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Phil Anderton and Joanne Anderton

Sky's the limit for new optometry book

04/06/2018By Lewis Williams PhD
A children’s picture book inspired by the real life story of a travelling optometrist has been receiving attention across Australia. LEWIS WILLIAMS reports from the book launch.

The Flying Optometrist, a children’s book that follows the eyecare adventures of Dr Phil Anderton as he flies to rural and remote areas of Australia, has been generating substantial buzz since it was released in April.

Written by his daughter, accomplished and award-winning author Ms Joanne Anderton, it was launched officially by the federal member for the seat of Kingsford Smith Mr Matt Thistlethwaite at an event held in the Francis Back Seminar Room at the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI), UNSW.

In the book, published by the National Library of Australia in association with the BHVI, Anderton travels in his self-built aeroplane ‘The Little Red Rocket’ all over Australia, offering comprehensive optometric services to those without ready access to such services.

The story

The Flying Optometrist Book
The Flying Optometrist Book

The tale is intended to introduce young children to the concept of good eye care through the story of young Stephanie, who broke her glasses by dropping her heavy school bag on them accidentally.

As is the case in many country towns, there is no full-time optometrist, so Stephanie can’t wait for The Flying Optometrist to arrive so she can join in with games of cricket and have fun with her friends again.

Other characters awaiting Anderton’s arrival are Aunty, who can’t see well enough to carve her emu eggs, and Bill the plumber, who has a splinter in his eye. The Flying Optometrist only just makes it into town having narrowly avoided a big storm, but after a bite to eat he gets to work checking people’s eyesight.

The book, illustrated by Ms Karen Erasmus, is off to a flying start (pun intended) and its message has been picked up by multiple media organisations through interviews with the author and her father, while 1,000 copies have already been made available to primary school libraries across NSW.

All those who attended the book’s launch were also provided with a complimentary copy and most had their copy signed by both the author and subject of the book.

An historical chapter at the end of the book details some of the extensive history of remote medical care in Australia, including that offered by the Royal Flying Doctor Service since 1928, and the role the BHVI plays in the delivery of eyecare services (commenced 1999) as part of the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS). The AMS now has 200 regional, rural, and remote centres across NSW and the NT, delivering services to some 10,000 people per annum. 


Much of the transport of BHVI service providers was, and still is, provided by the RFDS. However, when Anderton travels to AMS outposts, he usually flies himself.

The Visiting Optometrist Scheme, of which Anderton is an integral part, is run by the Federal Government. In NSW, that scheme is dependent on optometrist recruitment by the NSW Rural Doctors Network supported by the BHVI, and those recruited work with local health carers and the surrounding community.

Joanne Anderton signs a book at the launch
Joanne Anderton signs a book at the launch

In Anderton’s case, the efficiency of his travel method is perhaps best summed up as 18 hours by car, versus three hours by plane. The terrain traversed by such a car trip also offers little by way of compensation, visually or experientially, due largely to its barren nature.

The plane’s carrying capacity allows for one passenger, an abbreviated optometric ‘tool’ kit, and other needs required for a self-sufficient trip of a few day’s duration. The author took many of the photographs used in the historical chapter to illustrate a typical trip to the outback, while accompanying her father.

The launch

The MC for the event was the BHVI’s chief operating officer, Ms Yvette Waddell, and after her introduction to the launch, she handed the lectern to Mr Brian Layland, BHVI’s chair of the board and a veteran of many rural and remote tours of duty.

Layland detailed the lengthy history of outback general healthcare, optometry’s involvement in it (many decades), and the more recent advent of the BHVI/AMS endeavours, which span more than two decades and that he has been involved with intimately from the outset.

Matt Thistlethwaite MP and Joanne Anderton
Matt Thistlethwaite MP and Joanne Anderton

Layland then introduced the local federal member for the area in which UNSW is located, Mr Matt Thistlethwaite, who addressed the audience, spoke of his involvement with the BHVI over many years and the late Profesor Brien Holden, and proceeded to launch the book officially.

A book launch with a guest appearance by the author was held at the Kinokuniya bookstore in the Sydney CBD in late April, and the book is available at all good bookstores (In this author’s opinion, it would also make an ideal addition to any eye practice’s waiting room).

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