Kathleen Loxton met with Australia’s oldest first-time author, Bob McDermant (otherwise known as ‘Ambo Bob’), to discuss publishing his first book at 96-years-old
An extraordinary life put into words. The Ambo explores an important part of our emergency service’s history here in Queensland, from Bob’s life of service, including his years in the Field Ambulance during World War II and 39 year career with the Queensland Ambulance Service, to how he helped lead the way for our paramedic services today.
Kathleen Loxton: How did you feel seeing your book for the first time?
Bob McDermant: I felt relief more than anything else. We’d put in so many hours over so many months, I was always worried that I wouldn’t get the story finished, wouldn’t see it compiled, edited and sent to the publisher, never hold a finished book in my hands … a real concern as you approach 97! After the initial relief I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction to hold that book. Over recent years I had almost given up on the possibility of starting, let alone finishing this project.
K: Was there a single moment that stuck with you from your 39-year career in the Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS)?
B: Unfortunately, those moments were often tragic, and I’ve never liked to dwell on those. Things I found very exciting, like the introduction of CPR, don’t sound exciting to everyone else. As a high point, though, finally being awarded the QAS Distinguished Service Medal in 2010 was gratifying. 30 years earlier I had left my final position under considerable angst, so that provided great closure.
K: Did you always want to work for the QAS?
B: The short answer — yes. When you become an instructor in first aid at the age of 14, it’s probably an obvious path. QAS didn’t even exist under that name back then. Things never evolve quite as you might hope, so you get a few obstacles and delays — we get that in our lives and you just have to work through it.
K: How valuable was the support of Seasons Caloundra staff and residents during the process of writing and promoting your book? And also, family and friends?
B: The staff at Seasons Caloundra have been totally behind my efforts to write this book and for months have been asking when they can read it. My family have been wonderfully supportive, helping with early book outlines, proofreading, printing large font versions and generally keeping me going, but never pushing me. I appreciate that. My ghost writer, Robin Story, was also vital to this project. If I hadn’t found her, there would be no book. My wife, Gwen, passed away in November, 2018, so it’s sad for me that we never got to enjoy this together.
K: How can people keep the love going for their passions and career?
B: Choose a career that you will likely feel passionate about. Never settle for second best. If you think something can be improved, do it. If you think something needs to be changed, change it. I’ve always st
rived to live and work that way.
K: Is there a secret to following your dreams?
B: I’ve never been reckless or impulsive. I do prefer to have things planned — in my head, if not actually on paper. But I’ve never been afraid to take a risk, go out on a limb or stick to my guns when something has been important to me.
K: What’s the main message that you would like the public to take from your amazing book?
B: It’s not really a book with a message. It’s a book with a story, with a journey. But for those who read inside the front pages, my motto “It’s Never Too Late” may be a take home message. It certainly helped me get through my early years in WWII and my later ambulance years. In fact, it even got me through the process of writing this book!
The Ambo can be purchased now online at Booktopia: booktopia.com.au