A Country Practice was a television serial drama that ran on the Seven Network for 1,058 episodes at 7.30 pm Monday and Tuesday nights, from 18 November 1981 to 22 November 1993.
Production was filmed both at ATN-7 at Epping, Sydney and on locations at Pitt Town and Oakville on the outskirts of Northwest Sydney. Several of the regular cast members became highly popular celebrities through their roles in the series. It also featured a number of native Australian animals adding to its enduring appeal both domestically and internationally. After the series was cancelled by the Seven Network in 1993 a reworked version of the series ran briefly on Network Ten and filmed on location at Emerald in Victoria, airing in 1994.
The series followed the workings of a small hospital in the fictional rural country town of Wandin Valley as well as its connected medical clinic, the town’s veterinary surgery, RSL club/pub and local police station. The show’s storylines focused on the staff, and regular patients of the hospital and general practice, their families, and other residents of the town. Through its weekly guest actors, who appeared in the series portrayed differing characters, it explored various social and medical problems. The series examined such topical issues as youth unemployment, suicide, drug addiction, and terminal illness, as well as Aborigines and their importance in modern Australian society. Apart from its regular rotating cast, mainly among the younger personnel, A Country Practice also had a cast of semi-regulars who would make appearances as the storylines permitted. One of the more popular and frequent characters from its inception included the valley’s corrupt town councillor Alfred Muldoon (Brian Moll).
The program as well would also showcase a number of animal stars and Australian native wildlife, most famously Fatso the wombat. Fatso was played throughout the series by three separate wombats, Fatso (1981–1986) replaced due to temperament issues with the cast, George (1986–1990) replaced due to early signs of wombat mange (a marsupial viral disease), and Garth (1990 through series end). Originally “belonged” to Dr Simon Bowen but Shirley and Frank Gilroy took him in when Simon and Vicky moved to the U. S.
Iconic storylines over its lengthy 12-year run included the wedding of Dr. Simon Bowen, to local vet Vicki Dean, in 1983, and the later wedding of Dr. Terence Elliot to Matron Rosemary Prior amidst the series’ bushfire scenes that marked the final episodes. The death of nurse Donna Manning in a car crash, the off-screen death of longtime resident Shirley Gilroy in a plane crash, as well as the final undoing of town councillor Alfred Muldoon, which were highly watched.
The highest rating episode however featured the death of beloved farmer Molly Jones from leukemia in 1985. After being diagnosed, receiving treatment and battling the terminal illness, Molly retires to her garden, watching her husband nurse Brenden and young daughter Chloe flying a kite and passes away peacefully as the screen fades to black. Molly’s death storyline was originally written for an 11-week script, but producers realized that her death was proposed in a week the ratings were not being monitored, hence the storyline lasted 13 weeks and an extra two episodes.
In 1994 the series briefly returned for 30 more episodes with Robyn Sinclair and James Davern as Executive Producers on the Ten Network but with wholesale changes made to the format and the location change from New South Wales to Victoria and the only original cast members to return were Esme Watson (Joyce Jacobs) and Matron Margaret “Maggie” Sloan (Joan Sydney) the show never really stood a chance, it went to just one episode per week, before being cancelled altogether.
Over A Country Practice 13 year run the show became renowned for its long list of guest cameos, totalling over 1000 stars. Some actors became more prominent during the series runs, and were classified as semi-regulars, appearing as the storyline permitted, such as Baz Luhrmann, Smokey Dawson, John Meillon, Sir Robert Helpmann, Nicole Kidman, Paul Kelly, Toni Collette, Delta Goodrem, Peter Phelps and Simon Baker. At the program’s height even the then Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, appeared as himself.
When filming finished in 1994, A Country Practice was the longest running Australian drama. At its height the show attracted 8–10 million viewers weekly, when the population of the time was a mere 15 million, and was eventually sold to 48 countries. A Country Practice is also the third most successful television program in the history of the Logie Awards, after Home and Away (1st) and Neighbours (2nd), having won 29 awards during its twelve years of production.
James Davern creator, writer and original executive producer of A Country Practice was inducted into the Logie Hall of Fame in 1991 and was honoured as an Order of Australia recipient in 2014. A Country Practice was ranked 14th in the 50 Years 50 Shows poll in 2005.