Bendigo ENT surgeon Ngalu Havea retires

Ngalu Havea feels guilty retiring, but he’s absolutely glad to move on to a new phase in life.

The ear, nose and throat surgeon has practised in Bendigo for 28 years now.

Two weeks ago, he shut up his surgery.

In his time in Bendigo, Mr Havea has treated over 25,000 people.

He first came to Bendigo on July 1, 1990.

Previously he had been in Melbourne for seven years, working at the Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne.

It was in this position that he had fallen in love with ENT surgery, and trained to specialise in the field.

Mr Havea had always however planned to be a surgeon.

He completed his primary and secondary education in Tonga, before studying medicine in Fiji. 

When he was offered a scholarship by the World Health Organisation, he jumped at the chance to study at Monash University.

After completing his medical studies there, he returned to Tonga in 1978 for three years, where he began his surgical training.

He found working in the nation frustrating however. He recalls shortages that would see them without simple supplies like antibiotics for three or four weeks at a time.

So, he returned to Melbourne for work.

He had planned to specialise in general surgery or orthopedics, but his time at Melbourne’s Eye and Ear Hospital changed that.

The fine, detailed work, was part of what drew Mr Havea to ENT.

“If you’re trained in ENT surgery, nobody else can do the work,” he said.

“It’s very specialised.”

However, the reason he has stayed in the field so long is simple. 

It’s “making people better” that Mr Havea loves.

He particularly sees this with children experiencing deafness.

After treatment, he sees not only their hearing, but their speech improve dramatically.

“Some people come in with deafness and you make them [better], especially young kids have fluid in their middle ears,” Mr Havea said. 

“You just put a grommet in, and do some other operation and just make them better, and they speak.

“That, and other things, when you make people better, you just enjoy it.”

Thankfully the people of Bendigo and the surrounding area supported me, and that’s one of the things that I feel bad about, when I retire.

Ngalu Havea

At 67, he has decided it’s time to retire. After experiencing health problems a few years ago, Mr Havea decided he needed to take the chance to enjoy life.

“I’m looking forward to this new phase of life, of doing something non medical, and seeing my kids a lot more often,” Mr Havea said.

It’s also a retirement for June Havea, only in the most technical sense though: she’s never been busier.

Mrs Havea came to Bendigo just six months after Mr Havea. She has worked with him in the practise during that time.

For a Canberra and Melbourne girl, Bendigo took some adjustment.

“For the first two years… you could have shot me back to Melbourne any minute. I was completely missing my friends and family,” she said. 

After her kids began school, she found herself making friends and finding her own place in the community.

Now, after years in the city, Mrs Havea wouldn’t leave it for the world.

“Before we downsized we thought ‘we could go anywhere we wanted’,” she said.

“’We could go to France, or Italy or Queensland, but why would we leave all our friends in Bendigo?’ So we can’t leave Bendigo for that reason.

“Twenty-five years of friendship, you can’t just throw that away. We know people who’ve done it and they just keep coming back because they miss that sense of community.”

When he first came to Bendigo, Mr Havea rented premises on Rowan Street with another ENT surgeon.

He then bought a house on Wattle Street, which he converted to a surgery.

It’s from here that Mr Havea practised for 26 years. In latter years, he has begun to see many of the children of children he saw in his early days. 

Kids with glue ear, tonsillectomies, blocked noses and sinusitis have been among the complaints he has most often treated. 

When he moved to Bendigo, Mr Havea had three children. Now, he has five, the last two having grown up in the city.

Working in a small city, his patients have become friends.

He has appreciated the support of the community, right from his early days, so much so, he almost feels guilty retiring.

However, it was the right time to make the move.

“It’s in place, Bendigo is a nice friendly town,” he said.

“Thankfully the people of Bendigo and the surrounding area supported me, and that’s one of the things that I feel bad about, when I retire.

“There is another phase of life, so I decided to retire this year.”

Mr Havea is undoubtedly glad to leave the medical profession behind.

He jokes, however, that life is easier when you work, because your day is set out for you.

He and Mrs Havea definitely have plenty to do.

They’ll travel of course – their next trip planned is a visit to Tonga to swim with humpback whales.

Mr Havea is also looking forward to seeing more of his five children, three in Melbourne, one in Sydney and one in Germany.

There’s also another grandchild on the way, who will bring the total up to two.

“We’re looking forward to travelling, and just not having to rush all the time, and time to stop and smell the roses and enjoy our garden,” Mrs Havea said.

When he’s not smelling the roses, Mr Havea is also keen to spend some time improving his golf handicap.

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