"The people you get to work with are just inspirational. It’s just the best profession. I still wake up every morning going, 'I can’t believe they gave me a job with Ambulance Tasmania.'"
“We didn’t take the road we thought we’d take to come to Tasmania… But I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else at all. This is where I think I needed to be.”
In the early 2010s, Bob Muller and his partner, Anne Gilles, were living on the Gold Coast where Bob had built a successful career in car sales, with investments in several dealerships.
With Monday to Friday busy on the showroom floor, weekends were often spent with a curious Tasmanian Devil called Liffey at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Annie, a passionate artist, would go to draw the animals, and Liffey the devil was particularly taken with Annie, emerging from her den to sit by the glass panel while Annie drew. Annie encouraged Bob to come along and before long, Bob recounts, “I fell in love with dear old Liffey too.”
The head mammal keeper at Currumbin, Sarah Eccelston, recommended that Bob and Annie head south to Tasmania’s Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary to become trained in handling and caring for Tasmanian Devils. Annie called Trowunna to enquire about the course and received a polite but firm message: the Dasyurid Management Program is for professional zookeepers, not holidayers. What Androo Kelly, owner of Trowunna, didn’t realise is that Bob and Annie don’t give up easily. Two weeks later they landed in Launceston, and by the end of their trip Bob and Annie were approved Tasmanian Devil handlers. This experience shaped their travels over the next few years, with holidays booked around volunteering opportunities at Trowunna.
Corporate shenanigans, Bob discretely explains, turned his life on the Gold Coast upside down, wiping out his business and investments. “It was one of those horrible things … a car crash coming. I could see it coming but I just couldn’t get out.” After the devastating loss of a career and future he had worked so hard to build, Bob found a sense of freedom in the choices he now had before him.
On their many trips to Tasmania, Bob and Annie had often dreamt about a future here one day. Suddenly, the possibility to move away from the Gold Coast for a new start in northern Tasmania became, as Bob describes it, “a point of comfort in all this disruption”.
Bob packed up and drove down to Tasmania, with Annie to follow by plane. But when Annie’s flight was delayed and with his friends from Trowunna out of town, Bob found himself on his own for his first night. Bob recounts this first evening in Deloraine with a mischievous grin. Finding the pub the locals frequented, Bob figured there was no time like the present to introduce himself to his new neighbours, and he confidently strode into the bar of the British Hotel. The room went silent as patrons turned to stare at the stranger standing in the doorway. “I thought, ‘Okay, this is going to be a make-or-break moment’. So, I put my hands in the air and I said, ‘I’m from the north island, seeking asylum from the lunacy. Can someone please tell me what I’ve got to drink to be considered a Tasmanian?’”
Bob and Annie settled into their new life in Deloraine, a town that Bob describes as “small enough that you know of everybody, but big enough that you don’t know everybody's business.” Bob built up a successful business consultancy, with a steady stream of clients in Victoria. Outside of work Bob was looking for new friends, new connections, and an outlet for his energy. On a Thursday night Bob found himself at the local fire station. The crew was undertaking training and Bob walked up to Dan Watson, the Station Chief, to introduce himself. “I said to Dan, ‘I’m old, I’m fat, and I’m unfit. Have you got a place for me? And Dan said, ‘Yeah, we’ve been waiting for you. There’s some gear in there, go and get it on, we’re gonna go and do a burn-off.’”
After joining as a volunteer Fire Fighter, it wasn’t long before Bob found himself in the bright orange uniform of the State Emergency Service. And, having always been impressed by the paramedics he came across in his volunteering, in early 2020 Bob began training to become a volunteer ambulance officer as well.
In March 2020 Bob’s consultancy work ground to halt due to the Covid pandemic travel restrictions. He spent the first week of Tasmania’s border closures in the garden with Annie, and in between mulching flowerbeds, Bob realised he was going to need something more. Soon he was volunteering at all the northern Ambulance Stations – Longford, Beaconsfield, George Town, Oatlands, and Scottsdale. At 3:00 AM on a September morning, Bob found himself behind the wheel of the ambulance heading to Launceston General Hospital. “The paramedic was in the back with the patient and I looked up in the rear view mirror… I just caught myself in the corner of the mirror and I had this huge smile on my face. I thought, ‘I really like this work.'”
Not long after this moment, Bob was chatting with a colleague, Ricci, over coffee at the Pilot Station Café in Low Head, just north of George Town. Bob lamented how much he enjoyed his work as a vollie, and how he wished he’d pursued this a career when he was younger. “Well, why don’t you do it now?” asked Ricci.
“…Because I’m 61.”
“And your point is?”
It was in that moment that Bob’s mind was made up – he was going to go to uni to study paramedicine. Now, he just had to tell Annie.
When Bob arrived home that evening, Annie said, “I’ve been thinking about it. I haven’t seen you enjoy anything as much as you enjoy doing this work. Would you consider going back to university to get your degree?” Bob enrolled in the University of Tasmania’s paramedicine course that evening.
Bob’s paramedic training was punctuated with several important moments that reinforced his decisions to pursue this new path. With a tear in his eye, Bob recalls stories of humanity, understanding, and kindness from his colleagues to their patients. Recounting the emergency retrieval of a patient about to go into cardiac arrest, Bob explains he was working with Sydney, a talented paramedic in her 20s. Arriving at the scene, Bob recalls, “Sydney looked at me and said ‘Bob, shit just got serious, go and get the ambulance’.” Another team of paramedics joined them enroute to the Launceston General Hospital. Stopped on the side of the road, “the side door opened and the [then] Chief Executive of Ambulance Tasmania [Matt Eastham] popped his head in. He happened to be in Launceston, and was doing a couple of days on the road with an intensive care paramedic. Matt said, ‘Sydney, I’m your second officer, what do you want me to do?’”
This moment encapsulated what Bob loves most about his colleagues in Ambulance Tasmania; their unwavering focus and commitment to the patient: “not on individual egos, or possible self-consciousness, or a lack of confidence. Those personal things never even appear in the ambulance.”
The people you get to work with are just inspirational. They really are. It’s just the best profession. I still wake up every morning going, 'I can’t believe they gave me a job with Ambulance Tasmania.'
Bob graduated in February 2023 and after a nervous couple of months, he was offered a position as a graduate paramedic with Ambulance Tasmania in May 2023. From his experience as a volunteer, he knew the course would not be easy. But it was incredibly rewarding. “The people you get to work with are just inspirational. They really are. It’s just the best profession. I still wake up every morning going, ‘I can’t believe they gave me a job with Ambulance Tasmania.'”
For Bob and Annie, the past decade has unfolded in a way that neither of them could have imagined when they were sitting by the fence at Liffey’s enclosure at Currumbin. A new home, a new career, new friends, new opportunities. But the Tasmanian devils have been a common thread that stitch their old and new lives together: “Tassie devils just love you for who you are. They’re just the weirdest little animals.
“We didn’t take the road we thought we’d take to come to Tasmania… And we’re not living in the house that we thought we’d live in. But I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else at all. This is where I think I needed to be.”