A cracking good yarn about optometry in the outback

A new children’s book explores the story of an optometrist who flies to outback Australia to look after the eyesight of people who live in remote areas.

Popular science fiction writer Joanne Anderton has departed from her usual genre to pen the delightful  children’s book, The Flying Optometrist. The book has been illustrated by Karen Erasmus.

The story bridges fact and a good cracking Aussie yarn but that has vital eye health messages.

The Flying Optometrist brings to life Stephanie, a girl who lives in a remote town and who needs new glasses. Stephanie has cracked a lens and snapped an arm on her current pair which has made it difficult for her to join in games of cricket and have fun with her friends.

While lots of people are also waiting, Stephanie is probably the most eager as she watches the sky for Phil, an optometrist who will soon arrive from the city in his little red plane.

But Phil is not a fictional character – he is based on Joanne’s father optometrist Dr Phil Anderton who twice a year, flies his home-made plane from the coast to remote towns in NSW, such as Wanaaring and Tibooburra, to provide eye checks to those in need.

“I really liked hearing Dad’s stories when he came back from these outback visits. It was such a great little adventure and for kids it had all the ingredients of a great story,” Joanne said.

Three years ago Joanne accompanied her father in the plane, dubbed the ‘Little Red Rocket,’ during a visit to Wanaaring so she could see and incorporate into the book what happens on these visits – such as the plane circling the pub a few times to let everyone know he has arrived due to mobile phone reception not being ideal.

Phil is not the only real life character in The Flying Optometrist with several others loosely based on Wanaaring residents including Narelle who owns the pub, stockman Reg who cannot see well up close, Bill the plumber who needs regular eye checks after getting a piece of metal in his eye, and Aboriginal elder Auntie Pat whose vision is becoming blurry from diabetes, preventing her from painting emu eggs.

“As a child I wore glasses and I remember going to the optometrist. I was one of the first to get glasses at school and it was hard being a bit different so I wanted to help kids understand how it is normal and wonderful, and an adventure to wear glasses,” Joanne said.

“When I told Dad I wanted to write a book about him he laughed as he is quite modest and he couldn’t see that anyone would be interested in his story but I said it’s an important story about the differences between health access in the city and the country, and it’s a fun story about your plane and the outback and adventures,” she said.

It’s well known that the Royal Flying Doctor Service flies medical staff to remote areas of Australia. It is less well known that optometrists also fly to outback areas to ensure people living in these areas can access good quality eye care. Dr Phil Anderton is one such flying optometrist and his story has been brought to life by his daughter, Joanne Anderton.

The Flying Optometrist is published by the National Library of Australia in association with the Brien Holden Vision Institute.

The Flying Optometrist can be purchased from book stores, online at Booktopia and the National Library of Australia for $24.95.

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