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Tuesday, 17 August 1993
Page: 53


Senator MacGIBBON —I rise to associate the opposition with this condolence motion for Sir Edward `Weary' Dunlop. In July we saw the death of quite a remarkable Australian; one of the great Australians of our lifetime. He was born in Victoria 85 years ago of Scottish extraction and through his life he exhibited all the great virtues of his forebears.

  He became a pharmacist and rapidly moved on to study medicine at the University of Melbourne, where he graduated with first class honours in 1934. He was not only a brilliant scholar, as Senator Evans has said, but he was also a brilliant sportsman. As well as being the heavyweight boxing champion for the University of Melbourne, he represented Australia playing rugby union with the Wallabies against the old enemy, the All Blacks. It is not unusual to find people in medicine who have a brilliant scholastic career and are brilliant at rugby as well.

  After graduation he travelled to the United Kingdom because he wanted to be a specialist surgeon. He enrolled at St Bartholomew's Hospital, in London. Within 10 weeks he was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. To be admitted as a fellow today would take something like seven years. It is just a measure of how times have changed that the period taken at that time was so short.

  After becoming a specialist surgeon he taught at the British postgraduate medical school at Hammersmith and was appointed as a specialist surgeon at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington. I do not suppose that that collection of Victorian red brick buildings in Praed Street today is any different in appearance from what it was when he was appointed to the staff there in the late 1930s.

  He was with some very distinguished company there, including the head of the surgical unit, Arthur Porritt, who was a New Zealander. He was a sprinter in the Olympic Games in 1928, and later became Sir Arthur Porritt. He was President of the Royal College of Surgeons when I was living in England and knew him. He later became Governor-General of New Zealand.

  Probably the most famous person there at the time was Alexander Fleming, who discovered the bacteriocidal effects of penicillin. Through the war years the pharmacological application of this discovery was developed by Sir Howard Florey, from Adelaide, and the world gained one of its greatest chemotherapeutic agents.

  The outbreak of the war found Sir Edward wanting to enlist in the 2nd AIF. In his autobiography he said that he had some delay before he could enlist because there were no facilities for him to enlist from London. Nevertheless his service number was VX259. So the delay must have been measured in hours or at most one or two days; it certainly it did not run to many months. When people enlisted in the 2nd AIF they were given a number serially for each state—V was for Victoria and Q was for Queensland. His number of VX259 meant that he would have been the 259th person who enlisted from Victoria. There would not have been too much of a time delay there in the process.

  He was a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps before he went to England. It was as a medical officer that he joined the 2nd AIF at Palestine in the Middle East. He served in the ill-fated campaigns in Greece and Crete and was in Tobruk. He sailed with the first Australian corps to, firstly, Sumatra and then to Java. It was in Java in 1942 that he was captured and he spent the rest of the war as a POW. He started off as a captain and at the time of capture he was a lieutenant-colonel. He was promoted to colonel but he refused to accept the rank at the time because it meant that he would have been separated from his troops.

  That led to the legendary part of his career. He was a senior army officer and as such he was not only medical officer to the prisoners but also a camp commandant. After the war he pursued his surgical career with great success not only in Victoria but in Australia. His postwar career was marked by an involvement to the full in public affairs; he did what he could for the community in whatever ways were open to him.

  He was very active in promoting international relations, particularly with Asian countries and the South East Asian region. There has been quite a degree of distortion about our history promulgated in recent years, that somehow or other Australian interest in Asia goes back only two or three years. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dick Casey and Spender developed the Colombo Plan under the Menzies prime ministership. We heard on an earlier condolence motion the involvement of Dame Marie Breen in this. Right from the early part of the Colombo Plan and the Australian involvement in Asia, Sir Edward Dunlop was doing what he could visiting those countries, teaching and developing good relations with the regional states in Asia.

  His principal concern was the welfare of the veterans, the ex-POWs in particular, who served with him in prison camps. In his treatment of and concern for the welfare of those people he demonstrated that great compassion and that ability to look forward, to not carry a grudge and to avoid the corrosive effects of hate in his life. He bore no enmity at all for his previous captors.

  I would like to dwell for a moment on his time as a prisoner of war because, as I said, he was not only a medical officer looking after prisoners; he was also the commandant of a camp. He worked tirelessly, although he was sick and malnourished himself, and with great courage looking after the men under his command. One of the characteristics of the incarceration of the Australians and all the allied prisoners who suffered under the Japanese was that they were subject to brutal attacks by their guards. One of the procedures adopted by those of senior rank, whether corporals, sergeants or officers, was that when the privates were being bashed by the guards—as they frequently were—the person of superior rank would stand in and take the bashing for them. Weary Dunlop did this on innumerable occasions as a colonel. It is also a matter of record that, on several occasions, he was sentenced to death by the Japanese and his execution was stayed only at the last moment.

  The camp of which he was the commanding officer was characterised by having one of the lowest death rates of all the large camps in Thailand. Dunlop himself explained that that was not because of the medical skill that he and the other medical officers in the camp possessed and delivered to the troops under their command. He explained it on the basis of leadership and he did that in a very self-effacing way. It was true.

  Leadership today is a very undervalued commodity in contemporary Australian society. It is not absent from society but it is relatively rare; it is relatively scarce. What we have in this country today is a collection of what could best be described as managers, not leaders, in so many levels of human activity. They are worried about getting things done without a fuss and they are worried about the bottom line. There is not the respect nor the reward for leadership that there should be in this country. There is very little understanding of its value. Those attributes of leadership—dedication; energy; knowledge of what needs to be done; devotion to the cause; ability to comfort and cosset those they are leading; ability to inspire those they are leading to rise to achievements that they would not normally attain; selflessness; preferment of the interests of those they lead before their own, even to the extent of laying their own lives on the line—are the qualities that Weary Dunlop had in abundance.

  All of those qualities today, of course, are in contrast to the teaching of contemporary sociologists. They do not fit in in a country where human relations are run under the aegis of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission because it sees leadership as being elitist and authoritarian. Leadership, as Dunlop demonstrated, does not diminish anyone's human rights in any way at all; in fact, it enriches them. It is an essential attribute for a country to possess. It should be evident at all levels in society. Society is not great because of a prime minister or a president. A society is great because the community works together for common goals and because it stays together in small, cohesive units, all led by someone who is a leader of that small group.

  The great achievements of the Australian Defence Force turn on the leadership that it has possessed over the years. Maybe we have paid too high a price in the wars we have been involved in, principally the First World War and the Second World War where we had very high casualty rates, where so many leaders were killed—both officers and NCOs. Those with superior rank in the Australian Defence Force always led by example, whether they were corporals or colonels.

  Our army history is replete with examples where company commanders were killed and platoon commanders took over the company; where platoon commanders were killed and sergeants or corporals took over; where section commanders were killed and privates led the section. I hope that as a nation we can draw inspiration from Dunlop's life and the leadership that he showed his fellow Australians—he was the personification of great leadership attributes.

    I was surprised at the public response to Weary Dunlop's death. I had the privilege of meeting him on only one occasion some years ago and had a long talk with him. I read his book when it was published and I have read a large number of articles about him. But the response of the Australian community was absolutely unrehearsed. It was a natural and an overwhelming expression of admiration for this man and his life. It was not developed in any way at all by any special interest groups, least of all by the government, and yet the media were totally dominated by his death for days afterwards. Those of us who were in St Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne for that huge funeral service will never forget the tangible expression from ordinary Australians—the expression of respect for, and admiration of, his life.

  I draw a great deal of comfort from the public response to Weary Dunlop's death. It was the voice of the silent majority of Australia—the silent majority which is normally never heard. People were moved out of respect for this man and the work of his life. I hope it is a sign that this country is growing up and maturing, that the buccaneers of the stock exchange or the commercial world and the Ned Kellys are no longer taken as the heroes of this country, and that this country recognises real worth in human character. If we all keep the example of his life before us, I am sure that this country will be a much better place for it.