Dialog Box

Aged | Environment | Health & Wellbeing | Rural
The Tree Doctor


$8,330 Raised of
This film is an intimate portrait of my father, John Croall, a Scots immigrant to Whyalla - a steel town in the dusty dry north of South Australia. 

My father delivered three generations of babies in Whyalla in the 40 years he lived there as the resident obstetrician, and in his spare time he also planted thousands of trees in red, barren landscape of the town. 

In 2013, my father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and I moved back home to Whyalla from the UK to look after him. The only way I could cope with his dying was to film with him during the last months of his life. Filming was a way of processing the grief and keeping him with us. My father had been a huge influence on me and I couldn't bear to lose him. 

He was an eccentric man - a humanist and an environmentalist - he trod lightly on the earth and I film him in his last days until he was returned to the earth. He was buried in a cardboard coffin; he'd insisted on it. We buried him on a scorching hot day - it was 49 degrees. Just the sort of desert heat he loved. Dad was gone. All that was left was his trees and the babies he delivered.

As I filmed, I started also to find out more about Dad's work as a doctor; the skills he had and the service he gave to the town. At the same time as my father was dying, the town he loved seemed to be dying too. I discovered that Whyalla no longer even had a resident obstetrician - only one who would fly-in & fly-out. The women of Whyalla no longer had the care they once had in the labour and maternity ward. The caesarean section rate of my father's days (15%) was now up at almost 70% - natural birth was not the norm any more. Localism was disappearing... and not just in Obstetrics.

My film is about birth (babies), trees (growth) and death. It is about the move into a harsh (less personal) era, where a model town ends up in decline and babies are born mainly by appointment via caesarean, delivered by rotating visiting doctors who come in from around the world on a fortnightly roster. Unemployment is on the rise. While I was filming, the steelworks went into administration. The battle to save Whyalla Steelworks was being hard fought by the Mayor, local MP, state govt and members of the community. 

The film uses the footage I filmed of my father in his last months along with archive, animation and interviews - the wider political story is accessed through the portrait of my father and his connections to the Whyalla characters in the film.. (he delivered all their babies!). The outlook was bleak. Does their hard work save the Whyalla steelworks? Will an unexpected buyer save the town at the last moment?

The film is an elegy for a man, a town and a dream – it is about a community, a way of life that we have lost to progress... and it is also about the close, and often very funny, relationship between a father and a daughter.


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

The film looks at the changes in rural medical health care and tells story of the loss of localism  - women of Whyalla no longer have a resident obstetrician or indeed other resident medical specialists to serve them. 

What is the future for medical services for people who live in the rural areas of the country? The film looks at the decline in natural birth rate that comes with the loss of a resident obstetrician. 

The film is also an intimate portrait of an environmentally aware individual and offers a view on how one can contribute to the natural environment around them and make an impact in their life time with tree planting. 

I am looking to align this film with a foundation that has aims around increasing positive impact on conservation; especially in terms of planting Australian Native Trees. I hope the film will be a catalyst for change and get people planting more trees in their life. 

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

The Tree Doctor is a documentary about health and environmentalism but is also entertaining. 

My father was an eccentric Glaswegian in the Australian bush. 

He had some extreme, unique views on recycling and water conservation and they are captured in the film. 

He also had a strong belief that babies if possible should be born in the most natural way without too much intervention. By the time he retired, he said others considered his approach one of a "dinosaur" in modern medicine which was seeing the  ceasarean section rates rising dramatically. 

He is an entertaining character on screen. The film takes the viewer on a journey but it will leave the viewer contemplating how they could change their own lifestyle to have a more positive impact on the environment around them and how can they make a difference personally in terms of biodiversity and conservation.


What is your education and outreach strategy?

I plan to launch the film in a number of film festivals around the world. 

I would like to also team up with a health foundation - one interested in women's heath in particular obstetrics and gynaecology. 

I also hope to team up with an environmental foundation - particularly one with a focus on trees and Australian Natives. The screenings of this film could be events around the country to stimulate discussion around natural child birth, and personal tree planting missions. 

Heather Croall (Writer: Karin Altmann)
Heather Croall/ Rebecca Elliott & EP Margie Bryant
Total budget
70 Minutes