Faced with persistent problems attracting permanent doctors, a small Queensland town turned to the Kiwis.

Story + Photos Mandy McKeesick

Everyone who lives in rural and remote Australia understands that sinking feeling when they summon the courage to see their local doctor and are met with a total stranger – a short-term locum or fill-in. Trust takes time to be established, and it can be awkward when medical history needs to be repeated and re-explained. At times, heavy accents or language barriers complicate the situation and erode patient confidence.

Attracting permanent staff to rural areas is an ongoing issue for health authorities. However, in the small town of Injune (population 460) in southern central Queensland, a permanent rotation of three locum doctors has provided the community with continuity of health care. The permanent locums fly in and out of New Zealand, winging their way across the Tasman on a regular basis to patients they know by name.

Dr Phillip Barbour was the first of the Kiwis to take up a permanent rotation in Injune. He had been a GP in Wellsford, in rural NZ, for 25 years and, once his youngest was through university,  decided to embark on an adventure. In 2007 he joined an Australian locum agency with the intention of staying for six months. That was 14 years ago. He has now worked as a short-term locum in over 70 places in rural Australia, from Corryong and Boggabri to Fitzroy Crossing and Weipa. “Some places I’ve been to just to say I’ve worked at these places with these weird names,” he jokes. “But I thought it would be interesting work and a chance to see Australia, and for me it’s all about rural communities. If there are traffic lights, the place is too big.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #139

Outback Magazine: October/November 2021