Lives of the fellows

Harry (Sir) Wunderly

b.30 May 1892 d.14 April 1971
Kt(1954) MB BS Melb(1915) MD(1925) MRCP(1925) FRCP(1952) FRACP(1938)

Harry Wunderly was born at Camberwell, Victoria, the son of Jacques Wunderly. From his preparatory school he won a scholarship to Wesley College, one of the greatest Melbourne public schools. There he distinguished himself both in scholarship and in athletics, winning the sprint championship at the annual inter-school sports.

He gained a Government Scholarship to the University of Melbourne and an exhibition to Queen’s College where he was in residence as a medical student. His father had died of tuberculosis when Wunderly was only five years of age, and these scholarships were of the utmost importance.

When he and his wife founded the Wunderly Travelling Scholarship years later, the final clause stated "This gift has been made as an expression of thanks to the donors of scholarships and exhibitions which enabled one of the founders to graduate in medicine."

Whilst a medical student at the Melbourne Hospital he became ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. On recovery and after qualifying he went to Mount Barker near Adelaide as a locum tenens in the general practice of Dr. Scott. Later he bought the practice and entered into partnership with an old friend, Dr. R.D. Bartram.

In this lovely environment of homes and gardens with a vista down a beautiful valley, Wunderly flourished in health and in practice. Here he met Alice Barker, the only daughter of a pastoral family commemorated in the name of the township. They were married in 1919 and their twin minds never admitted impediment. They seemed to share everything in life, and childless, they fostered and nurtured people and plans. Filled with an urgent desire to pursue his professional work he faced the vagaries of tuberculosis with an unflagging sense of purpose. Twice he suffered relapses while travelling abroad, and at one time was treated in Davos. Tuberculous laryngitis imposed six months silence. Yet it can be seen that the design and fulfilment of his life grew out of his affliction.

After a period at Mount Barker he came to Adelaide and began practice as a consulting physician, having been appointed assistant pathologist and then assistant physician to the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Inevitably his consulting practice attracted to him patients with respiratory disease, and with pulmonary tuberculosis in particular.

With all the demands of successful consulting practice he never lost sight of his main interest - the prevention of tuberculosis. He made his first attempt to influence the Government of South Australia in 1924 by presenting a report on the tuberculosis services of Great Britain, Switzerland and Austria. In 1938-39 he carried out in Adelaide a tuberculin testing survey of young women followed by chest X-rays of those who reacted positively. The results of this survey were published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1940.

Following this, and largely due to his quiet persistence and powers of persuasion, the Armed Services introduced routine chest X-ray examination of all personnel on enlistment and on demobilization.

This scheme launched, he and his wife enlisted. After a brief period in Queensland as a physician in an Australian General Hospital, he was moved to an Army Sanatorium at Bonegilla, New South Wales. Finally he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel at No. 115 Australian General Hospital, Melbourne, and adviser in tuberculosis to Army Headquarters.

After the war he became the first Commonwealth Director of Tuberculosis. He accepted the task with some misgivings, for his home and lovely garden, his friends and his medical practice belonged in Adelaide, and the appointment involved moving to Canberra. He and his wife lived in the Hotel Canberra for five years and during that time Wunderly made an extensive tour of all States and produced in 1947 the Wunderly Report setting out the plans necessary for control of tuberculosis in Australia, together with a clear survey of the available facilities and their shortcomings.

In this post Wunderly faced the introduction into Australia of thousands of displaced persons from Europe. He arranged for X-ray facilities in migrant reception areas, and before long one of these centres was converted into a sanatorium for displaced persons.

Wunderly and his wife had always been fond of travel, and it was inevitable that his problems with tuberculosis in European migrants brought him a renewed association with the World Health Organization, and his active mind and imagination were alive now to tuberculosis as a world problem. He was a member of the Expert Committee of the World Health Organization on Tuberculosis which produced the seventh report in 1960 and secretary for the eighth report in 1964. He represented Australia at meetings of the International Union against Tuberculosis on many occasions.

There is irony in the thought that a man could dedicate his life to an achievement that would leave no perceptible trace of his work. It is a part of history, but younger generations gazing around will see no memorial.

Gentle in manner, quiet in speech, and generous in every way, nevertheless he had a keenly critical mind. His life is a commentary on what can be achieved by devotion to a worthy cause.

Sir Clive Fitts

[Brit. Med. J., 1971, 2, 343, 474; Lancet, 1971, 1, 923]

(Volume VI, page 478)

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