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Tuesday, 17 August 1993
Page: 52

Senator GARETH EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate expresses its deep regret at the death, on Friday 2 July 1993, of Sir (Ernest) Edward `Weary' Dunlop, AC CMG OBE, places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

In recent weeks all Australians have mourned the loss of Sir Edward `Weary' Dunlop. He was 85. Through his work as a surgeon in prisoner of war camps in Asia during the Second World War and his postwar work assisting veterans, Weary Dunlop, as he was universally known, was a figure not just honoured and revered but genuinely loved by his fellow Australians. I certainly feel privileged to have met and talked with him on several occasions over the past few years.

  He was born into a farming family in northern Victoria in 1907. After an active and purportedly happy childhood, he gained qualifications in both pharmacy and medicine. His student days in Melbourne were full to the brim, as he was also a brilliant sportsman and became a champion at boxing and rugby union. He was in London undertaking postgraduate work in surgery when the war began. He loved his work, but the outbreak of war made life at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington seem like, as he said, a `charmed circle'. By pulling some strings, he managed to enlist in the 2nd AIF from London, and was posted directly to Jerusalem in November 1939 with the rank of captain.

  During his two years in the Middle East his appetite for adventure meant that he was rarely far from the centre of action. He served in Libya, Greece and Crete, and volunteered for service with the 2/2 Australian Casualty Clearing Station in besieged Tobruk. He declined command of that unit, preferring to retain the surgical post of major. On his way back to Australia with the 7th Division, his ship was diverted to Java in a desperate bid to stem the Japanese move southward. He was taken prisoner of war in February 1942. He was moved to Batavia, Singapore, and finally to Konyu camp, along the route of the now notorious Burma-Thailand railway.

  At Konyu and at further camps along the line, Dunlop and his fellow prisoners faced some of the most appalling conditions ever experienced by Australians at war. Men were daily forced out to work, clearing the jungle to make way for the railway. Malaria, dysentery, tropical ulcers, cholera and beri-beri were all common, exacerbated by malnutrition and brutal punishment by Japanese and Korean guards.

  Time and again Dunlop intervened to stop desperately sick men being forced to work. He fashioned surgical instruments and equipment out of whatever was at hand and operated on his patients by oil light. He used all his wiles to obtain food and drugs. He saw his men out in the morning and was there to greet them when they arrived back exhausted at night. He was often sick himself and was punished and three times threatened with execution for his intercessions on behalf of the sick. Although forbidden to do so, he kept a radio and a detailed diary.

  His experience as a prisoner fostered in him insights into humanity that shaped the rest of his life. In his diary he allowed himself only snatches of despair and ill-feeling towards the Japanese. In May 1943 he admitted to a `searing hate' arising in him whenever he saw a Japanese. He was as capable of hatred as he was of love, but ultimately he could not suppress a deep compassion from developing for the Japanese when he understood the wretchedness of their position by the end of the war. At the end of his war diary he wrote:

This has been a war against monstrous things, but one for which we all share responsibility because of the selfish pre-occupations which allowed matters to reach such hideous proportions.

Sir Edward resolved then to make the welfare of ex-prisoners of war a life-long mission. In the postwar years, as he rose to prominence as a surgeon in Melbourne, he was tireless in the service of his former comrades, once again intervening on their behalf whenever he could. Remarkably, he lacked any sense of bitterness or desire for recrimination against the Japanese. Instead, he set about promoting links between Australia and Asia, and with Japan in particular. He was active in the health programs sponsored under the Colombo Plan, initiated by Australia in 1950 to promote cooperation with and assistance to South East Asia. In 1969 he led an Australian medical team into South Vietnam to provide care for civilians injured in the war.

  Honours were heaped upon him in Australia and overseas, particularly in Thailand and Sri Lanka. He was made a knight bachelor in 1969, Australian of the Year in 1976 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1987. Through it all he remained essentially a very humble man and, like many ex-service people, not very comfortable in talking about his wartime experiences.

  In the tributes that have been paid to him since his death, so many people have remembered his unfailing ability to see some good in everyone, including his enemies. It was that ability that drove his courage, his sense of duty and his capacity to forgive. With his great love and understanding of humanity, Sir Edward `Weary' Dunlop will be very sadly missed. On behalf of the government, I extend our sincere sympathy to his family in their bereavement.