Paediatrician, David Meldrum, initially studied engineering at university, but left halfway through his degree. “I couldn’t stand it, quite frankly the maths was beyond me!” he exclaims, sitting in his office in Lismore Base Hospital. After a break working and travelling, David thought he’d give medicine a try, and hasn’t looked back.
After finishing his medical degree in Melbourne, where he grew up, David took a year off to travel in Australia and overseas. He settled in Sydney when he returned, and there met his wife, Kim, who had also just been travelling the globe.
It was 1996 and Kim had recently emigrated from England. The two met at a party and immediately hit it off, swapped suitcase stories, and it turned out they’d been to a lot of the same places, right down to both having stayed with the same family in the same yurt in a remote village in western China.
David, Kim and their two boys, Ross, now 10, and Connor, almost 12, moved to Eureka in 2008 after David got a job at Lismore Base Hospital. During his training years as a young doctor, David had done a three-month stint in Lismore in 2000.
He had always been a city person and had supposed that “living in the bush sounds nice in theory but in practice it’s probably different”. To his and Kim’s surprise, they absolutely loved it.
So, when they were looking to escape from Melbourne later on, David jumped at the chance to come back to this area and try living outside a major city. “A job came up here so we thought we’d give it a go”, he says.
Where they found Melbourne hard work with kids, with lots of time in the car and difficulty meeting new people, David and Kim loved the welcoming atmosphere around the Northern Rivers, with its warm people and alternative lifestyle.
Originally planning to live in Bangalow or Clunes, the family weren’t anticipating living on a property out of town, but when they found 5 acres at Eureka they loved it at first sight.
When he began medical training, David originally wanted to be a general practitioner, but soon found he didn’t enjoy adult medicine as much as he though he would, with its heavy focus on treating degenerative diseases and people at the end of their lives. David realised he was more interested in acute illnesses in younger people, and gave paediatrics a try, not expecting much. “I just loved it right from the first day”, he says.
When he’s not saving babies and curing kids, David loves going bushwalking and kayaking. He admits to getting a little bit worried with all the shark attacks when he’s out in the ocean at Byron Bay. “I frequently see sharks but they don’t seem interested in me on the kayak”, he says, thankfully.
David notes that, contrary to what he was taught in medical school, a large proportion of a paediatrician’s workload is in fact dealing with societal and other issues. “A lot of paediatrics now is social chaos and the diseases of neglect, poverty, drug use, violence, and I feel like it’s very hard to make a difference there”, he says.
“Presumably those problems always existed but there wasn’t always an expectation for a paediatrician to come up with an immediate fix.”
That’s one of the challenging aspects of his work, says David. While he likes to think he’s making a difference, David admits to sometimes feeling powerless to effect much in the way of positive change.
David smiles when he recalls how he has been fortunate to end up in his current career, in his current environment, thanks to a willingness to be open to new experiences. “I guess that’s been a bit of a story of my life, of trying things expecting not to like it and then it turns out to be great.”