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The Manning River Times Media Coverage: Taree dentist Peter Feldbusch retires after 51 years

30 June 2020 
The Manning River Times

Reporter: Rob Douglas
Photo Credit: Scott Calvin

"Taree has been very good to me," Dr Peter Feldbusch says. "The patients have been very good to me, I've been telling everyone I'm leaving and I've been getting nice gifts and cards which has been very touching."

Dr Feldbusch certainly has a few stories to tell given the longevity of his dentistry career.

After 51 years of extractions, fillings and general tender, love and care, Dr Feldbusch will today (June 30) hang up the drill for the final time and begin his retirement.

"I'm looking forward to it, there was some trepidation initially because I made my mind up just after Christmas," Dr Feldbusch explained. "I'm excited about it knowing it's coming to an end, mainly because I've been doing it for 51 years and my life has been so regimented."

During recent COVID-19 restrictions, Dr Feldbusch was on call but couldn't see regular patients.
This presented a more relaxed lifestyle, something that's now too good to pass up.

"I'd get up early in the morning and walk the dog and it didn't matter whether I had breakfast at 7.30 or 8.30. I thought this was quite nice," Dr Feldbusch said. "I've got plenty of things now that I want to do when I retire."

During his final years of high school, Dr Feldbusch considered a career in dentistry. "My uncle was a dentist in Tasmania and my father was very keen on me doing dentistry," he said.

At the time, Dr Feldbusch was also putting time into flying airplanes. He spent most weekends flying around Queensland with friends to potentially sit for an interview with a commercial airline. This presented a conundrum for his ongoing dental degree.

"When I got a supplementary exam in second year dentistry, I said to my father 'I don't feel like sitting for another exam, I want to go commercial flying'," Dr Feldbusch said. "To put it politely, stuff hit the fan and I continued with dentistry and I'm glad I did."

Dr Feldbusch received a naval scholarship which paid for the final two years of university in 1967-68. This locked him into the navy for four years, during the Vietnam War. It therefore exempted him from conscription because he was already enlisted in the armed services.

Now a qualified dentist, Dr Feldbusch spent two years in Darwin. "I thoroughly enjoyed that," he said.

He soon befriended a pilot who worked for the Northern Territory Aerial Medical Service, which was similar to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Dr Feldbusch would join a doctor and nurse for trips across the territory to help patients in remote communities, such as Hooker Creek and Victoria River Downs.

"It was doing extractions in a little shed with four poles and corrugated iron and a packing case," Dr Feldbusch revealed. In his downtime Dr Feldbusch enjoyed barramundi fishing, a popular pastime for Territorians.

Dr Feldbusch moved to Canberra to start work at a medical centre. This was a group practice which, according to Dr Feldbusch, looked after 'VIPs' of the political world. The principal of the practice, Dr Keith Traynor, was the dentist for former prime minister Harold Holt.

"I remember saying to Keith 'did you hear Harold Holt drowned' and the first thing he said was 'well, he had so much metal in his mouth as soon as he went under water he would have never surfaced'," Dr Feldbusch said, tongue in cheek.

One of Dr Feldbusch's high profile patients was Jim Cairns, a former deputy prime minister in the Whitlam government. Mr Cairns had dental work while on overseas business. When he arrived back in Australia, he needed Dr Feldbusch to remove a root fragment that was left behind.

Dr Feldbusch removed the fragment and told Mr Cairns payment wasn't required. Mr Cairns, the federal treasurer of the time, left him a $10 note. "I went up to Keith and said 'I just got $10 from the treasurer of the country tax free'," Dr Feldbusch laughed.

"He said 'well we'll have to frame this'. Two days later Jim got demoted (he became embroiled in the infamous 'Loans Affair' incident) and Keith rang me up and said 'what have you done with that $10? Write a receipt and send it back to him. I don't want to be investigated'."

Dr Feldbusch would return to the Northern Territory to volunteer at Aboriginal mission stations. In 1976, Dr Feldbusch moved to the Manning to continue his career.

The Taree practice started after World War II and went through two owners including Dr David Buckley, who went through university with Dr Feldbusch. Dr Feldbusch contacted his former classmate about potentially purchasing a practice in Taree after 'falling in love' with a property at Bootawa.

Dr Buckley informed him the Taree practice had been on the market for some time. Dr Feldbusch settled into the Manning and was later joined by Dr Ian Jefferies, who he'd worked with at the Canberra clinic.

Fast-forward to 2012 and company Dental Partners purchased the practice from Dr Feldbusch. It was then taken over by current owners Maven Dental. Dr Feldbusch remained principal dentist until his retirement.

Dr Feldbusch has seen the changes to dentistry materials, treatments and systems over the years. "As the years have gone by sterilisations have become more important. Years ago we virtually had a boiler for the instruments," Dr Feldbusch said.

"We used to use the same needle for the whole week because at that stage hepatitis wasn't a major concern. "We used a lot of amalgam (cavities filler) - I probably haven't used amalgam for the past 10-12 years."

He was one of the first dentistry students in the mid-1960s to use a high speed drill. "Previously all the work was done with a slow speed drill," Dr Feldbusch said.

He was pleased with the high tech approach to modern dentistry and the attention of dentists to hygiene, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. "We're all wearing gloves, face masks and now with COVID-19 that has escalated," Dr Feldbusch said.

"I don't see things relaxing much more even if COVID-19 disappears and we're all vaccinated. That will be just standard, it doesn't take long to ask them if they have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 and do a temperature check."

During the recent shutdown, dentists weren't able to use the high speed drill or triplex syringe (air and water machine) because both create mist. "It was like saying to a wood cutter you can cut a tree down but you can't use a chainsaw," Dr Feldbusch smiled.

During the final months of his career, Dr Feldbusch ensured every patient was aware of his retirement. Judging by the response, he will be sorely missed.

Click here to read the full Manning River Times article

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