Our intrepid Doctor shares his adventures across Australia - April 2017

Tom Joss, Travelling Home Doctor

By Dr Tom Joss MBBS

I grew up in Sydney, but spent a lot of time camping in my youth - my mother is a Biologist and so the school holidays usually involved a family field trip to camp by a remote creek in South East Queensland where we would paddle up and down in a canoe, setting nets and hauling in huge slimy lungfish, that would then be tagged, have their blood sampled, and be thrown back over the side of the canoe. From this I developed a strong love of camping and the natural environment, a love shared by my partner Claire whom I met while studying for a Biology degree at Macquarie University. 

We went on a lot of camping trips while at uni, taking advantage of the three months of summer holidays, and the 500cc Subaru Sherpa hatchback I owned, that could get us from Sydney to Brisbane on a single 25 litre tank. We camped up the coast to Byron, and down the coast to Tasmania and the Great Ocean Road. We always dreamed of doing a year-long trip right around Australia.

After finishing my Biology degree I stayed on at Macquarie University for several years, working as a research assistant on a variety of projects, mostly based in the lab doing molecular biology, but some that got me out into the bush, tracking feral animals and counting their scats. By this stage Claire and I were keen to take a year out for travel, and considered going around Australia, but decided that it might actually be the best chance we’d get to travel the world - Australia could wait until we had kids.

So travel the world we did. Although not in the way most people do it - we spent the year hiking in mountains, living out of our two person hiking tent. We went to the UK and Norway, spent a month hiking 600 km along the French Alps from Chamonix to Nice, two months trekking in the Indian Himalayas around Ladakh, and three months trekking in Nepal. Obviously all this hiking in the mountains gave me lots of time to think, and seeing the poverty in India and Nepal made me acutely aware of my privileged status as a westerner and got me thinking a lot about that, and for some reason that led me to thinking about embarking on a career in medicine (so that I could use my privileged position to gain the skills that would enable me to give something meaningful back to those who were born in a less fortunate position than myself - all very romantic obviously, but bare in mind I had just spent several months hiking through some of the most majestic mountains in the world).

I can hardly believe that 6 years has passed since then, and I’ve now completed medical school, as well as internship and residency, and have a 9-month-old baby! And so the Australia trip is back on the agenda. While most of my colleagues have been busy plotting their careers and applying for training positions, I’ve been scoping out camper-trailers and baby-carrying hiking packs, working out what part of the country is best to be traveling through at what times of year, and working out how I am going to practise some medicine along the way so that I don’t come back to work after a year struggling to remember the dose for paracetamol. I basically had a vague plan that I would do some locum work on route, but fortunately I ran into Maree Patterson (one of the National Home Doctor Service Practice Managers) at a doctor’s lounge pizza-party one day, and she assured me that they could definitely work it out for me if I wanted to work for them in various locations as we travel the country. Ever since then I’ve been very impressed with how easy NHDS has made it to get everything sorted - they’re just very efficient at making things that you want to happen happen.

So here is the plan so far: we will leave our home on the NSW Central Coast early March, travel down through the Victorian Highlands to Wilson’s Promontory, then through Melbourne and around the Great Ocean Road to Kangaroo Island, arriving in Adelaide early April. We’ll stay in a rented house for a few weeks in April while I do some home doctoring, then it’s off to the Flinders Ranges to check out the Hubert 100-mile running race (yes I’m also a keen long-distance runner, but not sure I’ll be up for the full 100 miles at this stage), from where we’ll work our way up to Darwin via Alice Springs, the MacDonnell Ranges, and Kakadu National Park. We’ll stop again in Darwin to work for a few weeks, then a couple of months getting across to Broome and down the west coast before spending a few more weeks working in Perth around October.

As you can tell we’ll be covering a lot of ground, but I’m confident we’ve planned in enough time to be doing it at a reasonably leisurely pace - and on that note if anyone is keen to catch up for a coffee / beer / meal / whatever as we’re passing through your town then please drop me a line!