I grew up in Geelong, which is very close to Torquay, the mecca of surfing. I love being in the ocean, but my passion at the time was getting into university, studying medicine and becoming a doctor. I missed my opportunity living on the coast to become a surfie chick and become really good at surfing. Learning to surf requires a bit of bravado, a bit of skill and a huge amount of time to practise. I came back to surfing when we moved to Mallacoota. I’m not sure how the town’s people really took that; they weren’t expecting their local doctor to come out surfing. It’s pretty embarrassing learning how to surf with a crowd of local surfers looking at us falling off our surfboards. In summer, I’ll get up at a quarter to six and surf for two hours before work. When you’re out in the ocean you have to be present. You can’t take your concentration off the waves because you’ll just get pummelled. You’re just being there and having to let everything else go. For me, it’s a fast track to relaxation and rejuvenation, which helps me keep going through the full-on stuff that happens in a small, remote general practice.
I have been practising as a GP in Oakleigh, Melbourne, since 1988, after fleeing the Sri Lankan riots five years earlier. I’m one of the lucky ones, who was granted official migration acceptance as I was affected genuinely by the riots. I had been practising as a doctor since graduation in 1971, when the riots against the Tamils started. We were living in the heart of Colombo, when a mob rushed into our house with a knife still dripping with blood at around 10.30am, and pointed it at my husband’s chest. At the time, my two kids were five and six, and it was just us, our parents and some relatives. It was our good fortune that one man in the mob — the one next to the one with the knife who was threatening my husband — asked me what a Sinhalese woman was doing next to a Tamil man, assuming that I was Sinhalese. Luckily, I spoke Sinhalese fluently, although it is not my mother tongue. So I pretended to be Sinhalese and told them I was married to the Tamil man. This made them leave us without killing anyone, but they burnt down our house and we had to take shelter with our neighbours. This event is imprinted deep in my heart, and made me realise that nothing is permanent, except the education that you have and the good that you do in the world. The incident allowed my family and me to migrate to Australia in 1984, on special humanitarian grounds. We came to Melbourne with just $500, as that was all we had. We started our new life with our two kids and nothing else. My husband, who is a civil engineer, got a job after a year. I then studied for and passed the Australian Medical Council exam in 1988. This country is my home and we are so grateful that we have been accepted here, that I feel I should give back to it as long as I live. After the 2004 tsunami, I went back to Sri Lanka to help out in Batticaloa. Since then, I have been doing the same for other countries needing help. I also help out at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne. My passions include helping the poor, gardening, travelling and being a GP. So I am still working just for the love of it. Australia is a ‘sunshine country’ and we are extremely proud to be its citizens.
Dr Devi Yogaranandan
This is a picture of my father. I painted it when I was 43 — the same age he was when he escaped Vietnam in 1980 with my brother and me. Dad spent three years in a concentration camp after the Vietnam War. He was persecuted even after his release because he had been a captain with the South Vietnamese Army — the losing side. When we fled Vietnam, Mum stayed behind. Dad said in the worst-case scenario, she would have three less mouths to feed. It sounds shocking, but these are the kinds of decisions that people are forced to make. Now that I have two children of my own, I am much more aware of how hard it must have been for my parents to make that choice to divide the family. They looked into uncertainty and said, ‘That’s what we have to do; we have to face it.’ We set out on a wooden boat. It was about four metres wide and 12 metres long, and there were about 160 people on board. After five days at sea, we were rescued by a Norwegian oil tanker, which knew a storm was coming that would have obliterated the boat. After we got to Australia, we settled in Melbourne and Dad built a life for us. Mum then came out to join us. I see them every week, and the older I get, the more I understand and am thankful for what they did. Now I reflect on how we treat refugees, and our fear of them, and it strikes me that anxiety is one of the most insidious and pervasive symptoms of our age. And a lot of these fears are based on nothing concrete.
Dr Minh Phan
Jeff: We have a practice in Mount Beauty, a small Victorian country town. Falls Creek Ski Resort is 40 minutes up the road and we also run the clinic there. Our work at Falls Creek is mainly emergency based — particularly alpine and ski trauma — with broken bones, dislocations and ligament strains, and occasionally major trauma. Because we are so isolated there’s no radiology service so we do all the X-rays ourselves. We all have X-ray licences [a qualification permitting isolated GPs to take X-rays] and that adds a satisfying extra facet to the work. Albury-Wodonga, the nearest regional centre with specialist medical services, is 2.5 hours away, along a windy mountain road that is often icy or covered in snow. When it is closed, we can be completely isolated. With skiing, personally I’m happier cross-country skiing. My ideal is to go out about 6.30am and skate around the high plains and then go to work. I actually prefer skiing uphill than downhill — it’s better exercise and you don’t have to worry about the brakes. I was initially reluctant about receiving the Rural Doctor of the Year 2015 award. I don’t see myself as any different to hundreds of other dedicated rural doctors. I am very fortunate to have the support of my wife, Libby, who is also a rural doctor. I couldn’t do what I do without her.
Libby: We work together as a team with Jeff taking the more procedural role. I’m really proud of his achievements. At the moment, I do the school run to Albury with our three daughters four days a week — that’s over 1000km a week. I work in a practice in Albury, as well as in Mount Beauty. We trained a year apart at the University of Melbourne and we always wanted to work in the country. I live 2km away from my parents — this is where I was born and bred. I’ve got a great horse, and a dressage arena with an amazing view. It’s a very special part of Australia.