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Far West NSW finally received access to veterinary medicine once Dr Ameliah Scott, The Flying Vet, set up her practice. By Frank Leggett
Dr Ameliah Scott has one of the most unique, and largest, veterinary practices in all of Australia. Based out of White Cliffs in the Far West region of NSW, her business provides veterinary care to an area of more than 200,000 square kilometres. Whether she’s visiting Tibooburra, Wilcannia or Yantabulla, Dr Scott is passionate about the people and the animals of the region.
“The Far West falls short on many services that our city cousins take for granted,” she says. “Access to veterinary assistance to the region had been non-existent until I started my practice in 2019. I cover all the isolated areas of Far West New South Wales, as well as eastern South Australia and the south-west corner of Queensland.”
Dr Scott runs her mobile business as The Flying Vet. She pilots her Piper Arrow plane to remote stations to provide everything from pregnancy testing to X-ray services to emergency care. In addition to the air service, she has a fully equipped veterinary ute. Each month, she goes on a week-long road trip throughout the region, bringing veterinary care to areas that are otherwise unserviced. Her itinerary is posted on her website (theflyingvet.com.au) so clients can book an appointment. As Dr Scott is often out of mobile contact for days at a time, her vet nurse Kath Browne holds down the fort while she’s away, providing advice and emergency assistance.
Learning to fly
After graduating from the University of Queensland in 2014, Dr Scott worked with Border Vets at Kerang in Victoria and then decided to do an equine internship. “I gleaned a lot out of it,” she says, “but I decided that being in specialist equine medicine wasn’t for me.”
She then worked in a mixed dairy practice at Kyabram while also doing locum work. During this time, she decided to get her plane licence.
“Flying is in my blood,” she says. “Both my father and grandfather were pilots and when I was a child, I loved being in a plane with them. Gaining your pilot’s licence is a tough course that requires a minimum of 50 hours’ flying time. When I undertook my final private pilot licence examination, I was more nervous than when I did my final year vet exam.”
While gaining her wings, Dr Scott was also getting experience in large and small animal work at Kyabram. After a couple of years there, she moved to New Zealand to work as an equine vet for 12 months.
“Working with an Irish vet in the wine region of New Zealand was amazing and we became fast friends,” recalls Dr Scott. “After 12 months’ work, I had managed to save enough to start my own little practice.”
The Flying Vet
Returning to White Cliffs, Dr Scott married and runs a 50,000-hectare farm with her husband, Brendan Leyden. Starting The Flying Vet from scratch was risky but Dr Scott was more than willing to take that gamble.
“I managed to buy everything I needed without going into debt,” she says. “I sourced a lot of second-hand equipment and purchased the plane from a family friend. At the time, there were more planes for sale than buyers, so I managed to get it for a reasonable price. However, I was reminded of the old saying about the three Fs, ‘If it flies, floats or fornicates, it’s a lot cheaper to hire it’—and that’s particularly true with planes.”
Dr Scott established The Flying Vet and started her week-long car runs to visit the towns and farms in the region. The ute allows her to carry all her equipment and create her own schedule. In a week, Dr Scott drives between 3000 and 4000 kilometres.
“I use my car trips to provide a lot of preventive health—vaccinations, on-farm checks, biosecurity plans, a lot of educating,” she says. “There’s never been a vet in this area and there’s still a real belief in old wives’ tales. I’m often told that snakes come through and kill all the cows. And farmers love to inform me that diesel fixes bloat.”
Building a rep
Despite this, Dr Scott has found the people of the region to be very accepting of a young vet telling them what to do. This is due, in part, to the bush telegraph working to her advantage.
“It’s a very small demographic out here,” she says. “You only have to do half a dozen good jobs and word of mouth spreads your rep for you.”
City folk often view the outback to be full of hard living men with old fashioned attitudes. Has she experienced any negative issues being a female vet?
“No,” she says bluntly. “You’ll always be accepted as long as you come up with the goods. That’s not to say that chauvinistic characters don’t exist but they are very few and far between, and they’re generally disliked by both men and women. I find I receive more chauvinistic treatment the closer I get to the cities.”
Dr Scott takes to the air in her Piper Arrow for jobs that are booked a week or two in advance. Space in the plane is limited, so she prefers procedures that don’t require too much equipment, such as pregnancy testing, brucellosis testing and equine dentistry. Equipment such as gaseous anaesthetic bottles should not be carried in the plane whenever possible. She will also fly in for emergency cases, depending on whether the owner values the animal more than the cost of the visit.
“It’s tough on clients when they don’t want to lose the animal but it doesn’t make financial sense to seek treatment,” says Dr Scott. “Unfortunately, that’s pretty commonplace right across the veterinary industry.”
Tom and Bec Palmer own and operate Girrawheen Station, 280 kilometres east of Broken Hill. They run 4500 ewes and 55 cattle on 43,000 hectares. Recently, they needed their Angus cows pregnancy tested and called in The Flying Vet.
“We met Ameliah at our landing strip, drove her to one of the cattle yards and she got straight to work,” says Bec Palmer. “She works very quickly. Last time she was here, she was done in about an hour. Not only that, she did a small operation on my dog after preg testing the cows. It’s a really convenient and efficient way for us to do things.”
The alternative would be to organise a vet to drive to the property from Broken Hill or Mildura. Understandably, most vets charge for travel and travel time in that situation, making the whole process much more complicated, time-consuming and expensive. “Ameliah is fantastic,” says Palmer. “She’s available most of the time we schedule an appointment. She’s happy to get on the telephone and walk you through anything that needs to be done. We haven’t had anything like this in the bush before and it’s fabulous.”
Far West NSW has a hold on Dr Scott, along with the work, the people and the animals. She can’t imagine herself doing anything else, and technology is beginning to make her job a little easier.
“Advances in technology have really improved things out here,” she says. “Video calls allow you to explain and do things that couldn’t be done in the past. Unfortunately, internet coverage out here is terrible. Often, it’s impossible to use a mobile phone, let alone make a video call. The one thing that would really improve the quality of life out here is improved, reliable internet and mobile coverage. But, in the meantime, we’ll just have to make do.”