“I’m not a famous sports star, I’ve just got a unique business where I’m living the dream,” says Dr Dave Baldwin. “A biography is a little bit humbling.”
But when you hear his remarkable story, especially in his own colourful words, it’s easy to see the appeal.
Meet the Flying Doctor, Healthy Bastard advocate
Dr Dave, aka the ‘Flying Doctor’, has a life story filled with unique experiences, fascinating characters, and tragedy. Both a pilot and a doctor, in 2009 he wrote a book called ‘Healthy Bastards’, advocating men’s health to the stubborn Kiwi male.
Now he has written a new book, an autobiography aptly called ‘The Flying Doctor’, in which he talks about the ups and downs of his unusual career, and the tragic death of his son and best mate, Marc.
“In ‘The Flying Doctor’ I look back on all the wonderful people and experiences I have had with them and recognised that most of these true free spirits don’t go to an organised form of religion, but do have a view beyond the material word.
“For this they seem deeper more well-rounded individuals. Hence I have now re clarified a ‘Healthy Bastard’ as someone who not only takes care of their physical health, but also has some view beyond the material world and develops this mental/spiritual aspect in their lives.”
The best of both worlds
“I trained as a GP in Lower Hutt, and during that period I was trying to work out in my head how I could get a general practice where I’m experiencing beautiful outdoors.”
Dave was originally training to be a cardiologist, but as the exam was on the same day as his pilot licence, he chose the latter and joined the Air Force to, as he puts it, “get that out of my system”.
“I ended up buying a practice next to Ohakea (Air Force Base near Palmerston North), and through that I developed not only a medical centre but also the concept of a flying doctor service.”
Not, as you may assume, a doctor who flies around rescuing outdoorsmen, the Flying Doctor service actually goes around the country to rural airports and doing medicals for pilots.
Not only does this combine his dual pilot/doctor career, but also provides him the opportunity to undertake his other passion: hunting.
“Last week I did deep south. I was airborne at 4am, straight to Franz Josef Glacier to do some medicals, through the ranges to Wanaka, then to Te Anau to stay the night, then up to the Southern Alps to do a bit of hunting, and then ended up at Rangiora and Home Lake the next night.
“That’s not too bad.
“One of my greatest thrills is getting airborne in the dark Palmerston North, then flying over Wellington a bit after 6am when the rush hour is starting. I’m in the aeroplane at 10,000 feet having a cup of coffee with the autopilot on, and I look down at all those guys heading off to their corporate rat hole, and I think ‘this is awesome’.”
Creating ‘Healthy Bastards’
Throughout Dave’s travels, he saw a disturbing trend in Kiwi men: a reluctance to talk about their health, often with dire consequences.
“I got sick of signing off death certificates for young men.”
Dave knew he had to do something to change things, and the ‘Healthy Bastards’ campaign was born.
“I thought no one’s doing the non-PC thing, so I’ll do talks around the country where I show some grubby videos and get the guys on board with health stuff.”
As well as the book, Dave has a website where he has published an ‘Online Medical Textbook for the Common Man’ to, as it says on the site, “promote good health messages to all you unhealthy bastards out there.”
The loss of a best mate
But then something tragic happened, totally out of the blue, that changed Dave’s life.
“This whole business was set up on the dream of both my son Marc and I, and we had this awesome thing going.
“The out of the blue, random, no one picked it, he bloody shot himself.”
The shock turn of events resulted in Dave returning to the keyboard, and although he admits to not really having an outline of where it would go, he ended up updating Healthy Bastards with new awareness and focus on mental health.
“Over the past 20 years I developed the Healthy Bastard campaign, which Marc was instrumental in helping, going around talking to prisons, to anyone on the street I could, lots of groups around the country, and trying to get across good health messages in non-PC ways.
“But it’s always been on the physical side, even though you talk about depression and suicide.”
“By the end of the first manuscript that I wrote 75,616 words and one full stop, I realised I could re-clarify in my head what was a ‘healthy bastard’.
When asked if it was hard to write about his son, Dave was quick to reply.
“Nah not really. Marc and I had an awesome relationship. We weren’t father and son, we were best brothers. We did everything together. We hunted together, we worked together, we flew together.
“When the cops did say that he’d shot himself, I was more confused than anything.
“The best thing I ever did was check where he shot himself, and the next best thing was to go and spend time with him in the mortuary, because he was my best buddy, he’s not going to be alone.
“It wasn’t until about 11.30 at night that I could actually bawl. It was a strange thing.”