Peter Tait is a Canberra-based doctor.
With our support, he travels to Alice Springs several times a year as a GP locum for the local community.
We recently caught up with him to find out why he keeps returning.
My name is Peter Tait and I’m originally from Sydney. I’ve been a GP for 40 years, mostly in Aboriginal health, and consequently have become involved in public health, particularly environmental health with an ecologic planetary health focus and through that a focus on changing the political system that works for the public good.
What drew you to the region, and what keeps you coming back?
In 1982, I came to Alice Springs to study a Diploma of Obstetrics. A year later, I took up a Family Medicine Program placement at the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (Congress). The plan was to return to the Hunter Valley and be a GP there. I stayed until 2012 when I moved to Canberra.
As to why I keep coming back, I grew up here. I have family and friends here and I love the country.
I hold a network of relationships and friendships with the country around Alice, with Aboriginal people from different families, and with a number of non-Aboriginal people. It’s the nature of small towns and of Aboriginal people to hold these elastic threads.
What obstacles have you encountered in service delivery?
The need is so vast. Early on I burnt out and in doing so learnt the wisdom of the sage ‘learn what you can change, accept what you can’t and be very clear on your particular role in doing what you can do to support making what change is possible. Do only your job and support others to do theirs’. Primary health care is a team sport.
How does NT PHN support you, and how has that helped your work?
NT PHN provides support through travel and wages mostly, which helps me return each year to maintain connections, and pay back for what I have gained from being here.
Can you witnessed any positive changes during your tenure?
People carry deep trauma, intergenerational and personal. They are tough and resilient survivors, individually and together in families.
What amazes me and brings me intense joy is watching over 4 generations and how people have grown, developed, learnt to manage better, taken on leadership, struggled for and achieved what they needed, and helped their children stand on their shoulder to reach higher.
Tell us how your experiences have influenced your personal growth and perceptions of healthcare.
Alice Springs mob, Congress mob, Pintupi mob grew me up. They opened my eyes to a different way of seeing people and the universe. I can thank them for leading me to ecological and planetary health. To an ecological way of seeing wellbeing, health and illness. To seeing country as people, other species as people.
For understanding that a person can be sick and well, or without ‘sickness’ and unwell. That helping someone to be well, one has to start from where they are, doing what they want, their way even if you don’t agree. Unless it is dangerous to them, yourself or others. And that pathway is theirs’ not yours.
Being in Alice also formed the subspecialities I have learnt: psychological medicine and addiction medicine.