Small screen stardom accompanied Dr Andrew Olesnicky's move to Broken Hill.
When Dr Andrew Olesnicky arrived in Broken Hill seven years ago, he wasn’t sure what he was in for. He certainly didn’t expect to end up as the ‘hot doc’ of the ABC reality television show Outback ER.
The challenges of running an emergency department in a remote outback town are familiar territory for Dr Olesnicky, but for viewers of Outback ER, the trials that the team face on a daily basis are anything but run-of-the-mill. The show has helped to cast the hospital, the townspeople and the land in an entirely new light.
Broken Hill is 500km from its nearest city neighbour, Adelaide. While that remoteness can often pose problems for Andrew and his colleagues, it's also the very thing that drew him there in the first place. As a junior ‘fly in, fly out’ doctor, Andrew spent much of his time travelling between country towns across the region, but it’s in Broken Hill that he chose to stay.
“Professionally, Broken Hill is just the right size,” he says. “Any bigger and it wouldn't have the same level of opportunity or autonomy. Any smaller and it could perhaps be not as challenging. Being remote, it really pushes you to hone your skills, to do well and deliver well.”
However, delivering care to your patients and delivering good drama for the cameras can be two very different things. Fortunately, both the ABC and Outback ER’s production company, Screentime, have approached the material with the right amount of sensitivity and compassion.
“When we saw initial rough cuts, we were apprehensive that we might come across like country bumpkins,” Andrew says. “But after seeing the great reactions to the show, we’re not worried about that any more. Most of the locals are proud of the fact that ABC has chosen Broken Hill as the location for the show. In fact, the most common thing I hear is the fact that the footage of the town looks amazing. For the people who have lived here for a long time, it’s a chance to sit back and see their hometown on the screen, and it makes them love the place all the more.”
Arriving seven years ago, Andrew recalls just how appreciative the hospital and the town appeared to be. He’d experienced country-town gratitude before – he fondly remembers receiving gifts of fresh lobsters and bags of onions when working in Mount Gambier – but in Broken Hill the welcome was more personal.
“If I was on a night shift, they’d make sure I was well fed. If I had a weekend off, people would invite you out to spend time with them. Even though you’re away from your real family, you can still get a genuine sense of ‘family’ here in Broken Hill.”
As a C-grader (a Broken Hill term for residents neither born in the town, nor married to a local), Andrew describes the town with real affection as representing “the melting pot of humanity” with an ever-changing demographic. But it's the relaxed and affordable lifestyle that keeps him hooked, and the knowledge that the urban drive to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ simply doesn't exist in Broken Hill. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true.
“I’m sure when I go to the pub and strike up a conversation with random people that I’m actually rubbing shoulders with millionaires who are dressed more shabbily than I am.”
That sense of humility has clearly rubbed off on Andrew, as he’s honest and realistic about the instant fame brought on by Outback ER. He’s had a couple of “hot doc” comments on social media, but by his own admission, he hasn’t received any proposals of marriage yet. “I’m sure I’ll be far less famous in seven years’ time than any of the Big Brother 2007 contestants.”
But joking aside, Outback ER and its reflection of Broken Hill has certainly changed Andrew for the better. “Having now spent half my medical career in Broken Hill, I do take some things for granted, and the show has forced me to re-evaluate and reflect on what I do in that department. It’s a real privilege to be able to help manage and prioritise the resources that we have and the decisions that we have to make.”