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Flying doctor to the stars

Dr Tim Duncan became disillusioned with the medical profession back in the 2000s, and so he decided to follow his passion and study film-making.

A common issue with students struck him – a lack of funds, which indeed led him Dr Tim to the medical industry and in a strange turn of events – to the set of a hit TV show.

“I left the medical industry to study film at the VCA (Victorian College of the Arts) with the idea to become a filmmaker. And that led to financial destitution, as it often does,” Dr Duncan explained.

To fill his coffers and resurrect his bank balance, he took what turned out to be an eye-opening job in the medical field in the Northern Territory. And then he was in a car accident that would change his life.

“I was driving back to Darwin via Kakadu and had a high-speed rollover car accident. I got rescued first by these Aboriginal men and then the Flying Doctors.

“It was after that experience, when I saw what that organisation can do for people who are in dire straits in the middle of nowhere in this country, I made a pledge that I would work for them and put the stethoscope back on and further my training, so I’d be equipped to do that,” Dr Duncan told the Truth.

After a further six years of training, Dr Duncan joined the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Queensland. Then Covid struck. He ended up spending the majority of the Covid years working in Broome in Western Australia’s Kimberley Region.

“Covid made the fly in fly out part a bit difficult,” Dr Duncan said.

Following Covid, an opportunity arose to meet Ian Meadows, the creator and co-producer of the wildly successful, locally filmed RFDS TV series.

“I met Ian through Justine Clarke, and he invited me to contribute to the storylines of the show from my RFDS experiences.

“Then when the second season came around, I was invited to join the writer’s room and help to craft the stories.

“I am also on set now for the shoot and making sure it is medically accurate and realistic. I give the actors instructions and guidance on how they can look like they’ve done 10 years of medical training beforehand, pronouncing things the right way with wires and tubes and needles in the right places and ultrasounds, and all that sort of thing.”

Although it scratches the itch of both of his passions, it is no walk in the park, although he does admit it is an incredible experience.

“There is difficulty with getting props sometimes, time constraints with the assistant directors trying to move the show along and get the shot. And there’s me, this annoying busybody doctor saying, no you haven’t done the ECG yet or we don’t have an ECG machine, things like that that a medical professional would spot a mile off.

“But that’s when compromises have to be made, and I have to realise it doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes I have to remember we are not filming a medical documentary, it is a TV drama series,” he laughs.

“It’s been a great experience meeting a lot of new people. The actors are just lovely and interested in the work of the Flying Doctors and getting it exactly right. Particularly, Stephen Peacock and Rob Collins are very devoted to getting it not only so they look like they’re proficient but are just very patient and appreciative of having that background and understanding so they can bring new elements to their character.”

Dr Duncan is no stranger to the Silver City. He has family in Broken Hill and has lived and worked here intermittently over the last 10-15 years. He was even on the front page of this very newspaper when he met Tom Hanks at a London Film festival at a screening of his debut film Aboriginal Hearts.

“I was working as a doctor in Broken Hill after we’d shot the movie, and it was playing in some festivals in Sydney and London, and I met Tom Hanks. There was a lot of local characters in that movie, I was kind of carrying the Broken Hill flag across the seas.”

During his most recent stay in the Silver City, Dr Duncan joined the North Bulldogs Football Club and is looking forward to a potential premiership with the team that is sitting pretty at the top of the Reserves ladder.

“My family in Broken Hill is all from the North. That’s why I have joined the Bulldogs. It’s been 12 years since I last played.

“I thought I’d ease myself into it. I kicked four goals on the weekend, so that was enjoyable. It was a lot of running last weekend though – it was only 14 a side.”

What’s next for Dr Duncan? He still harbours an ambition to create a movie based on the crash that led to him becoming a Flying Doctor. But there is a more immediate ambition – a premiership with North Broken Hill Bulldogs.

“That is a bit higher on the list of priorities to be honest,” Dr Duncan chuckles.

The new season of RFDS is on Channel Seven, every Tuesday night, at 9.15 pm.

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