Col Benstead reflects on his career.
Col Benstead reflects on his career.

Medico to the stars who began his training as a 10-year-old

FROM a 15-year-old honorary ambulance bearer, to becoming one of the earliest male mid-wifery nurses in the state, to a 40- year career with the ambulance service including being part of the Lismore-based helicopter staff, and add in a five-year stint with a reality television program - Kingscliff's Col Benstead has watched the ambulance service evolve, particularly on the North Coast.

He'll continue to do that in the future but it will be from the sidelines as the long-time ambulance officer hung up his hat earlier this year.

And while it will give Col more time to stand up paddle board, ride his bike, go to the gym and spend time with his kids and grandkids, his retirement marks the end of an era of sorts in the Tweed Valley.

His grandfather Ted set up the ambulance service in Murwillumbah in the 30s, while father Albie started a branch in Kingscliff a couple of decades later, before Col joined what had become a family business.

"I had seven years of nursing before I got into ambulance - so 1972 I started hospital-based training at RPA in Sydney, lived here but I wanted to go to Sydney," the ultra-fit 67-year-old explained.

"I came from an ambulance background and started three years of working as an honorary bearer as they called them in those days, with my dad here at Kingscliff unpaid before that. They were using people who were self-employed, one guy was an electrician, one was a school teacher, one was a bit of a travelling salesman. They were people who could, on short notice, drop tools and help my dad who was the only officer." And with the honorary officers not always available, his father turned to Col to help. "So as a 15-year-old I was being dragged out of bed at all hours of the morning," he laughed. It was a grounding that showed him that he was destined to have a medical career.

"I did my first first aid certificate at 10 years of age out at Tyalgum because Dad was working out of Murwillumbah ambulance and he was running a course out there and he said: 'You should come out' and I'm going, 'I'm 10', what else am I going to do?' There was no smart phones back then, there was black and white telly or reading books. I just got fascinated with anatomy.

"You had to know a fair bit of anatomy and physiology back then, you had to know a lot of the bones of the body, you had to know pressure points for putting pressure on arteries to stop bleeding past them."

Though he first decided to become an ambulance officer like his dad and grandfather, his father was adamant there wasn't a lot of security in the job at the time and so instead he turned his interest to nursing.

After his seven years, he moved to the ambulance system and since then he has held a wide variety of roles at all levels in Sydney, Newcastle and on the North Coast. Always one to try new things, when a friend asked him to come and do some work on a television show, he jumped at the chance - working looking after the crew on the American version of Survivor for five seasons.

It was a job that took him to some of the most remote parts of the world, working in Panama twice as well as Fiji, the Amazon and Thailand.

"It was challenging...only two doctors, two nurses and two paramedics looking after 250 people 24/7 in some ordinary conditions.

"That was challenging in many respects."


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