MUCH-LOVED former Foster and Toora Medical Centre general practitioner Dr Peter Baquie may add three more letters after his name after receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday 2021 Honours List.
“Dr Pete” OAM was granted the award on Monday June 14, “for service to sports medicine”, according to his Australian Honours List citation.
“I feel humbled and very grateful,” Peter said, “especially to my wife, Helen, who has been holding everything together all this time.”
An old mate and fellow medical student sent a text message through to the new honouree early on Monday morning, just after the List was made public, that seemed to echo Peter’s own and clearly long-held point of view.
The text ran along the lines of, “to Peter John Baquie an OAM for service to sports medicine, and to Helen Baquie an OAM for services to the Baquie family, while Peter John Baquie is giving sports medicine service.”
The seed for Peter’s illustrious career in sports medicine, which has seen him doctoring the Kookaburras to men’s hockey gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and Hawthorn to AFL premiers in 2008, may well have been planted while he was a South Gippsland GP from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. Dr David Iser also arrived in Foster around this time.
Peter worked with and learned from the Corner Inlet district’s own medical legends, Dr Robert “Robbie” Fleming, and one-time Police Surgeon and road safety advocate Dr John Birrell, who was behind the introduction of compulsory car seatbelt and world-first 0.05 blood alcohol limit laws in Victoria.
As well as enjoying paddle-boarding on local waterways with Helen, Peter also played cricket and football for Foster, actively contributing towards the winning of a few end-of-season flags.
And, in between the innings and the quarters, Peter was quite often asked to realign a nose or a finger, and to give his opinion on what to do about those injuries arising from more serious on-field incidents, even by the members of the opposing team!
The “Doc” wouldn’t hesitate to stop a match to attend to any player who was hurt, making sure they got the proper treatment straight away.
Nor did he ever have any qualms about abandoning play himself during a home game, sprinting in cricket whites or the Tigers’ black and yellow to greet one of the hundreds of local babies he oversaw in gestation and then delightedly delivered at the South Gippsland Hospital, right next door to the oval.
Peter graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1976 with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) before spending the next few years training in general practice, which included a period in Foster.
He undertook further study in anaesthetics and obstetrics, two very handy skills to have as a doctor in a rural setting, before willingly returning to serve in Foster in 1983 and being admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (FRACGP) in 1984.
Peter and Helen, and their own three children, Michael, Jane and Laura, were steadily woven into the rich tapestry of the district community, making lifelong friends and connections.
A Diploma of Occupational Medicine (DOccMed) was added to Peter’s qualifications in 1992 and, not long after, the Baquie family made the difficult decision to leave Foster and move back to Melbourne so the children could further their education.
After taking a sabbatical year, Peter soon found that being a city GP was rather different to working in a busy country practice where the doctors do a lot of their own hands-on doctoring as opposed to referring many patients on.
It was a chance conversation with friends from Foster, during which it was suggested that sports medicine might be more his thing, that led to Peter changing direction and becoming a practitioner at the Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre in 1994.
Word quickly got out across the South Gippsland sporting fraternity that Dr Pete was doing knees and ankles and, to his genuine pleasure, was back for keeps among the players of the Alberton Football and Netball League, along with other sporting codes.
“There is a critically important need for rural medicine, and one of the things about living and working in a country town is that you join the community and you feel bad when you leave because you mightn’t get to see those people again,” he said.
“In my case, I’ve been lucky to have had the privilege of seeing kids I delivered and now their kids, too, when they come up to town with a gammy knee or a bad back.
“It’s actually been a pretty special part of my Melbourne practice, having this on-going bond with my patients from South Gippsland,” Peter said.
“Former Hawthorn footy player Jarryd Roughead of Leongatha mentions me in his book Roughy, saying that I did bring some of his best mates into the world!”
Peter became a Fellow of the Australasian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians (FASCEP) in 1996 and he is also a current professional member of Sports Medicine Australia.
The catalogue of Peter’s sports medicine postings is beyond impressive and includes being appointed as the Australian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team Doctor from 1997 to 2004, and as the Australian Olympic Teams Chief Medical Officer at Beijing in 2008, and London in 2012.
He has also served as team doctor to a number of Australian Football League clubs, including Carlton, Hawthorn, Collingwood and North Melbourne, for more than 20 years, as well as to the National Rugby League club Melbourne Storm in 2003.
The Baquies now have eight granddaughters in their family, and love where they live nowadays high up in a Southbank tower, “right in the middle of the places we like to go,” Peter said.
“There’s another book that I’d like to recommend to anyone who might find themselves down and out, like one bloke I know who was forced to retire from playing sport despite having had three knee reconstructions,” he said.
“The book is Belief by Richmond Football Club player Marlion Pickett, and in it he says, ‘you can’t change the past but you can change the future’, which is an observation I really like and think is very true.”
Peter celebrated his OAM with his family on Monday, including his mother, and all three Baquie children, who were told to “come for lunch, no matter what!”
He received lots of congratulatory messages from friends, colleagues, and patients alike during the course of the day, all of whom agreed that the award was well-deserved by the unpretentious, softly-spoken and absolutely competent Dr Pete.