Like thousands of older Australians, Graeme Kuchel has spent the last few years of his life traveling the country as part of his retirement.
- Travelers with known medical conditions should prepare for longer stays without medical care
- Rising fuel prices are making it difficult for pensioners to return home
- Health experts say not all regional cities are equipped to handle the health needs of the gray nomads
But with the cost of living rising, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the 74-year-old to move from one place to another.
“With the cost of fuel, everything else has gone up, like your supermarket stuff and all your vehicle repairs,” Mr. Kuchel said.
“It’s tight, sometimes very tight.”
Mr. Kuchel is originally from Langhorne Creek, 60 kilometers southeast of Adelaide and has lived in Queensland for the past four years.
He traveled to Western Australia via the Northern Territory.
He said when the cost of filling his converted bus rose above $500 a tank, he was forced to stay in the state longer than expected.
“I came here in February and now I’m probably going to spend almost 12 months here in Western Australia because it’s just become too expensive to travel all the way back,” he said.
fuel or medicine
Mr Kuchel worked as a farmer and truck driver for most of his life and now lives on a pension which he says has not kept pace with rising inflation.
The South Australian, who has osteoarthritis and a heart condition, said access to medical care and medicines has also become an issue – particularly in rural areas.
“I rely on the public system and while living in the bush these services are not freely available,” he said.
“Once you start looking at cardiologists and the different specialists, you might have to travel thousands of miles unless you’re coming into a regional area.”
Mr Kuchel has been able to stay on top of his treatment by holding a conference call with his doctor in Cairns and having scripts sent west, but the government support he is receiving for his treatment is about to end.
“I’ve only got about three months left of that particular government aide and then I have to pay the extra and that worries me because once you start paying extra, snowballs usually start falling,” he said.
Rural Doctors Association of Australia chief executive Peta Rutherford said for those on a regular income, healthcare is often one of the first victims of rising costs, which often leads to poorer health outcomes.
“The reality is that if there are expenses, and even for a prescription, we certainly get many, many reports that they are procrastinating when things get tight,” she said.
“If something doesn’t go right, we could see her in the ER as opposed to a regular appointment with her GP.”
Ms Rutherford said it was not uncommon for elderly people traveling through the country to fall ill, but people with known health conditions should take precautions.
She said rural doctors and pharmacists have done their best to accommodate travelers, but many rural communities have limited or no medical resources.
“Most of our small rural communities certainly don’t have access to consulting specialists, they don’t have access to things like MRI or CT machines,” she said.
“The local doctor and community nurse will try to adapt, but sometimes it’s just not possible.”
Caravan Industry Association of WA chief executive Julian Barry said for people traveling long distances on a budget, preparation is key.
He said traveling shorter distances or staying in a certain area means travelers are closer to assistance in the event of an accident or rising costs.
However, for people with known health conditions it is essential to have sufficient medication to complete the journey, Mr Barry said, but most people plan ahead.
“We’re actually seeing manufacturers making defibrillators that fit in the glove box and are relatively cheap,” he said.
“People get to that level of planning when they go on a trip.”