As each one of us is an individual, we might all be called “a one off”, but when it comes to describing Northern Rivers psychiatrist Harry Freeman the word “truly” should certainly be added.
Since arriving in the Northern Rivers in the early 1970s, attracted by the legendary Aquarius Festival in Nimbin and then captured by the lifestyle, Dr Freeman has been regarded as a unique soul.
Highly qualified, never shy of expressing an opinion and, to boot, an immensely talented musician, he was the perfect fit for a region where mental health concerns abound, perhaps fuelled by cannabis use, although he may not agree, having enjoyed a toke or two over the years.
Former Lismore resident and opera administrator, Lyndon Terracini, used to call the area WLOLA, for World’s Largest Outdoor Lunatic Asylum. It gave us all a good laugh, and made us wonder why psychiatrists were so thin on the ground. Then we realised other specialists were too, and now it’s GPs.
No shortage of patients for Harry, then, and he worked hard and well across the public system and in private practice for decades. Never, in my memory, did he ever wear a tie.
Along with his passion for healing the mentally ill, Harry Freeman is an outstandingly talented pianist, performing solo and with a range of bands, often jazz focused, over many years and in many venues, the Nimbin Hall being one of the most regular. He would always bring the house down.
In the days of peak-feminism, he was often dubbed “Freeperson” – indeed, drfreeperson is still his email - but as he once quipped, that made him sound less Jewish and he wasn’t trying to run away from that, although his spirituality is more holistic.
As the saying goes, God (or whomever you may, or may not, choose to believe in) broke the mold when Harry Freeman was created, and our area will not see his like again.
Recently retired GP Andrew Binns adds that, ‘As a GP practising in the region for more than 40 years, words can’t describe how grateful I have been over the years with the knowledge that I could always ring Harry concerning my mentally distressed patients.
‘They tended to be my most difficult to manage patients, and his advice always set me on a pathway to assist them, whether that be with medications, occasionally ECT or talk therapy.
‘When he needed to consult with my patient his creative and unique approach to psychiatry resulted in the best of outcomes. His revealing interview on the ABC RN program Conversations helps us understand his style of psychiatric practice and his great contribution to our regional community.’
NORDOCS, along with his many patients and friends, thanks Harry for his immeasurable service to a community that is as unique and quirky and talented as he is.
Only Harry Freeman can properly tell his story, and he did so to ABC RN presenter Sarah Kanowski in August 2023. The episode was titled “Dr Freakman, hippie psychiatrist” It is an account of a truly extraordinary life.