Velimir Pajic developed his love of nature while growing up in Yugoslavia in the 1970s. Coming from a family of outdoorsmen, he loved spending time in the forest and fishing with his dad and uncles. By the time he was 16, he was educating himself about natural medicine, voraciously reading a massive plant encyclopedia his parents gave him as a gift.
In 1985, Vel entered the University of Tuzla to study medicine and moved to the University of Belgrade some years later. As a little boy, he developed his bedside manner coming to the aid of his friends who were injured on the playground. His early interest in natural medicine, combined with a fascination of the microscopic world, set him on a lifelong path to help improve the health and wellbeing of people. Vel knew by Year 8 he wanted to be a medical doctor. By the time he completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) degree in 1992, his family had already fled the country to escape civil war.
Arriving in Australia as a refugee
Vel joined his family in Port Hedland, Western Australia, on 14 December 1992 as a displaced person. The medical school graduate had little command of the English language, but he had his fishing backpack, $90 in his pocket and a smile on his face. He also had a strong desire to make a place for himself in his new country, Australia.
Learning English was a top priority for Vel and it would take more than three years of study before he was proficient enough to be accepted at an Australian university.
Vel learned his medical degree from Yugoslavia would not be recognised in Australia. His options were to either start over at medical school or find a new course of study. In 1995, he applied to study physiotherapy at Curtin University, a highly competitive program where 215 people applied while only 15 placements were granted. After sitting through grueling interviews in his new language, he was accepted. His life was back on course.
Just when he was hitting his stride at university, he found a growth the size of a tennis ball under his rib cage. He knew he was in trouble so he got a deferral from his studies and began making a bucket list.
Turning into a bear
After Vel had his tumour removed, he met with his surgeon to get his prognosis. The consensus was unanimous – he was turning into a bear. Vel did not have cancer, but a benign tumour called hibernoma, which is rare in humans but common in bears. Once the 8x6 centimetre tumour was removed, Vel was given a clean bill of health with no need for chemo, more surgeries or medication. It was the real first day of his life in Australia.
Karma and soccer
In 1998, armed with a deferral and a new lease on life, Vel started working full-time as a physio assistant for Rocky Bay, a leading provider of disability services including muscular dystrophy. A believer in karma, he wanted to give something back since he’d been so fortunate. He was providing stretching programs for kids with muscular dystrophy. As a sports fan, he also began looking after premier division soccer clubs – and that’s how Better Nature started.
In August of 1998, Vel was asked by the coach of Swan IC to rub all the players down. He was given a 500g tub of a topical analgesic which he applied to all the players. Vel’s hands and arms were burning, even though he had repeatedly washed his hands. Then they went numb.
Back to nature
Vel was alarmed at the reaction he was experiencing, but he was also concerned because he had no idea how long it would last. That emotional reaction triggered an avalanche of ideas, some inspired by his medical degree but many of them drawing on his youthful hobby of studying plant-based medicine. Watching the soccer match, he vowed to never let anyone else suffer the same way. He committed to going back to university to finish his program.
Vel knew he wanted to develop a plant-based topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory cream. He wanted to create something to use on the body that could be applied to multiple patients and sportspeople. It had to be something that could be used repeatedly throughout the day by healthcare professionals and not create an adverse reaction for them. Vel wanted to create something that can be used in a private clinic setting, as well as on the sports field, without having a concern about the kind of consequences he experienced himself.
Setting out to develop a new pain relief range, Vel envisioned products that are gentle on hands, evidence-based, made with quality naturally sourced ingredients, and manufactured in Australia.
Fast-forward seven years
From 1998 to 2005, Vel put his plan in place for a plant-based analgesic with 23 different points to satisfy patients. The initial formula of Better Nature, originally called Velbexx-17, took seven years to develop. The first two years he spent studying the theory behind how to develop a plant-based medicine, a luxury he had because he was still studying at Curtin University. He scoped many different plants and studied everything he could, including the process of plant extraction and how products are made.
Once Vel graduated from uni, he self-funded his development activities while working as a registered physiotherapist. The samples and prototypes used in his own clinic gave him the opportunity for continual refinement of the foundation of the formula at a very granular level. Vel credits the early success of his formulations to never being rushed and having continual patient feedback. He knew exactly the drag feel of the product, the scent, the texture and how to use it for each body part. Vel kept building slowly, perfecting the formula at every turn.
Big results and bigger dreams
Velbexx-17 launched in 2005 and was an immediate hit. Vel started using it at the Hopman Cup on the world’s top tennis players. Today Tonight featured Vel in a segment that led to more growth. He signed distribution contracts with Pharmacy 777. Vel had a loyal following from international sports stars, physios and other allied health professionals. His dream of creating a plant-based analgesic manufactured in Australia had come true – but he was convinced he could make a bigger impact.
By 2017, Vel knew there was an opportunity to expand. He needed a partner who shared his vision of creating plant-based medicines and products, and who could give him more time in the lab. Long-time friend and physio, Moz Quinn, introduced Vel to Tony Dale, a Perth-based businessman who recognised the potential in Vel’s formulations. In 2018, Vel and Tony joined forces to create a new company called Better Nature. In addition to rebranding the products from Velbexx-17 to Better Nature Pain Relief, Vel was able to modify the formulation of his products to make them 100% naturally sourced. Better Nature products are a key part of the brands developed under the locally-owned Netura Group (www.netura.com.au).
Today, Better Nature Pain Relief products are well-known to a large community of allied healthcare professionals and their patients who want a gentle but effective topical analgesic that’s 100% naturally made.