Former Manilla optometrist Phil Anderton inspires daughter Joanne's debut children's book

A flying optometrist with links to Manilla, and his sci-fi writing daughter, have combined to create Australia’s latest hit children’s book.

Phil Anderton spent most of his professional career teaching lecturing optometry students in Sydney, before an epiphany of sorts led him to retire to Manilla, where he built a “little red plane.” 

“I used to put courses together on more advanced optometry in Sydney,” he said.

“Rural optometrist used to come and take the course, and I soon realised that they already knew it all, because they had to - I was amazed at their knowledge.

“They also had great little networks in country areas with each other and GPs because they were all each others first points of call.” 

When Mr Anderton retired in 2005 he decided to move to Manilla, where he soon got involved in eye care for Indigenous communities everywhere between Walgett and Boggabilla.

“I got to love that work that I was doing, but we had to move back to Newcastle for family reasons,” he said.

Soon enough though, the homemade red plane was in action, flying the “eye doctor” to Wanaarang and Tibooburra, in far north-western NSW, twice a year to conduct his clinics with the local indigenous communities, in conjunction with the Brien Holden Vision Institute.

One day his daughter Joanne went on one of these trips, and the idea for “The Flying Optometrist” books was born.

“In my family it seemed normal to fly homemade planes everywhere,” Ms Anderton said.

“One day I thought I would go with Dad for a bit of an adventure. It was unusual and exciting, and very Australian to use a plane to take health care to remote communities that we take for granted in the cities.”

While she was on her adventure the published author soon realised that the whole idea could make for a fantastic kids book, and the rest is history.

“I usually write sci-fi and horror, so it was a bit different, I had to use an entirely different set of skills but I really enjoyed it,” she said.

“I would love to do it again with different health services and different aspects of remote living and remote communities.” 

The book which was released this month, is based around a young girl named Stephanie, in a community based on Wanaarang, who has broken her glasses and has to wait on the Flying Optometrist in the ‘little red plane’ to get some more.

The story, illustrated by the renowned Karen Erasmus, goes into the adventures of both the optometrist and the people in the community, set against an educationally eye-opening theme, and all with a touch of Australian fun.

This story A vision for vision, a homemade plane, and the children’s book it inspired first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.