With three generations of eye care professionals in his family, Peter Tidman said a career in optometry was inevitable.
“My father Harold Tidman and mother Anna Tidman (née Lee) were both English-trained optometrists. My paternal grandfather Charles Tidman also trained and practised in England, while my maternal grandfather Edward Lee trained in England but practised in Georgetown, Guyana.”
In 1967, Peter’s parents relocated from London travelling to Fremantle on the Castel Felice.
“My mother was the first female optometrist to practise in Perth. Her colleagues warned her that the Australians would not accept a female optometrist,” Peter said.
“However, she was popular with patients and built a successful practice; all the while raising five boys and supporting other women entering non-traditional professions.
“Both Mum and Dad always spoke with great enthusiasm about how people’s eyes told you something about the person.
“They would often share examples of how environment, learnt behaviour and recent hereditary affected the eyes of an individual.
“Mum was always learning; she was particularly interested in how diet would affect the eyes and today we know the role diet plays in many chronic health problems.”
Harold Tidman loved horses and that is what drew him to the country.
“When Dad migrated to Australia, he really wanted to ride a horse in the outback and that was the impetus for his rural work,” Peter said.
“Dad worked with an established optometric practice in Perth in the late 60s/early 70s, but regularly travelled into the Wheatbelt, Goldfields and Great Southern to work. When these trips coincided with our school holidays, we were allowed to tag along.
“One early memory of mine was delivering spectacles that Dad had repaired for a farmer; they were so grateful to him and served us a huge cooked meal.
“Farmers would come from far afield to be seen by Dad. I think it was this sense of community and being of service to others that fostered an interest in rural practice among my brothers.”
Peter entered the family business working alongside his brother David at Tidman Optical in Port Hedland.
It was here he experienced his first cyclone and first plane trip to a nearby mining town.
“I worked with my brother in Port Hedland for approximately a year, travelling to Karratha and Mount Newman,” he said.
“I moved to Carnarvon around 1983, and in the late 80s the Carnarvon Hospital chief medical officer offered me a chartered aeroplane that was not being utilised.
“With the plane, I travelled to Onslow and Exmouth with ophthalmologist Dr Peter Graham every two to three months for about 10 years depending on patient loads.”
While in Carnarvon, Peter also travelled to Exmouth fortnightly, Onslow monthly, Denham six weekly, Burringurrah (Mount Augustus) three monthly and Gascoyne Junction six monthly.
“I also travelled with the principal of the School of the Air to the homes of the students consulting with parents and children.
“About once each year, I travelled to Aboriginal communities in the Pilbara and Kimberley – visiting without any funding.
Peter said his experience in regional WA had been diverse and as doors opened, he would step through them.
“As a young optometrist, my father and mother advised me to understand the eye problems of the population,” he said.
“From a gas rig pylon inspector with problems with his dive mask to determining the strengths of Aboriginal people’s sight to help their reading outcomes. Context is important.”
“I have had so many incredible experiences and met so many interesting people. I met a Māori man in my clinic who was a train driver, he later invited me to a hangi.”
“My first connection to Aboriginal people in the Pilbara was talking to a man fishing near our clinic who later turned out to be one of the local Elders; his son still remembers me.
“For me, becoming an optometrist opened up so many interesting opportunities to gain insight into individual behaviour and learning.”
Brother Mark took over from Peter in Carnarvon around 2000, while computer savvy brother Robert pursued optical dispensing and joined him in town.
“Mark and Robert are still successfully servicing towns throughout the Gascoyne, Pilbara, Murchison and Goldfields, while David is now practising in Vanuatu.” And as for Peter, he is now working in Beverley with no plans to leave,” he said.
“I visit York and Wongan Hills regularly and I have been invited to go occasionally to Quairading, Pingelly and Brookton.
“I have been adopted informally by a Ballardong family (Blurton) which is the name of the Aboriginal area that includes the Wheatbelt towns I visit.
“This is rural WA. We love being part of a community; it is very important to me.”
Peter Tidman is currently supported through the Rural Health Outreach Services program: the Visiting Optometrists Scheme. Rural Health West administers the Rural Health Outreach Services programs on behalf of the Australian Government Department of Health.