What a delight to meet the fascinating Dr Lorika Strickland in the beautiful gardens of historic Franklin House. It seems Dr Strickland has a penchant for Devonshire Tea, and why not, after spending most of her working life, in some pretty remote places on earth. For this bubbly dental surgeon, who doesn’t think she has a story to tell, her life to date has been filled with adventure.
Lorika was born in a small rural settlement outside Johannesburg. She and her two sisters and brother had an idyllic rural upbringing, attending school without shoes and with the freedom to enjoy all that a rural life can give. She attributes her childhood to her love of bushwalking, cross country skiing, driving huskies, skiing crevasse country, running marathons—I could go on, but I digress!
After following in her elder sister’s footsteps, Lorika attended the University of Pretoria to also study Dentistry. At the completion of her degree, she and three friends immediately left South Africa for the United Kingdom, and she quickly settled into a practice an hour from London, working for the National Health system in a busy practice. “It was a great start for my career. I spent 2 ½ years there and learnt so much. I discovered that there is so much more to dentistry than just the dental work. After all, there is discomfort for the patient and it’s very hands on. I learnt how to reassure patients before procedures, and I developed so much respect for oral therapists, who spend time preparing the young for what is a life time of future care”.
At the end of her contract, Lorika made the decision to join the Royal Army Dental Corps (RADC). Her six month training with the military meant a considerable time spent at the much lauded Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where she won the Sandhurst Cup for best RADC dental officer, which she tells me blushingly.
Her first posting was to Rheindahlen in Germany at joint headquarters. Working as a dental surgeon along side officers from other countries, Lorika, now a Major, treated soldiers and their families. Whilst on secondment to Cyprus she met her future husband, Jim, who was also in the British Army. There followed an idyllic two years in Cyprus together before returning to Germany and the city of Hamelin, for a further two years. Jim left the army on their return, and completed his MBA. For Lorika and for Jim it was the start of preparing themselves to be apart, often for weeks, and even months at a time.
With a further posting to Shatt al-Arab in Iraq, where the poor misfiring of rockets and the sight of collateral damage was an every day event, it must have been with some relief to end up in Canada. A country that provided not only a cultural education but where the army base near Calgary, also provided the opportunity of playing ice hockey, sitting opposite HRH Prince Harry, eating prairie oysters, running the New York Marathon, and helping with rodeos. “My rock during all this time was Jim. He’s been my greatest supporter. Fortunately he understands army life having a long family history in the military. I could not have done what I did without his immense understanding. Jim was in Afghanistan most of the time I was in Canada, which meant long months of separation”.
Lorika returned in 2011 to Cambridge where she met one of her great mentors—Colonel Blashford-Snell OBE, an explorer and author, who founded the Scientific Exploration Society. Joining a multi disciplinary group under the Colonel, Lorika visited countries such as Bolivia, where she met a nurse from the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Australia. She credits this with the future she now has here in Tasmania.“My other great mentor was Group Captain Elliot Jones who led forensic dental teams to disasters around the world such as the tsunami in 2004 in Thailand. He became a role model for me in my early days in London along with Armenian born Colonel Kassasin. I wanted to please them both so much, as they were so inspirational to me”.
During her secondment to Cambridge, Lorika and Jim, who was working in Somalia, realised that seeing each, often only two weeks out of ten, needed to make a change.
In 2012, Lorika applied to come to Townsville. With the recognition of her qualifications in the Australian Army meaning she would have to do some years of re-study, she made the decision to leave the army and joined QLD Dental Health. With a shortage of dentists at the time, Lorika was able to work under close supervision for three months and sit a tough exam twelve months later.And so began a love affair with Australia.
As the travelling dentist out of Cairns, she visited many outback places from Croydon to Cape York. A great start to her future with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. “My mentor, Dr Timothy Winstanley, played a pivotal role in advancing my surgical skills whilst working in Queensland. He is currently the Principal Dentist at the Cairns Community Oral Health Clinic and has supported many dentist and auxiliary staff in all areas of personal and professional matters. He’s a fine example of a decent human being”.
Jim meanwhile was working with the United Nations in Mogadishu and Lorika having gained her Australian citizenship spent her spare time travelling there to help set up a dental clinic.“I’ve seen lots of Australia. There is so much freedom here. I’ve hiked in the Himalayas, but here in Australia, everything is available to anyone. I’m so thrilled to be working with the RFDS. Tasmania is beautiful and reminds me in so many ways of the beauty of the English countryside.”
The RFDS Tasmania looks forward to the very delightful Dr Strickland commencing work on the 1st December. Her easy going, self-effacing manner will be a joy for all those patients lucky enough to be treated by her.