Blake Britton

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Attending NSBHS was a privilege that was accompanied by an expectation of academic success. For those who accepted this situation life was both challenging and exacting. My undergraduate days were no less stressful as the pressure to accumulate large amounts of information took precedence. Veterinary Science was a structured and very formal full time course that boasted high failure rates and failure in any one subject at the end of the year's exams, meant a repetition of the whole year and the automatic loss of a Commonwealth scholarship.

Readers should not be surprised to learn that within a week of the final exams in 1966 I had left the city to start a 'real' life in Bathurst as an assistant in an established mixed rural practice. The practice had been pioneered by a University of Sydney graduate in 1954. This founder had just purchased a cattle property near Cloncurry and his plans to work the property had induced him to form a partnership with a veterinary assistant who had arrived in Bathurst a year before me. After 3 weeks work and before my formal graduation, an equal partnership in the practice was offered to me.

The excitement and challenge of practice was almost totally consuming. In those early days, demand for our service covered a huge area, as the nearest practitioners were in the Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Mudgee, Orange, Cowra and Goulburn. Many work days began before dawn and did not end until well after others were asleep, covering huge distances on corrugated roads and organising routine work to be done in runs as our speedometers clocked up over 35,000 miles a year. We conducted branch practices once a week or fortnight in surrounding centers like Mudgee, Rylstone, Blayney and Oberon and most of the work was with rural livestock such as cattle, sheep and horses whilst the towns provided a range of small animal experience. To attend some daytime individual cases such as bovine obstetrics or equine colic we could hire a crop duster pilot to fly us to properties and wait while we did the job and then we would be brought home.

These nostalgic sketches are presented to highlight the dramatic changes that have characterised my time in professional life. It was exciting and very different to become part of a culture of canvas water bags, manual telephone exchanges, rabbit traps and Holden utes and to provide a service to rural people and the economic livestock that was contributing in a large way to the wealth of Australia, well before the rationalists had disparaged the export rural industries. Part of the challenge was to convince people who had little trust of anyone with a University education to embrace what veterinary science as a relatively new phenomenon could offer them. The practice grew to six veterinarians as we rode the waves of droughts, rural recessions, export booms and decentralisation of Sydney populations to the country.

Over the past 35 years as Bathurst has become more urbanised and veterinary surgeons have established practices in other towns nearby as well as in Bathurst itself, our practice has changed. From 75% rural work and a small number of dogs and cats our practice base has swung to 65% companion animals and 25% horses with a diminishing proportion of rural work. We have developed Hospital facilities that are comparable with anything available in Sydney. An argument can be mounted that General practice is the most demanding of all forms of practice but the era of 'specialising' is upon us all and so for the past 25 years I have developed, as well, a particular interest in horse medicine, completed a Masters degree in equine fertility studies through the University of Sydney and become a Foundation member following examination of the equine diseases chapter of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists.

In 1968 I was fortunate to meet in Bathurst and marry a teacher, Sue Hollway. It was remarkable that Sue was also an old girl of North Sydney Girls High, in our year. We are still happily married. We have travelled overseas a little. One period in 1970 for 6 months, and then more recently for 3 months and then another trip for 6 weeks. If health and finances allow, we hope to do more of this. Along the way we have produced three daughters, all of whom have been educated as boarders at Abbotsleigh and who then graduated from the University of NSW in various fields. Sue is still teaching in the classroom but as retirement beckons and our children continue to be confirmed residents of Sydney, it is an expectation that we will once again return to the suburbs of our youth to enjoy the city and all that it offers.