TIME TO SMELL THE ROSES: Former CEO of Murray House Sid Duckett has finally called it a day. Photos: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

FOR a boy growing up on a dairy farm in western Victoria, the thought of one day chalking up a 50-year career as a senior administrative officer in the hospital sector would have been the last thing Sid Duckett would have imagined.

And yet that’s exactly what life had in store for Sid – the recently- retired CEO of Murray House Aged Care.

The Mildura Weekly spoke with Sid this week when he visited Murray House in Wentworth to attend an afternoon tea in his honour.

“Today I’m on the receiving end of a farewell, which is traditionally given to long-serving staff, and I’m delighted to be here,” he said.

The occasion was attended by more than 80 people, including residents, staff, representatives from Wentworth Shire Council and many supporters and invited guests.

The board of directors from Murray House also held a dinner that evening to thank Sid for his eight years of service.

“That’s also a nice gesture, and one I am very appreciative of,” he said.

Wentworth Shire Council general manager, Peter Kozlowski, attended the afternoon tea, and said that Council had enjoyed a good working relationship with Sid, and wished him well for his retirement.

“From a Council point of view we have worked closely with Sid and the board to assist Murray House where we could in terms of expanding its operations, and it has been a great working relationship, and I’m sure that will continue,” he said.

“We see Murray House as a premier facility, and in the Sunraysia area it’s punching above its weight in regard to how it delivers services, and how it has gone about putting its package together with really strong community backing.”

Sid was born in Tasmania to parents who were mixed farmers, and when he was 10-years-old, his family decided to sell up and move to Melbourne. It wasn’t long before they established a dairy farm near Camperdown, in Western Victoria.

“My schooling traversed Reservoir and Camperdown High Schools, and after leaving school my initial thinking was to go back onto the farm, but my father had other ideas, and wasn’t in favour of me doing that, he reckoned there wasn’t a future in dairying, and said, ‘Go and get a job’,” he said.

“So I joined the Forest Commission, thinking that would be a good sort of outdoor job, but my role saw me stuck in the Melbourne head office behind a desk.”

In the meantime Sid’s parents had moved from Camperdown to Castlemaine in central Victoria, with his father having become a professional horse trainer.

“By that I stage I couldn’t wait to get out of Melbourne, and a job in administration as a payroll officer came up in the local Castlemaine and District Hospital, and I put in for that position and was successful,” he said.

This would be the beginning of a stellar career in the health sector, destined to last a lifetime.

“I was only there for a couple of years and I thought, this isn’t a bad industry to be in, but I realised if I was really going to get anywhere, I needed to go studying,” Sid said.

He then took on a degree in Health Service Administration, and won a scholarship to attend the University of NSW in Sydney. It was during this period, at the age of not quite 25, he was appointed manager of the Western Port Memorial Hospital in Koo-wee-rup, and while he was there, he went to Sydney to study.

“I hadn’t yet turned 25 and was actually the youngest CEO in Australia, and in those days you had to be 25 to manage a hospital, so I was appointed acting CEO until I turned 25,” Sid said with a chuckle.

Sid’s next career move saw him taking up a position as deputy CEO of the Latrobe Valley Hospital, located in Yallourn.

“I wasn’t more than a few months into my term when the current CEO suddenly had a heart attack and died, and I immediately took over the reins, it wasn’t the promotion I’d been expecting!” he said.

“I suppose I was always fairly ambitious, and had married in the intervening period, and we had two children, and that’s when I took up the role of manager at the new Maroondah Hospital in Melbourne’s outer eastern region.

“The hospital was just a hole in the ground when I took over, and I managed that place for 18 months before we took our first patients.”

Established in 1976, today the Maroondah Hospital in Ringwood East is a metropolitan teaching hospital that provides secondary acute care, and acute adult mental health services.

Sid stayed in that role for more than seven years, but he always wanted to get back to the country if the opportunity arose.

“In 1983 I came to Mildura to manage the Base hospital, taking over from long-serving manager, Findley Skinner, and I was there for more than 18 years,” Sid said. “I retired when it was privatised and I oversaw that transitional period from the old base to the new hospital that exists today, my last day being served at the old base.”

Following his time at Mildura Base, Sid and his wife Val moved to Kyneton to live.

“We bought a small farm down there and I started breeding Australian Lowline cattle,” Sid said.

Unfortunately Sid’s wife passed away after a period of illness, a sad chapter in his life, and one which left him wondering what he was going to do.

“Although retired (or so I thought), I received offers to take over the management of a number of hospitals throughout Victoria, assisting them in a consultancy role to sort out their financial and administrative issues,” Sid said.

By then Sid had decided to retire a second time, and came back to Mildura where his family were, and eventually remarried after meeting a local lady.

“I wasn’t here long before I was invited to go out to Chaffey Aged Care to assist with the financial difficulties they were experiencing, and I stayed for two years,” Sid said. “Once again I planned to retire, and just as I did they said, ‘Come out here to Murray House for three or four months to help us restructure the organisation’, which I did, and it just became ongoing, and eight years later, at the age of 75, I have finally retired once and for all.”

Sid feels that he has achieved a lot in his long career, one that has been exciting and rewarding, and that his father’s advice not to pursue life as a dairy farmer had proved sound.

“We used to get up at half-past-four in the morning and bring in the cows, and I would help milk them until it was time to have a quick breakfast and catch the bus to school,” he said.

“When I got home at night they’d still be bloody milking!

“It was a hard life, and I think in many respects it affected my schooling, but at the same time it gave me a strong foundation upon which I was able to build my life, and for that I’m grateful.”

Life in retirement sounds like it will be as busy as ever for Sid, who recently completed a new home and is establishing its garden.

He also launched his houseboat, which he and his wife Lyn hope to travel some long stretches of the Murray River on.

Sid’s family also has business interests in Mildura, and Sid said he is always on hand to assist in a mentoring role if required.

Retirement is a word that doesn’t seem to be in Sid’s vocabulary!