It has taken Gratian (“gray-sh’n”) Punch more than two decades to return to Alstonville, the plateau village between Ballina and Lismore, where he was raised. He now lives less than a kilometer from his old family home, and on weekends, out cycling with his wife and young son, is likely to run across his mother.
If this sounds like he’s led a sheltered life, take note… after moving from Lismore’s Trinity Catholic College to a boarding school in Sydney (St Ignatius, Riverview) he entered the University of Sydney, completing degrees in Medical Science (First Class Honours) and Medicine before undertaking specialty training in general surgery, incorporating invasive training across all disciplines.
There were, however, unexpected diversions along the way.
While a med student in Sydney he took an after-hours job as a security guard at the legendary Capitol Theatre, seeing lots of top-notch shows. The last he attended was Chicago, which he remembers fondly.
“On that night there was an Army recruitment van outside, and out of curiosity I went over. They said if I joined the Reserve I’d get paid $2000 for a six-week stint, and be fed,” he recalls.
“I was hooked.”
Dr Punch would serve from 2001-2009, not as a medico but in the tactical management of 70 Reservists at Wollongong-based Bravo Company. In 2004 he was awarded Officer of the Year 4th/3rd Battalion, Royal NSW Regiment, and two years later received the Australian Defence Medal.
More military service was to come, this time overseas.
From Feb-Aug 2007, as a Lieutenant (later Captain) Infantry Platoon Commander he was deployed to the Solomon Islands as part of the RAMSI peacekeeping mission - “fortunately we saw no shots fired in anger, at least from our side” - and gained the Australian Service Medal with Clasp Solomon Islands.
He agrees that Alstonville is “gloriously quiet” by comparison.
Having a young family and a busy working life has curtailed his sporting interests - mainly rugby and cricket (“To be a Punch and not play cricket would have had you excommunicated’”) but still cycles when possible, although he is aware of the dangers on our roads. Mostly he sticks to the stationary version.
Professionally he has various passions, not least hepatic (“As we know, there’s a high burden of hepatitis in the area”), pancreatic and biliary surgery, and is impressed by the advances in this field over recent years: “There’s a lot we can now do here in Lismore, rather than referring patients away.”
Bariatric surgery is another specialty, a shared interest with Dr Candice Silverman who works out of the Tweed Hospital and John Flynn Medical Centre. Procedurally and post-operatively the pair ‘share’ patients.
Delighted to have returned to his roots, Dr Punch works from Dr Austin Curtin’s rooms at St Vincent’s Private Hospital, having done a locum for the highly respected surgeon, now moving to retirement, when he was deployed to Iraq with the Army - in his case with the Medical Corps, not the Infantry.
Dr Gratian Punch is working as a general surgeon across public hospitals in the Richmond Valley and at St Vincent’s Private Hospital.