her genitals and breasts during an examination after a miscarriage. He allegedly told a patient that he liked women who waxed their pubic hair because they "looked like little girls".
Earlier in his career Reeves is alleged to have caused the death of one patient and endangered the life of another by refusing to prescribe antibiotics. The Sunday Telegraph reported that more than a decade ago the NSW Medical Board had ruled that Reeves had psychiatric problems which "detrimentally affect his mental capacity to practise medicine".
He survived the finding, but in 1997 was ordered to stop work as an obstetrician. He sidestepped this by leaving Sydney and moving to Bega, which was desperate for medical specialists and accepted his word without fully checking his record.
In 2004 he was struck off for "gross professional misconduct of the most serious kind" in failing to obey the ban on performing obstetrics.
Goddamn it, people. We're trying to get people to stop this shit in Africa, lets not start it over here too.