‘There are cultures in which the great heroes of the nation are warriors, honoured for their triumphs on the battlefield. Australia is not one of them. After World War I, Albert Jacka received a Victoria Cross for the way he had taken on and killed the enemy in combat. Today few people know of him. Our household names are not fighters but saviours: Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli, army surgeon Weary Dunlop on the Burma Railway … the hero is, above all, someone who does things for others rather than for himself.’ (Karen Kissane, ‘Accidental Heroes’, The Age, October 26 2002).
Today there are many famous Australians, several in the field of medicine, who are remembered as national heroes. They used their skills to save or enrich the lives of others, a trait in common with that of the ANZAC Spirit. The ANZAC Spirit was born in the hard fought trenches of Gallipoli. It encompasses comradeship, courage, self-sacrifice, laughter and love of life, but most importantly the willingness to help those in need. ANZAC soldiers fought bravely, independently and without fear, to ensure the land they loved would remain a free country for future generations to enjoy. Today the ANZAC Spirit lives on in the schools and sporting fields all around Australia and New Zealand, a tribute to the people who gave of their lives so courageously.
John Simpson has become known as the embodiment of the ANZAC spirit, an ordinary man who did an extraordinary thing – saved the lives of literally hundreds of soldiers. Born John Simpson Kirkpatrick, 6 July 1892, Simpson had an instinctive attachment to animals from an early age. As legend has it, upon arrival at Gallipoli he found a donkey grazing on the beach nearby and used it to help carry injured men. Like many Australians, Simpson had a strong sense of humour and enjoyment of life. When warned of the dangers of working under heavy enemy fire, snipers and shrapnel, he would simply reply ‘my troubles’, and continue working. He would collect wounded men from the line of fire and bring water to the injured. E.C. Buley describes Simpson’s work in ‘Glorious Deeds of Australia at War’ as follows: ‘When the enfilading fire down the valley was at its worst and orders were posted that ambulance men must not go out, the Man and his donkey continued placidly their work. At times they held trenches of hundreds of men spellbound, just to see them at their work.’ John Simpson was killed in action on 19 May, 1915, shot in the back by a machine gun whilst leading his donkey back to the dressing dugout. Although he spent just twenty-four days at Gallipoli, he quickly became well known for his dedication to helping fellow soldiers and is today remembered as a national hero.
Fred Hollows was an ordinary eye doctor who believed in equality for all people. This led him to set up the first Aboriginal Medical Service. The Service treated over thirty thousand cases of eye disease all over outback Australia in its first three years. During his life he travelled the world to set up eye health programs in poor and developing countries. In Eritrea he trained doctors in eye surgery and raised over six million dollars to help build an eye lens factory. He was able to produce lenses for only a few dollars, hundreds of dollars cheaper than normal, thus making the technology affordable to those in need. Fred Hollows gave sight back to hundreds of thousands of people for free, even selflessly working right up to his death while battling cancer.
Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop was a surgeon in the Australian army during World War II. He was legendary for his care of soldiers taken prisoner by the Japanese. Weary Dunlop was an ordinary boy who grew up on farms around Victoria. After becoming a surgeon, he joined the army to put his skills to good use. He was sent to Java to treat casualties, but was captured by the Japanese and taken to a Thai POW camp to work on the infamous Burma/Thai railway. In the camp he did everything he could to help the men: he argued with Japanese guards to spare soldiers lives, searched for extra food to feed the other prisoners and spent many hours treating and operating on prisoners, whilst ignoring his own needs. Even in the most horrific conditions he found the energy to fight for the wellbeing of the lives of his men. ‘Weary’ Dunlop was ‘brave, tireless, tough and uncompromising where the welfare of his patients was concerned’ (Sue Ebury, biographer, http://www.achievers-odds.com.au/topachiever/wdunlopfull.htm). He was always on his feet, working to treat both soldiers and other prisoners. After the war, ‘Weary’ Dunlop pioneered techniques in heart and gullet surgery and in removing head and neck cancers. He also worked to improve Australia’s relations with Japan, to heal the hatreds of war. Sir Edward ‘Wear’ Dunlop was knighted in 1969 for services to medicine.
Dr Victor Chang was an Australian who grew up in China. Early in his career as a doctor he was inspired by the work of Dr Mark Shanahan, who was one of only three heart transplant surgeons in Australia at the time. Dr Chang became Australia’s best heart surgeon, a pioneer in his field – ‘he was able to do things with his hands that ensured that no mistakes would be made, but the most important thing was the wonderful confidence that he had in himself’ (Shanahan, http://www.abc.net.au/btn/australians/chang.htm). Dr Chang set up the first centre in Australia for heart transplants at Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital. It was here that he and his team performed hundreds of heart transplants. During the nineteen eighties Dr Chang began plans to develop an artificial heart as he was worried about a lack of organ donors. He enjoyed creating technical devices and spent many years working to improve his invention. Tragically, Dr Chang was murdered before his artificial heart could be finished. Out of respect work has continued through the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Unit set up in his memory.
Margaret Warby was a courageous nurse who saved the lives of dozens of people during one of Australia’s worst peacetime tragedies, the Granville Train Disaster. On 18 January 1977, the 6:09 am train from Mt Victoria, heading inbound for Sydney, was derailed coming into Granville station. The train careered into the supports of the Bold St Bridge, causing over 170 tons of steel and concrete to collapse, crushing passengers in the train below. Margaret Warby, an ordinary nurse of Sydney’s inner west, arrived on the crash scene from nearby Parramatta District Hospital. She tended to the wounded and dying and helped those trapped to free themselves from the wreckage. When the call came for rescuers to evacuate the site for fears of their own safety, she chose to stay, putting the lives of the victims before her own. Margaret Warby was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for bravery, although she was so haunted by the devastating effect of the crash that she refused to talk about it for over twenty years.
There have been many ordinary Australians who have achieved extraordinary things in the field of medicine. They are remembered as national heroes, for good deeds, for helping others, and for enormous self-sacrifices, all qualities characterised by the ANZACs and the ANZAC Spirit.
Spirit of ANZAC
Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Burke, ‘The Spirit of ANZAC’, found at:
Unknown – ANZAC House, ‘John Simpson Kirkpatrick: July 6, 1892 – May 19, 1915’, found at:
Unknown – Behind The News, ‘Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop’, found at:
Unknown – Top Achievers, ‘Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop – A Short Biography’, found at:
Unknown – Behind The News, ‘Victor Chang’, found at:
Unknown Behind The News, ‘Fred Hollows’, found at:
Unknown – Nostalgia Central, ‘Granville Train Disaster’, found at:
Unknown – Beyond Distribution, ‘The Day of The Roses’, found at:
Unknown – Dinkum Aussies, ‘Events – Granville Train Disaster’, found at:
Karen Kissane, ‘Accidental Heroes’, The Age, October 26 2002, found at:
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