I arrived in Lismore in 1979 and my aim was to get a job as a GP. I had already tried to get work in Pt Lincoln a major fishing town on Eyre Peninsular where an uncle lived. After a flight there with partner Jeni Binns we returned having not secured a job – no vacancies.
I then drove to Lismore and again stayed with another uncle at Teven and tried to get work in this region. The same problem arose in that trying to get work as a GP in Alstonville or Lismore was met with the same response ie no vacancies.
I then drove around outer Goonellabah and found a space in a new commercial building to set up a practice. That is, I squatted in a newly set up practice with a pressure cooker to sterilise instruments (later to be replaced with an early autoclave machine suitable for general practice).
Everything was leased including the carpets, curtains, and partitions. The total cost came to about $10,000 which was a lot in those days.
Now 42 years later I will retire with some guilt concerning the GP workforce shortage I leave. This is basically the opposite workforce problem from that on my arrival with no vacancies. I am told I shouldn’t feel guilty and that I have done enough.
In 1997 three cottage GP practices amalgamated to make up the new Goonellabah Medical Centre on Ballina Road with Dr David Guest and Dr Susanne Dymock’s practice joining forces with the late Dr Graham Ellis and myself. We shared resources.
I also did some GP anaesthetics, obstetrics, and palliative care as Medical Director of Palliative Care at St Vincent’s Hospital. My other clinical interest has been Aboriginal Health and I arrived in the same year that the Namatjira Haven opened and was asked to provide a GP service to that facility.
To reflect on why I have been passionate in this field of general practice I suspect it may have been some influence from my father, a GP then psychiatrist post WW2. However, he never mentioned the war (common at the time) or his work as a GP in Aboriginal health in the NT during the latter part of the war.
He did end up a POW from the North African campaign and after release on an Italian prisoner of war exchange program was sent to Darwin and then Katherine and worked in Aboriginal Health. He wrote a paper in the MJA in 1945 – see record here.
Overall, practising in Goonellabah has been a rewarding experience with no major regrets but I do acknowledge the significant challenges of the recent Covid pandemic and flooding which have affected us all in many ways both personally and professionally.
And what will I do in retirement? In addition to family matters I would like to do some writing which will include the history of NORPA, psychiatry and some aspects of WW2 which I have knowledge of including from a health perspective.
Above: Brett Whiteley Opera photo
From left: Composer of this Opera, Elena Kats-Chernin, Andrew Binns, Jeni Binns, Lyndon Terracini and Swiss Soprano Noemi Nadelmann
Above: Action on the set of ‘Cars that Ate Paris’ against the Lismore City Hall facade.