Home' Australian Pharmacist : August 2011 Contents Vol. 30 -- August #08
The further outback the better for Robbo
By Peter Waterman
Around the outback of Western Australia
he is simply known as Robbo. His
name is actually Andrew Roberts but he
learned very early on in the piece that
he couldn't use his first name.
'My first day on the job out bush
started with a local asking me what
my name was. I replied with "Andrew"
at which a look of horror appeared
over the face of the Aboriginal health
' he explains.
'We can't call you that, that's a
Kunmarnarra name -- the term for
someone who had a similar name to
someone who died.
The choice was Mr Roberts or Robbo, so
Robbo it is as this unusual pharmacist
could never fit the stereotype of a
Mr Roberts. It also beats the other name
he was initially given by indigenous
communities -- 'Sister.
'Our remote indigenous population
had no idea what a pharmacist did.
They knew I wasn't a doctor, so I was
initially called "Sister" because if I am
not a doctor then I must be a nurse!'
'I am the first pharmacist living and
working in remote Australia as part of
the primary health care team.
'I have now been with Ngaanyatjarra
Health at Warburton as remote
pharmacist for six years but before
that I was in the area doing rural and
'I just love the area. I am a desert
person. I'm not into that green stuff up
at the top end.
Robbo travels more kilometres in a
week than some of us would in a year,
notching up some 60,000 km a year
on mostly dirt roads. And always with
his trusty sidekick, 'Girl'. Girl is a dingo
cross who lived in the wild but took to
Robbo, principally because he had food,
and has stayed with him.
'She used to hang around a bit and I'd
say "Good girl"
, or something like that
and so the name Girl stuck, and she
also stuck around,
' he says.
'When I'm out on the road she sits
up front but when I have a guest she
has to go into the back which puts
her out a bit.
Like every larger-than-life character,
stories about Robbo proliferate and
the fact that Girl does occasionally
have to sit in the back puts paid to one
of those stories -- that any passenger,
not matter how important, gets the
back seat while Girl rides up front.
But the stories cannot detract from
his passion for his profession, nor his
commitment to those he serves.
'I just love the rural and remote
practice because it gives me a great
deal of freedom and I get the chance to
explore the wilderness a bit,
' he says.
'But I also get to go into remote
communities and help people there.
I enjoy it because you are appreciated.
You are welcomed wherever you go.
There is really nothing better than
working in a rural and remote practice.
'People out here really appreciate their
health professionals. They welcome us
and recognise the support we give to
the community. In turn, they give us a
lot of support.
'I find them far more appreciative
and welcoming than people in the
city who tend to take professions like
pharmacists for granted.
Robbo's passion for the bush and
its issues has led him to embrace
technology to spread the word about
what is happening in his (vast) backyard.
He maintains a blog
which he updates nearly every day
with news and snippets about his
travels, his practice and his life.
'The blog does not focus on the day-
to-day events but looks at the issues
of remote, rural and indigenous health
and life out bush,
' he says.
'I write the blog for many reasons, one
of which is that there seems to be a
lack of interest and action in many rural
and remote issues and I believe this
is hindering the provision of quality
pharmacist services to those in remote
and, to a lesser extent, rural areas.
'I want people to know and appreciate
the issues a rural and remote
The blog also chronicles his journeys.
He has become adept at finding
vehicle wrecks along the way,
photographs of which only serve
to accentuate the vastness and
loneliness of his professional patch.
Robbo will be bringing the bush
to the city at PAC11 where he will
speak at the Bush Breakfast with
Robbo on Saturday, 8 October, from
7.00--8.30am. Details of PAC11, being
held in Melbourne from 6--9 October,
can be found at: www.pac11.com.au
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