At 70, retirement is not on the cards any time soon for long-serving Camperdown GP John Menzies who was awarded an OAM on Saturday.
Over more than four decades, the Australia Day award recipient has delivered so many babies he’s lost count.
Dr Menzies said he was surprised to receive an Order of Australia Medal for his service to south-west communities.
He was born in Terang and after studying medicine at Melbourne University he returned to the area with his wife, Carolyn, who had grown up on a farm near Colac and studied agriculture science at the same uni.
“I always felt happiest in the country you might say,” Dr Menzies said.
After training at hospitals in Geelong, Hobart and Melbourne – including The Alfred, Royal Melbourne and Royal Women’s – the couple bought a small farm on the edge of Camperdown.
He abandoned thoughts of training as a physician and settled on general practice.
But before he could start his career in Camperdown, Dr Menzies was called up for national service towards the end of the Vietnam War. “If your marble came out, it’s what you did,” Dr Menzies said.
Then, just as Dr Menzies was starting his national service, there was a change in government and conscription was abandoned but he still had to serve his time.
“I did two years in the navy. Happily medical students could take the scholarship in final year and do two years in the Navy or the Air Force as an alternative to the army,” he said.
He spent a year in training institutions at the naval base and a year at sea as the ship’s doctor on board the HMAS Moresby which was conducting a hydrographic survey off the West Australian Coast near the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf.
“I had nothing to do because to go to sea all the sailors had to be fit to start with,” Dr Menzies said.
“So I was the ship’s education officer and social worker, quiz master and a few other things.”
Dr Menzies said much had changed in Camperdown since he began work as a GP in 1978, and it was still continuing to evolve.
When he started, the GPs would provide most of the services at the hospital. “That was the appeal of being able to work in the clinic but also work in the hospital,” he said.
He said over time specialists started to come to Camperdown, but he continued to provide many of the anesthetics for the visiting specialists.
In 1978, Camperdown had five doctors. “They were all British, I was the only Australian,” he said.
Now there were about nine doctors, but some were part-time and others were in training positions, he said. Dr Menzies spends much of his time teaching the medical students and GP registrars.
Dr Menzies said he recalled a time when he would help deliver the 110 babies born at the hospital each year. With falling birth rates that number fell to just 45 last year.
He said that at 70 retirement wasn’t possible. “We just don’t have the permanent workforce in Camperdown yet. There’s still a few gaps,” he said.
Dr Menzies is also a member of the Camperdown Historical Society, Corangamite Arts, Dry Stone Walls Association and Robert Burns Scottish Festival organising committee.
A keen bagpiper, Dr Menzies took up the instrument in his 20s after finishing university and now performs in the Warrnambool and District Pipes and Drums band..
“My grandfather used to teach pipes but I never knew him, he died before I could meet him,” he said.