When Professor Leonard George Notaras AO and I sat down for our exclusive interview, I must admit I was in awe. He had just been recognised in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his distinguished service to medical administration in the Northern Territory. A deeper Google search showed that during his career he had also worked closely with former Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and even Prince Charles.
These are all amazing accolades which make Professor Notaras a true role model and inspiration for any young Greek Australian who wants to enter the field of medicine. But does the man himself agree?
Professor Notaras tells The Greek Herald that whilst it’s a huge honour to have his work recognised, he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support of his colleagues and Kytherian family.
“I can’t overstate the pride with which I hold all of this, but I’ve also got to say that I never take it for granted. I’m very privileged to have achieved what I’ve achieved… but it is a privilege that I share with the people I have the ability to work with,” Professor Notaras says.
“My father passed away in 1964 and like a lot of other good Kytherians and Greek folk, he ran restaurants and cafes and as a 12–13-year-old, I took over working in those restaurants with my mother… and I had to grow up pretty quickly.
“I guess where I am today, having the privilege of these acknowledgements and having been able to become a doctor and to do other degrees, shows what you can do from relatively humble beginnings in this country and I think that’s a wonderful thing.”
Leading the NT’s Howard Springs quarantine facility:
Speaking of humble beginnings, Professor Notaras says while he was working in his dad’s shop, he studied law until sad family circumstances saw him study medicine as well.
“I did that in part because of my father’s death. He was only 50 and he died when we closed our business one night. I always felt badly, like there was something more I could do,” Professor Notaras says.
“The other reason behind it is that I didn’t know that I could actually do it… It was a privilege to be able to get into the course and to be able to pass it was phenomenal to me.”
What else is phenomenal is the amazing career Professor Notaras has had ever since he completed his medicine degree. The proud Kytherian has held positions in institutions such as the NT Department of Health, the Australian Medical Association NT and Royal Darwin Hospital.
But the one role he’s most proud of is the one he currently holds as Executive Director of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC) in Darwin.
The Centre was set up by Professor Notaras and then-Prime Minister John Howard in 2004 and since then, the Professor has led Australia’s response to disasters such as the 2002 Bali Bombings and the 2019 Samoan measles outbreak. But of course, his most pressing challenge currently is coordinating Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and repatriation.
At the start of the pandemic in early 2020, Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, reached out to Professor Notaras and asked him and his team from the NCCTRC to help evacuate Australians out of Wuhan, China.
Later, he also played a key role in supporting thousands of repatriated Australians at the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the NT. This is something Professor Notaras says he is incredibly proud of.
“My team looked at bringing back about 7,100 people with almost 100 cases of COVID-19 and we had no leaks. So we set up the benchmark for the nation and the world in how quarantine should look,” he concludes.
An incredible achievement from a man who deserves to be recognised by the Greek Australian community for his impressive career.