Q&A: Sea change on Phillip Island


What is island life like for the pharmacists living and working alongside the penguins? AJP speaks with Greg Kossena, managing partner of Priceline Pharmacy Cowes.

1) How long has the pharmacy been on Phillip Island?

Cowes Pharmacy (currently Priceline Pharmacy Cowes) has been serving the community of Phillip Island for over 70 years. We have been lucky enough to both work alongside and “serve” (as customers!), the many previous owners of the pharmacy, dating back to the early 1960s!

I have been involved as the managing partner here for the last 11 years. We converted the store to Priceline Pharmacy from Amcal in August 2012 (we had operated as Amcal since 2006). Greg Hunt is our local MP and whilst not Health Minister at the time, he assisted in the Grand Opening (cutting of the ribbon and cake!).

The Priceline Pharmacy Cowes team

2) When and how did you first get involved in pharmacy ownership?

I had worked for George Tambassis at one of his Brunswick pharmacies, which is the closest pharmacy to Monash University Parkville where I was completing my PhD in pharmaceutics since 2000. While my original goal was to continue on my way into the pharmaceutical research industry, we had already had our first son and the majority of research positions in my field were overseas. The attraction to work locally became greater with the advent of a new family.

I had always had an inkling of wanting to get into pharmacy ownership, but it always seemed an unreachable goal.

However I was lucky enough to have a partnership opportunity arise with George and partners, and not only that, but it also happened to be the opportunity for a sea change – something we had planned to eventually have, albeit later in life!

In addition to myself and George Tambassis, the other proprietors of Priceline Pharmacy Cowes are John Laino, Allan Hau, Ziggy (Tze Guang) Wong, Owen Bentley and Rick Fitzgerald.

Managing partner Greg Kossena with a patient

3) What kind of people come into the pharmacy?

We have a broad range of customers, from the many regular locals (primarily made up of retirees enjoying their sea change) to the large “waves” of tourists both local and overseas.

The island is home to Victoria’s number one tourist attraction (the “little penguins”), which brings in busloads of tourists 365 days a year from all corners of the globe, including a very larger number from Asia.

It also hosts the Australian MotoGP circuit. The Grand Prix circuit plays host to non-stop events, from the world motorcycle championship, to amazing prestige, custom and elite car shows. 

4) What are the busy and quiet times of the year?

The population of the island generally swells by a staggering 10 fold during the busy summer months from December to January, with Easter holidays and the international motorcycle event weeks (MotoGP and World Superbikes) running a close second.

5) How does working on Phillip Island compare to working in Melbourne CBD, for example?

Prior to having our sea change, I was working in a busy pharmacy in the inner city suburb of Brunswick while completing my PhD at Monash University Parkville. One might say the two different environments are “poles” apart. Most noticeable is the difference in customer base. Being on an island, the community (and consequently the local pharmacy) are very close-knit. Everybody knows everybody! We don’t have any late night shopping, nightclubs and, until recently, did not even have a single traffic light!

Phillip Island is famous for hosting the world’s smallest penguins. Source: Wildvik.

6) Do you live close-by, and what is your commute like?

While there are many beautiful spots to live on all sides of the island, I live within a walking distance of the pharmacy. This is important as there is only one road on and off the island, connected to the mainland by a single bridge. In the busy times of summer and track events, it has been known to take almost four hours to get on or off the island!

7) Do you give advice to patients and customers on things to do while on the island?

Having three kids, I have tried to do everything possible on the island, so being in the pharmacy can be a great support to the local tourist information centre! So while stocking up on seasick tablets, many people will come into the pharmacy to find out the best local tips for anything from surfing to fishing and, most importantly, where to get the best fish and chips!

8)  Do you visit the penguins often?

Visiting the Penguin Parade is still fun despite it being in our “backyard”. It is always a regular event for us whenever we host a visitor and our kids never get sick of seeing them! Most importantly while gradually completing the 100km trek of the amazing coastline of the island, we have also discovered many of the “secret” locations where these fascinating creatures can be spotted!

The Nobbies at Phillip Island. Source: Chensiyuan

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