People often say to me, “Oh, I can’t sing” and I laugh and say, “I thought that too, once!” Now you can’t shut me up when I get on stage. I was a very shy child and most of my life; I had this great sense of inferiority. You can’t get up and sing until you’ve dealt with your self-esteem issues.
Brisbane doctor Duncan Stewart
I graduated as doctor from the University of Queensland in 1973 and after a few years working clinically with patients in western Queensland, I moved into hospital and healthcare management in Brisbane and Sydney. I then ran a successful consulting business in quality improvement and patient safety for 20 years. I travelled all over Australia and New Zealand and the US and would speak to thousands of people at conferences. I was successful on all external indicators but I always felt this great emptiness inside.
When I was 50, I stumbled across this thing called Hoffman Process, which was a one-week residential at Byron Bay run by psychotherapists, and it changed my life. It made me realise that my sense of feeling inadequate was just a story I had made up for myself and I’d believed it.
I had a great childhood but the problem for me was my grandfather was Duncan Thomas, a famous rugby league genius who played for Australia and went on to be a legendary coach and selector. Because of him, as a child I’d always felt this weight of expectation and felt I was hopeless in comparison. Hoffman sort of unlocked me. When I left, I felt like I was walking on cloud nine and I relaxed into myself and became the person I was meant to be.
I’d always been attracted to music and at university I’d organised the med balls and inter-college cabarets, but always behind the scenes. After Hoffman I thought, I wonder if I can sing? So, I found a singing coach and he said, “of course you can sing” and from that moment you couldn’t stop me. I kept working in health care – I was the deputy director of medical services at RBWH [Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, 2005-2010] and then director of of medical services for Fraser Coast Health Service [2011-2012], but singing was a huge passion I did whenever I got the chance. I’d go into cafes or restaurants on the Gold Coast and Brisbane and make them an offer they couldn’t refuse: “I’ll be your resident entertainer – you don’t have to pay me; just let me sing”.
I love performing ‘50s and ’60s music with a soft spot for Elvis, so I specialise in him. My mum, Joan Stuart, 96, is in an aged care service at Burleigh so I go down there every couple of months and do a [free] concert. Every Christmas Day I do a special Elvis concert for them and walk around the place with a portable microphone and give all the residents a gift. They love it and I love it. For the past five years I’ve also been one of the singers in Brisbane City Council’s annual Lord Mayor’s Seniors Cabaret, which gives seniors with an interest in singing free coaching and then we go around town doing concerts. It’s so much fun that it inspired me to start up weekly open-mic sessions at two Men’s Sheds I’m involved in. We have one at [westside] indooroopilly every Friday afternoon and another at South Brisbane every Tuesday. It’s open to the public and the only rule is that every performer gets the same applause.
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I retired, then deregistered myself as a doctor six years ago. Now, the highlight of my week is when my wife, Alina Sarosiek, 65, and I babysit [Alina’s two-year-old biological grandson] Xavier. I don’t take any other appointments that day because he’s so much fun to look after. I never had children of my own because my first wife and I weren’t able to, so it’s a total joy to have Xavier in our lives.
Alina and I met when I was singing in a cafe at [Brisbane’s] Roma Street Parkland five years ago. She happened to walk in and I sang her a couple of songs and we just clicked. We got married by Elvis in Las Vegas in 2014. We thought, stuff this, [it’s our] second marriage, let’s have some fun! I love Alina dearly. I couldn’t have predicted the way my life has turned out. It’s a delight.
First appeared in: 23 June 2018 in The Courier Mail’s Q Weekend magazine
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