Dr David Michael Joseph Barry Interview

Today is the 6th of the ninth [September] 2016. I’m interviewing Dr David Barry a retired paediatrician of Hastings. David, would you like to tell us something about the life and times of your family.

Thank you, Frank. I was born in Auckland in 1939. I was born at St Helen’s Hospital. It was a big obstetric hospital in those days. My mother was Esther Hunia who was a part-Maori woman from the north and my father was Thomas John Allan Barry who was a New Zealander of course, of Irish extraction. They weren’t rich people at all, in fact they were quite poor to start with. My father used to work for his father, that’s my grandfather Patrick Barry, who was quite a big contractor in Auckland … earth moving contractor, but they always seemed to be having arguments, and Dad was on and off in terms of his employment with his father. Quite a lot of it was off rather than on, and I suspect it was because they were both pretty much the same sort of individual.

We lived, for most of my living memory anyway, in Auckland in Remuera in Mt Hobson Road and later in Epsom. Dad got into contracting on his own in the end and this made our financial circumstances a lot better, and we eventually purchased a family home in Epsom, near Cornwall Park.

I went to school firstly to St Michael’s Convent in Remuera. That was a Catholic school – we were Catholics. We attended St Michael’s Church which was the Catholic Church there and the natural progression going from St Michael’s Convent was to go … for boys, to St Peter’s College which was in Reeves Road, off Khyber Pass. That was a boys’ school and it continues to be a boys’ school, and continues to be I think a school with a good reputation for academic performance and sporting performances too.

More about my mother’s family. My mother was somewhat estranged from her family. I think she must have had some experiences that affected her. She did not bring in any Maori culture at all to our family. Both my three sisters and I had no introductions or encouragement to form any attachments to Maoritanga. I think this has been a bit unfortunate in many ways, but I’ve no doubt that my mother had some very good reasons for that. There was a rapprochement by other members of her family later in my life, but early on she very much kept us quite apart from other members of her family. She did speak of them at times and from what she said I could tell, although she’d never been educated to a high degree, she obviously was a clever person – she read a lot, but she had a commercial aspect to her reading. When she was riding to school – they all rode horses to school in those days – she would tell the other children stories, and then when she got to the punch line she would demand payment before she [chuckle] told the ending. She had a commercial aspect [chuckle] to her learning, as it were.

My father didn’t advance much in education either because he was expected to leave school early and join in the firm with his other brothers. He came from a family of eleven … think there were about four girls and the others were boys. All the boys seemed to be told to work in the family contracting business at an early age, whilst the girls were sent off to St Mary’s College as boarders until they were … really grown women, before they left the boarding school. So that was the way that it was done.

I should say that my mother was always an adventurous sort of a person. My father was a big man, and I didn’t realise for a long time that he was quite frightening to a lot of people because in those days he was six foot three, which was very big for those days, and he looked the part as well. And although he was very gentle with us – we never had any problems – it was quite obvious that he was to a certain extent respected in a sort of … sometimes a rather obsequious way … by other members. I’ll never understand it because Dad was just Dad, and yet other people would be sort of almost touching their forelock. I used to wonder what on earth was going on. I didn’t realise he had a reputation for knocking people down pretty suddenly if they [squeaky noise] to be infringing on his rights or dignity or whatever. So it took me a long time to learn that, because he was never like that with us.

Schooling – we enjoyed school. Primary school, I was always pretty much in primary school up near the top of the class – never at the top of the class, but always up there and enjoying it. When we went to St Peter’s, they ran the boys’ school from Form 1 to Form 6A, and so there was a big expanse of age groups there of quite small boys – ten-year-old boys up to sixteen, seventeen – so there were a large number of sizes and shapes there and it was pretty intimidating for a while. But most of the boys were pretty well-behaved and looked after us, so there wasn’t much in the way of bullying.

I really enjoyed school. I started off in one of the top forms – one of the top Form 1s. Got to Form 2 and then there was a decision – you either got in the academic stream or you didn’t. The academic stream included, from Form 3 on, French and Latin as well as other subjects, and the other stream, which seemed to me to look like a better deal in terms of not having to work so hard, had others. And I took the easy way, because I thought at that time I’d probably try to be a tradesman or carpenter or a mechanic or something of that sort. Our parents always insisted that we … or at least you had the impression that we should have a skill of some sort. They’d been through the Depression. Dad had been unemployed for a long time, and he’d refused to work for his father who was employing about thirty men at the time, and of course this was a bit against him round Auckland here, he’d go for a job and people would say “why aren’t you working for your father?” and this sort of thing which – they were having one of their endless disputes so he wouldn’t do it. And there’s a very interesting anecdote – I remember Mum said that he rode all the way on his bike from Auckland – from Grey Lynn they were living in those days, I think before I was born – and he rode all the way out to Huanua on his bike, ‘cause he was a good cyclist, he was a competitive cyclist – and got back and it was a bad day, and he said to Mum “where’s my overcoat?” “Oh,” she said “I gave it to a poor man”. He said “I’m a poor man”, [chuckle] “ I haven’t worked for nearly a year, and you gave my coat away to a poor man”. Anyway, that was the sort of things that happened.

The Depression did make a tremendous imprint on them … on both of my parents … and they were always otherwise in employment and he soon got back to work, but it was a hard time. But we got the impression, my three sisters and I, had the impression that whatever you did, if you didn’t have a skill of some sort that was in demand, sooner or later you’d get into trouble. So that was the background there.

Going on at school, in Form 3 it was pretty easy. I mean, the only things that I was really interested in at St Peter’s was – I was really keen to get into the best rugby teams and also the athletics teams. I used to do athletics in summer and rugby in winter. And that was my main aim. And by the fourth form which was also … by then I was also in the technical, it was called Form 4T. I managed to get reserve for the First XV, and that was a big red-letter day for me. I thought that was fantastic. And it was pretty good, you know, to be there when you were fourteen I think, and be reserve for the First XV. And I remember … it was against Auckland Grammar and I was so scared that I’d have to go on because I was covering for our first five, who happened to be a man called Steve Nesbitt who turned out to be the All Black first five, so I was thinking ‘my God – if Steve gets hurt I’m on there, and it’s going to be a horrible comparison’. But anyway, it didn’t happen – he got through the game all right.

Anyway we had inter-school exams. All the Christian Brothers schools in New Zealand had examinations that obviously involve a lot of boys of varying ages. So the next year I came back to school and I was in Form 5A which was the academic stream. I was told where to go by post, so I went to Form 5A and my First XV coach walked into the room and said “what are you doing here?” I said “I don’t know – I just do as I’m told”. He said “I think you might find it hard in here”. [Chuckle] But anyway that was it. It must have had something to do with the inter-school exams, so I was bumped up to 5A from 4T which was a bit of a shock for the system. But I never really had that much trouble in 5A, and managed to score pretty good marks in School Certificate and I think that gave me inflated ideas in my academic skills. So I thought ‘oh, maybe I don’t need to be a tradesman’, and it wasn’t just that – some of my handiwork, especially in woodwork classes, was so bad I thought to myself ‘I’m not sure whether I’m cut out for some trade anyway’. [Chuckle]

So anyway, I ended up in 5A. This was an academic opening – I thought ‘well, maybe I should expand my interest a bit’, and when I expressed the interest in going to University and talked about medicine with other teachers and what-have-you, they said “oh well, you’ll have to work hard but I don’t see why you shouldn’t do that”. So that gave me encouragement to go on and pursue a more academic … rather than a trades job.

We used to have somebody called a University Liaison Officer who used to come round to the schools to advise senior students about getting on to what they should be able to do about University, and he was a very depressing man. I remember his name was Mr Turtle. And he said “oh, well if you don’t get a scholarship your chances of getting into a medical school are not good, and you should probably take two years over the intermediate exam at Auckland University”. The Intermediate exam was to gain access to Otago University. But anyway, I think that there was only about fifty or sixty scholarships in the whole of New Zealand. And I thought ‘good heavens!’ There was only one boy at our school that was likely to get a scholarship that year and I thought that seemed a bit harsh really, so I went to Auckland University. Sat the whole exam anyway, and it’s really Stage 1 of a Bachelor of Science degree I suppose. Anyway, in fact I didn’t get to Medical School here, but I did get an invitation to apply for the Dental School, so I must have got pretty close to being in the Medical School. But in the end I decided not to apply for the Dental School which clearly indicated that I’d probably be accepted and I’d just take another year. And instead of repeating the subjects that I’d done, I went on and did Stage 2 of zoology and chemistry, and managed to get in the next year on the basis of those marks and my previous marks. And that was the entry to Otago University. And that was great.

Having completed Medical Intermediate successfully and getting entrance to Otago University Medical School, that counted as the second year. And I was lucky enough to get a place at Aquinas Hall which was run by the Dominican Fathers and had Catholic origins, but all of the students there were from any faith and any school in fact. Most of the boys at Aquinas were from Auckland Grammar, now that I come to think of it. Most of the students there were from out of town obviously … from out of the South Island even. But it was a wonderful place to be able to make friends, and to share your worries about your studies and so on. We had a medical [graduate] tutor as well available, who was in residence, so that was a very good thing.

The only thing that worried me about entry to University of Otago was that my very old friend at school, a man called John Shepherd, had planned to join me at Aquinas and I had hoped that he’d be able to help me with my physics at Intermediate level, but he went off and joined the Christian Brothers because he had been so impressed by those men that he went to join them. I was a bit sad about not having my best friend down there, but it was a wonderful place.

The second-year class was quite demanding – we had anatomy and physiology and things like that, but there was a social time and of course there was rugby and what-have-you that I was interested in playing. I managed round about … I think it might’ve been the first or second year … might’ve been second year or third year … but I did meet my wife Joyce in an interesting way. I was down at the capping concert trying to get some sort of a role in one of the items for capping concert of that year, and there was this very attractive young lady. I remember she was dressed in a blue suit, and I foolishly said to my mate Bill Greenslade, “see that girl over there – I’m going to invite her out. I think she’s very nice”, and then I went off on a rugby tour somewhere for the next week or two. And I come back and I find out that my dear friend Bill has taken Joyce out. And I thought ‘there you go – that’s friends for you’. And then he said in rather a haughty way, “of course, I took her out but she’s too young for me”. I thought ‘aah, good. She’s given him the elbow, that’s great’. I was able to … at subsequent capping concert rehearsals I was able to introduce myself and start a liaison that ended up in us getting married a couple of years – or a year or so – later and that was a wonderful thing. I also had the opportunity of meeting her family, a long-established family in Dunedin, living in Mornington, and there was a large family there, two boys, I think three girls, and it was wonderful to visit the Gardner family in Mornington. Mr & Mrs Gardner were very easy and pleasant and lovely people. Jim was very much a man about town who was in the plumbing trade, and he was also a very gregarious and socially active man. He liked to help people; he liked to play bowls; he liked to play billiards. He was interested in everything. He had had all sorts of interests before getting into the plumbing business, and that included theatre projection and I think he had another trade or two too, so a wonderful family to be involved in.

We didn’t get married for a time or two, it wasn’t ‘til I got through Medical School and got my first House Surgeon’s job at Napier Hospital that things sort of developed. Joyce trained as a radiographer – that was taking x-rays and those sorts of things, and she managed eventually to get a job in the radiology department at Napier Hospital, so we were able to become much more geographically well-placed to share our social lives up at Napier hospital, and had a great deal of fun. Our other hospital staff I can remember because there were very good House Surgeon friends there, friends you make for the rest of your life, and it was a great group for enjoying one another’s company. But of course the hours were long – you were on every second night and every second weekend, and you tended to try and pack all of your social activities as it were, in the weekend off. And when that consisted of playing rugby for the local rugby club which was Celtic, going to social activities, having a few drinks in the pub and so on, it got to be a pretty hectic sort of a life because you were spending nearly every second night on call, and every second weekend on call so you had to do your social activities in a pretty packed time of sort of each second weekend. So this did make for a rather unhealthy life when I look back on it now, trying to live everything in your time off and then having all the other time working. When I say working, I must say that although the hours are demanding the work was terribly interesting. It was very, very interesting to be actually in clinical medicine and doing things, and experiencing all of the illnesses and urgent need for acute care. It had of course its excitement as well as everything else, and the excitement was both the activity of trying to, and sometimes succeeding in helping people an awful lot, but also learning things and being able to add to your experiences and know that you were going to do better next time. So even though times were rough in the sense of having to work long hours, the experience you gained was so exciting and so marvellous really.

Joyce, if you can just tell us something about where your family came from and where you went to school, and – keep it to about two thousand words.

Joyce: It’ll be very short. [Chuckle] Right. I was not actually christened Joyce, I was christened Kathleen Joyce. I was number six in the family and I think they scrambled for names at that point. But my godmother and my aunty were both Joyce, and I think my godmother died and for sentimental reasons I landed up being Joyce, so that’s the name. I was number six in the family behind another three sisters and two brothers. I was always regarded as the spoilt one of course being the youngest. My parents were quite old and therefore we had the run of life. My brother ahead of me and I had the good times, because we got away with everything and Mum and Dad were just too busy and tired and whatever to notice what we did. It was a remarkable childhood.

My father was quite an exceptional man. He was involved in so many things and he had a factory which was helped to being established by Mum’s family money. Dad was one of nine, he was one of eight boys and one girl, and his mother had died just after the girl. So they were Scottish immigrants originally, extremely hard-working, except Grandad was an old poofter and did nothing else but go out for lunch while the boys did all the work. [Chuckle]

Mum was adopted, but she was adopted within the family and it remained one of the biggest sadnesses of her life because Grandma in those days never mentioned the adoption. But she knew, and where we all thought Mum was the child of an uncle and a farm girl, it was actually a nephew who was seventeen and the farm girl, which came out in the family history later. So Mum’s family came from Dover, and we have the whole family history here on it. Grandma and Grandad on her side did exceedingly well. They worked exceedingly hard and retired very comfortably, and Mum of course was brought up and had everything compared to what other children did in those days, but she still knew that she didn’t have a mother that regarded her as a mother … ‘specially in Victorian times. Even though Grandma was a wonderful person she was rather aloof and a bit cold, and I think Mum did suffer from that a bit.

But anyway, Mum and Dad got married in those early days … we never quite know if they had to, but we think so. So there were six of us, and … very active family, very socially active family. My mother was just stuck to the kitchen bench cooking for us all, but all my brothers and sisters – some of them were exceedingly sporty. And I just knew that we grew up in this rough and tumble family that – everyone seemed to want to come to our house because that’s where things happened, and in a way it did, didn’t it? That was life, mmm.

So I went off – we all went to Mornington School including my mother, and my mother ultimately went on to teach there. And even Dad went to Mornington School which is one of the original Dunedin Hills schools, which has just had its hundred and whatever … we’ve been to.

And then I went on – a lot of my friends from Mornington School actually became the foundation pupils of Kaikorai Valley High School which was just in the valley below us, that was opened that year. And they became quite famous foundation pupils I believe – some of them did very well, and they were partly under David Barham there when he was Deputy Head. So I had to follow in my mother and my sisters’ footsteps of course, and go to Otago Girls’, which we loved because it was a big, very pro-girls school. It’s the oldest girls’ school in Australasia and that includes Australia of course, because being Scottish immigrants all they want to do was set up education for the families. And you only realise now what a very proactive school it was, and how intellectual it was … couple of classes ahead of me was Silvia Cartwright, Alison Holst, Judith Medlicott, Nancy Keedwell, who actually became Nancy Tichborne, the artist. And the whole school was run with a very high level – I was not a great adherent to the academic side of life – I liked a good time too much. But if you’d wanted to you really did have a huge level of academia there. All our Heads of Departments were often Oxbridge, because their husbands were lecturing at Otago University, and these were the wives that worked. They were eccentric and mad, but when I look back [chuckle] they were fascinating.

So after that we did our time and those were the days when you literally could pick a course and get into it if you got through, and radiographies count. I always wanted to be a nurse actually or an architect and I really kick myself that I didn’t do architecture and I don’t know why I didn’t do it. I think in those days it meant six years up in Auckland and you know, the cost of travel and everything in those days – and yet why I let that stop me I don’t know, ‘cause I can’t remember anyone stopping me do it – it’s just that I didn’t. But I did also love nursing and that side of hospitals, but because there was a group of us at school were quite good at maths and physics and we’d passed all that well, we decided to do the technical side of all medicine. That ways, we went off and did radiography at Dunedin Hospital and … a lovely group of us did. We still meet, we still meet every three years and I found the radiography great. It was a good discipline for a girl to do. You were right in the middle of it, and you were right in the middle of the acute side as well, so you did see quite a bit of medicine by default in a way. It was that point that … David came when I – I’d only been at radiography class for about two to three months and a whole group of us went off and auditioned for the capping concert which in those days was the concert of the year in Dunedin. And that’s when I met Dave and from there the rest is history.

You’ve had other interests smattered – just briefly …

I always loved art. I always kept art up in a very minor form and even getting back to Hastings here I used to go to night school with Shirley Vogtherr, and … with kids. We would you know, get a few hours away from the children and go to her night classes – which were held in the day of course . And that’s one thing I really did miss when this Government stopped night school classes, because we met people and we knew a lot of artists that went on to actually make a living out of art. And always felt very sorry about that, ‘cause they were great years. And I don’t know why I loved art. My personal favourite was Paul Gauguin – I went to a course with [on] him yesterday.

We had inspirational teachers at Girls’ High. We had a Miss Fitzgerald who circulated paintings from the Dunedin Art Gallery and the Hodgkins Gallery, and the early settlers would come through the school. So we would walk down corridors loaded with art without realising we were. So my interest was always high. I always loved design, and anything like that I just adored. And of course Otago Girls’ was very strong with art, and I think in my School Cert year or it might have been UE year, I actually had ten periods a week of art which was wonderful, because we had a special art suite and that. And I guess that’s the joy of a school that can offer that, because it did – it was great.

So I carried on doing odd arty things through life and I always had an interest in design but I did radiography on and off. I worked in Napier Hospital of course. Then we went overseas and once we got to Britain we desperately needed money as one did in the 1960s, and I worked in the east end of London at Queen Elizabeth for Children, which I adored, there. It was just ten years after ‘Call the Midwife’ era, and nothing had changed, it was just like that. It was a two hundred and sixty bed children’s hospital, and I loved that … absolutely loved it … and I stayed there for about three years until I was pregnant with Emma. And she was born as a little Pommie.

And then when I came back I had kids at home – had another two – lost a couple of children and various things, and then by the time all that gets over I’d gone back to work and I did do a course. It was about two to three months of retraining at Hastings Hospital, part-time. They were great … they offered part-time positions, so I did some call at nights and some part-time and I thoroughly enjoyed that. And I always kept this interest up in design. And I think it was actually at X-ray … we were waiting for a helicopter to come in late one night and I was reading the paper, because we were waiting, waiting … and then I saw an ad for kitchen designing, and it said no previous experience necessary but design something would be an advantage. Well I had gone back to Karamu High School and we re-sat UE with Geoff Fuller in an adult class – and we were the last class that Geoff had before he retired – and that was just an absolute joy ‘cause Geoff was an exceptional teacher.

David: [Whispers] She won the prize.

Joyce: So anyway I loved that. There were about twenty-six of us in an adult class, and I think to be honest, for an art teacher at a big secondary school like Karamu, it made his final year because it wasn’t fourth formers, it was this great group.

Joyce, did you win a prize at that ..?

Yes, I got the art prize from Karamu that year, so that … [chuckle]

Can’t that that slip by.

David: She didn’t let any of us know.

Joyce: ‘Course I didn’t.

David: Neither the kids nor me. Until we read it in the paper.

Joyce: I remember the prize-giving because Paul Holmes talked, because he’s ex-Karamu of course. So anyway that was okay.

And then they asked me to go and work at Royston, the radiologist did. And I went with a bit of a heavy heart because private hospital is not really not my scene – I rather like acute work. And I just sort of found it was all ACC – well-run, and I mean it was pleasant enough to work there but it was pretty repetitive because you did a lot of backs and cold stuff, and I think I sort of missed the blood on the floor a bit. So I kept both up … and I tried to keep a bit of Royston, a wee bit of Hastings Hospital up – or Hawke’s Bay by that stage – and the art, and let it tick over. But after a while I found that the kitchen work – first I loved it because it was technical drawing, and we had the tradesmen just behind us all the time which meant you really did learn another whole sphere of living called joinery, which I really enjoyed. So we had some great guys there to teach us and I worked for Murray McIndoe when he was over here for – oh, quite a while, probably six, seven years – I can’t recall now. But then we lost the lease on the building and he was going back to Napier. And I had Dave’s Mum coming to live with us because she was failing, and I just thought ‘this is the time to retire’. But I found when I retired that the phones kept ringing so I landed up doing about another twenty years of private work, sort of in between architects – I didn’t just stick to kitchens – we did a lot of spatial work with new homes and that, and I still do a wee bit with the odd builder and I love it. I still love that – I love all that side, so I was lucky to be able to pick that up later in life.

And as for sports – oh, children filled your life anyway, but once they had gone … But in the early 1990s I took up croquet at the old Hastings Croquet Club and I had Jessie Hunter as my coach. And she just died last year, and … miss her terribly. And I just grew to really love croquet and we learnt the real game – this is not golf croquet, this is the real game of croquet which the Hastings Club did concentrate on. And we had ten great years there and then due to all those changes that happened in life in the 1980s and 90s where all clubs were under strain, we went to Kia Toa and a smaller club for quite a while – sold the land there, and since then of course a lot of the assets have gone out to Te Mata and it’s been renamed the Heretaunga Club. And if anything, I feel sad about is that our money didn’t really help set up education in the game of croquet itself. The actual game is totally different to golf croquet, and people keep putting it down but it’s actually a wonderful game. But it does need nurturing, and we needed education programmes all the time for that but that was sort of let go a wee bit, and I feel sorry about this. So I’m just giving up my croquet now actually – I belong to Duart, and we have an odd hit up there, and that’s about as most [much] as I want to have.

I’ve played at Duart. Just one ball croquet.

Yeah, that’s what I’m back playing now.

Tom Quayle …

He was a great player.

Tom used to run a businessmen’s croquet competition.

He did.

Tom was a really nice man.

He’s a wonderful guy. He partly taught me as well because he also always belonged to Hastings too. He was a great player – yes, sad that that’s dropped away a bit. And the other side is that with all clubs now Frank, just like you said before, if you get too committed … the drag on being a club today is so big that people start running away. So that’s the joy of Duart – it’s relaxed. There’s only about twenty members but that’s fine, and there’s one or two girls or guy I meet and we go up there and have our own game. So that’s the level I’m at now. That’s it.

All right – thank you for that.

Thanks, Frank.

Righto sir – now we come back to Napier Hospital. Joyce is working there as a radiographer and you are there as a …

I was a first-year house surgeon in 1965, [1964] and that meant you went all round the various specialties doing three months’ jobs, and it was a wonderful introduction to all aspects of medicine because … with the elderly, general medicine, paediatrics. And I can remember some of the [noise on recording] specialists were amazing people. I can remember Ron Cantwell was the paediatrician. He was an extremely fastidious guy – great model, and when I think back he was one of the reasons I did paediatrics in the end he was so good. Peter Fleischl – fine physician – very, very intelligent. Sam Turner – very, very … say, energetic … also a very forceful sort of guy. He did an awful lot in establishing things like the research foundation … Hawke’s Bay Medical Research Foundation, which I belong to still. Mackie Fisher, who’s I think still alive – Mackie was a wonderful surgeon. Allen Alexander was superb – he was just a great technician – not just a technician, he was a wonderful surgeon. He did things so fast and so expertly that he was just an amazing … he did an amazing amount of work at Napier. He used to love it. He’d end the session and he’d say “that was a wonderful morning”. Everyone else would be absolutely breathless, they’d been running from [pillar to post], falling over themselves trying to keep him fed so he could do all the surgery – he was doing it so fast. The Superintendent in Chief was John Grimoldby – very nice man. He was Superintendent in Chief of the whole place, all of the hospitals, so he had that administrative task but he also did some general surgery as well. So they were the surgeons – oh, the neurologist – he was a marvellous man too.

So I did two and a bit years at Napier Hospital. Once you’ve done two years as a House Surgeon – you do first year, second year and then you generally go on to be a Registrar, so you do have more responsibilities. But I wasn’t quite sure about that and I wasn’t wanting to stay for the full four years in hospital work, because then we got the scholarship and the fares to England and back. I thought it’d be better if we got over there.

We got married in 1965, so we were up at Napier hospital at the time. We went down to Dunedin and got married. My best man was Ted Ward, who’s still a [an] intensive care physician here. We did have a big party before we went and we did not arrive in great shape [chuckle] in Dunedin. The ceremony was at Aquinas Hall – they had a chapel there, so we were back to Aquinas Hall so that was an occasion. My family of course came down – my parents had never been to the South Island, it was just horrible when you think of it, I mean – they’d been overseas, but they’d never been to the South Island. And my mother horrified everybody driving from the airport. She said “is that a preserved village?” she said, I think referring to Mosgiel, which did not go down well … [laughter] with her host, so we picked her up. [Chuckle] But anyway, that was another matter.

The honeymoon went fantastically. We went to Queenstown, as so often people do from Dunedin. And we got out of our motel and the first thing we see across the way is both sets of parents … were next door, [chuckle] and blocking our view [chuckle] when we came out of our hotel. We thought ‘we’re never going to get away from them’. [Chuckle] But anyway, that was a marvellous occasion.

So the next thing was, we decided we’d go to the UK. The cheapest way to go to the UK was as ship’s doctor. Before all that we did some locum general practice around New Zealand to get a bit of money, and they were very exciting practices too – I’d never done general practice before. And general practices were very busy, and just about every place I worked I was offered a job to stay there. And of course it was attractive because the money was so much more than you had in hospitals, and the work was a bit more. You were able to be a bit more independent, because you were the boss then. But anyway, we decided on our course of travel.

Just a question there. As a paediatrician were you trained in all facets of doctoring?

Oh, generally.

So you really were trained as a …

I wanted to be a general paediatrician. But I hadn’t even decided at that stage – I was doing all these things. But what I did notice on these GP locums was it was really scary doing obstetrics. Really. Every poor woman I seemed to touch seemed to have a post-partum haemorrhage and it was … oh, it was just drama everywhere. I thought “oh – I’m never going to go to general practice full time until I can get more experience in this”. And then I’d see a sick child – I thought “I’m never going to go into general practice until I get this … get more education about this”. So the two things I worried about – I thought “I’m not ready for general practice”.

Got on the ship, going over the way there and I was thinking “I really love general medicine – the scope of it, it’s exciting, it’s intellectually exciting, you can do things”. And the other thing that interested me was, there was so many side effects of too many drugs all taken at the one time. And that’s called the iatrogenesis, and I thought ‘gosh, there’s room for a specialist in iatrogenesis’. But of course that wasn’t quite what happened – there’s now sort of clinical pharmacologists, and that’s probably what I was thinking of. But anyway, on the way over I said to Joyce “I think I’ll be a paediatrician – you do the whole thing. It’s general medicine from birth to adolescence”. Really – what an interesting section.

Paediatrics are in that age frame?

Exactly. Now of course it tends to be a sub-specialisation – new born medicine, adolescent … all these.  But it wasn’t then. So on the way over I decided this, and I decided to get jobs that would train me in that area and become a paediatric specialist. So that was decided on the SS ‘Athenic’, which was a Shaw Savill boat.

Was that a comfortable trip with not too much work?

It was, and of course the lovely thing was it had been converted from being a one-hundred-passenger luxury liner – I think it was about a twelve – fifteen-thousand-ton ship, to a cargo ship which I think housed five hundred thousand frozen lambs. So the crew …

Joyce: Sister ship of the ‘Gothic’.

David: Yeah, the sister ship … it was the ‘Gothic’.

You only had to look after the frozen lambs?

Well, more or less. [Chuckle] But – well, that’s what we thought. But then coming out of Lyttelton I had I think five cases of venereal disease, and the contrast was, the only port that we called at … through the Panama Canal and we called into – what was the port, Joyce?

Joyce: Curacao.

David: Now Curacao had public brothels, and there was only about … I think there were … one or no cases of gonorrhoea. And of course this puzzled me – I thought ‘what? Good heavens!’ So I said to some of my patients, I said “it seems better that the Government-run brothels seem to have less gonorrhoea”. And [chuckle] the seaman said “oh, you’d never get a brothel to make a buck in New Zealand – there are too many eager amateurs”. [Chuckle] This doesn’t say much for Lyttelton. That was the port we left from, anyway …

Anyway, on the way – we were supposed to berth in Southampton, but the … ‘cause it was 1966, seamen’s strike – all British seamen as soon as they returned to their home ports were going to go on strike.

So instead of going straight to Southampton we went around the northern coast of Europe delivering lambs, before we went to Southampton. So we went to Dunkirk, we went to Rotterdam – it’s a huge port – and Hamburg. So we did all these ports before we … ‘course the seamen took us to some of the more seamier places – of course, they would do. And Joyce was introduced to all sorts of things she hadn’t discovered at Otago Girls’ High School and Otago University. So that was very interesting for us both.

We finally got to England. Got a flat in North London at Regents Park Road – 122 Regents Park Road, I think N3. And then I started searching for jobs. Then I found out photocopies of the original documents of University degrees and registrations and so on were not enough – you had to have the originals, so … unbelievable. So I couldn’t get a job. Joyce immediately got herself a radiography job at – I think it was University College Hospital at that stage …

Joyce: No, it was Guy’s Hospital.

David: Oh, Guys Hospital. Thank God, ‘cause it started paying some of the bills. And I eventually managed to get our [my] papers emailed across and was able to get myself registered with the New Zealand Medical Council, [the General Medical Council of Great Britain] and I got the first job at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Carshalton, which was around that time or shortly afterwards, the biggest children’s hospital in Europe. It was amazing – eight-hundred-bed hospital – no, more than that – it was nearly a thousand beds. It had a two-hundred-bed acute service for medical and surgical children, and eight-hundred of long-stay disabled children – an extraordinary number of children. You’d never get that sort of thing these days, because institutionalising these poor children was not a good plan. But they were there then, it was a huge thing.

But that was a temporary post. It was very, very enlightening. It was my first introduction to child health in Europe … in England. And then I applied for a job – it was a marvellous job – that the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children advertised. It was advertised as the RMO. [Resident Medical Officer]  And I went there, and I’d done the Queen Mary stint, and also I’d done two three-month runs in paediatrics under Doctor Ron Cantwell in Napier, and that was it. And then I went to this interview … oh, ‘course the RMO – I didn’t know the RMO was actually a specific appointment where you controlled every admission to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and decided which specialist it would go to. And I said “I couldn’t do that! Where I come from that sounds like a Registrar’s post and I’m just not trained to that.” And they said “oh. Well what about this rotating job? Four months in a rotating job – newborn medicine, general medicine, paediatrics and surgical”.  [Four months in each] I said “that’s just the job I’m looking for”. They said “oh, right – okay. We’ll lock you down to that”, you see. I thought ‘this is marvellous’, and then they dismissed me. So I got into this Children’s Hospital with this amazing sort of teaching and so on, I mean all of the house surgeons were training to be paediatricians. The Registrars and so on – they’d all written papers and had all sorts of post-graduate qualifications and so on – it was just the place you wanted.

Anyway two weeks later somebody writes me a note and says “you must appear at the interview for your job”. I said “but I’ve got the job”. They said “you still appear at the interview for the job. Dress up well”, off the ward, dress up in a suit, go down, sit with all these poor people twiddling their thumbs and sweating over the chances of what they had – ended up there were two to three jobs being offered. I already had one. So I go into the interview. They said “oh, how are you doing?” I said “well it’s extremely … just what I want”. They said “oh, okay – get back to work”. So I go [chuckle] … go out past all these people, about ten of them lined up all sweating about wondering whether … I thought ‘oh dear’. That’s the way it goes. So there was only two jobs on offer, not three. But I completed the rotation at Queen Elizabeth and that was a marvellous basis for the paediatric training. Went up to a number of hospitals round London. We stayed in London the whole time.

But the next big job was a Registrar at the Central Middlesex Hospital in Park Royal. That was also … it was a wonderful job. My boss was Jack Sakula, who with a colleague, Margot Shiner, had done the first intestinal biopsy in children – putting a machine down into the small bowels of children to snap off and bring up a small amount of bowel or lining and examine it for whether the child had coeliac’s disease. So there was quite a lot of fame attached to that particular area in that hospital.

And that’s the thing you found in London – that’s what was so amazing. You got access, although the salary was terrible and I always had to have extra locum GP surgeries and things just to make a buck and pay our bills. You had the access to so many things – the Royal Society Medicine – you got free entry there if you were in a training scheme. For a pound you could go and listen to a lecture at the hospital for nervous diseases in Queen Square, by one of the famous neurologists.

I suppose, David, the fact that you had thousands of people – and you might only see one or two of those in Napier – but you could see hundreds of the same …

Well, at Queen Elizabeth – I mean, I tried to work out what population they were draining. ‘Cause all the specialists there had appointments at the teaching hospitals, so the paediatricians were from the London … from Kings College Hospital, from …

Joyce: Great Ormond Street.

Great Ormond Street, and also the Royal Free Hospital. They all had their own children’s units, but at Queen Elizabeth … if there was anything tricky in their hospital they would transfer them to Queen Elizabeth in order for them to get experts, because they were all paediatricians there. Their laboratory was amazing – they’d already described a number of metabolic diseases unknown to man before this. They could do growth hormone, and using biological methods they could measure when it was extremely difficult to do. All of these amazing things they could do … so, so, so good really. And I tried to work it out, and I reckon they were probably draining a population of about three to four million.

All of the acute care in the East End – it was in Hackney Road of course – would come there. The Eastern Fever Hospital would transfer children that were getting too difficult for them. As I said the teaching hospital would often be transferring patients, and you had your own back yard where there was a lot of poverty and lots of illness. And the stuff you’d see – tracheoesophageal fistulas are unusual conditions where the oesophagus has got a problem and is mixed up with the airways so you’re getting feed into the lungs – well that’s one in two thousand births. We’d get one a week for surgery. And there’s a condition called fragilitas ossium where your bones tend to fracture much more than they should. And now that’s about one in two to three thousand births, and I got one in casualty one day. A child came in and seemed to be having far more fractures than normal, and I looked up into the mother’s face to ask her if there was a family history, and I looked at her – she had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen in my life, and especially … not just the pupils but around the whites of the eyes which were actually blue. That’s an absolute sign of fragilitas ossium. So I looked at her with my mouth hung open … the poor woman probably thought I was coming on to her or something, because I realised ‘oh, it is fragilitas’. I said “did you have any ..?” “Oh yes, I had a lot of fractures”, you know. I mean … and that was just in the Casualty Department – sort of thing you get. They walk in off the street. And of course the funny thing about them was they didn’t like Queen Elizabeth much – you’d hear them in the waiting room saying “oh, go down to the German hospital”. It was the General Hospital down the road. “Oh, they’re so nice there – they give you a cup of tea, love, and they sit you down. You come here and what do they do? They drag the baby off you, pull it in there and ask you why you took so long to get here. Stick needles in and do horrible things”. I thought ‘we’re the only thing …’  We managed to save them half the time. [Chuckle] So it was really – really funny. But it was a sort of a … very much a teaching hospital for post-graduate people in a very poor area, and there was really excellent service – I mean they didn’t … sometimes the hotel-type services were not as good as they could be, and perhaps would be better. We could have done things a bit better in terms of being nicer, but you were so busy sometimes – I mean if you saw somebody collapse you weren’t going to go through the niceties really.

So that really must have broadened your knowledge hugely in a short time.

Absolutely. For a year there it was wonderful – things at Middlesex were much more … a bit more leisurely but you still had fairly poor populations. All of these hospitals – general hospitals – usually covered a sort of … up to four hundred thousand people in a place the size of Christchurch or whatever, at least. And that was from the general part of it.

But the thing with Middlesex which was my last job – I mean the births there every year in the Maternity were over five thousand, so you’re talking about a big hospital. And there was only one paediatrician there. Jack Sakula – he was the senior. And even then I didn’t know … I had a senior Registrar myself, and we had our junior staff of two or three [?] house doctors. But I said to James Peacock who was the Senior Registrar, I said “did you know that Jack has a ward over the North Circular [Road] he didn’t even tell us about?” I didn’t know he had … he went on holiday and said “oh, David – would you mind just doing a round once a week in this place – there’s a good house surgeon there”. We thought he’s been keeping things from us, you know. And I think he used to think we bullied him a bit, ‘cause he was a very nice man, a very good paediatrician. But he kept this twenty- bed ward where he alone did all the rounds – he didn’t have James and I making smart-arse suggestions all the time. [Chuckle] So he did this, but when he went on holiday of course he had to make arrangements where people covered him.

But that was my last job in the UK. By then I’d got the membership exam for the Royal College of Physicians and a Diploma in child health. So we were all pretty much … all set up. So I had the specialist’s … you had to be eight years graduated and have five years in your specialty and be reviewed and approved by your specialist society, which was the Paediatrics’ Society of New Zealand, and you become a Specialist. I still had another year to go to get the eight years, so I came back to Waikato Hospital as a Senior Registrar which is one behind a Consultant. And while I was there I had a very, very enjoyable time at Waikato Hospital ‘cause I really did have a lot of responsibility. All the paediatricians were part-time, but Colin Watson – he was a full-time paediatrician – anyway, he managed the Paediatric Department. But none of them were breathing down your neck at all. [Cell phone rings]

So Colin Watson was the Senior and he was a full-time paediatrician. And in fact he’d approached me when I’d been at Queen Elizabeth. He’d come over to London on a study trip probably, and gone to Queen Elizabeth and asked me if I wanted to come back to Waikato hospital some time. So there was a prior arrangement. When I got there I must say we were made so welcome by the Deputy Medical Superintendent and that was a man called Rex Wright-Sinclair who was very, very friendly. He made sure that there was fencing available so our little toddler, Emma, didn’t go running out on to the road there in Hamilton … injure herself … and made all those sorts of arrangements, so that was nice.

Getting into the work was amazing because it was a … then, Waikato Hospital was I think the largest hospital in New Zealand. It had about eight – nine hundred beds. It was vying with Wellington hospital – it would be the biggest. And the children’s department was very big, very busy. And I couldn’t believe it – when I got there there was about a hundred discharge letters to write, and I thought ‘now that I’m a Senior Registrar and had all these diplomas and things, the menial task would be done as I’d always done them. When I was a house surgeon I always had to do the letters. When I ended up being a Registrar it seemed I always seemed to have to do the letters. Now I’m a Senior Registrar I’m still doing the letters. [Chuckle] So I attacked these loads of discharge letters in a very angry way, and I found at least three huge diagnostic errors. And I made sure everyone knew about it, because if they had been done properly they would have been detected. There was a child sent home with rickets. There was a child sent home with haemolytic anaemia and they called it acute nephritis, and I mean – so I made … oh! I was very vicious in circulating the various letters I’d made, so it made it seem better. It wasn’t a very nice, charitable thing to do – I could have done it quietly, but I … at least I made a point.

And I really enjoyed that. And they also asked me to be medical tutor there for the year, and I was contemplating staying there but I’d already been negotiating with the Hawke’s Bay Hospital Board at the time about a consultant post. And we hadn’t really signed anything, but then Colin came along to me one day and said “I see you have been advertised as being paediatrician of the Hawke’s Bay Hospital Board next year”. They had gone and posted it. And I thought ‘I never signed anything … I’ve only shown a great interest’. Anyway, so I thought ‘well I mightn’t have signed anything but I really had given them that impression’. But I thought I was still pretty marginal to do that. And obviously I’d blown the chances at Waikato Hospital so we ended up – on January 1st 1972 I arrived here. Oh, and while we were in Hamilton we did have a tragedy because Joyce had a baby very early and he died, so that was very sad. And he was not viable, so that was a sad part, and I don’t think Joyce was very unhappy at all about leaving Waikato.

So we arrived just on December 31st to start on January 1st. Accommodation was provided at Hastings Hospital. We thought it was anyway, and I negotiated that I would be the Senior Paediatrician. There were two posts being advertised – one was the senior and one was the junior paediatrician. And I said I wanted to be the Senior Paediatrician even though I wasn’t in seniority in terms … well I think in terms of position, because other paediatricians had been appointed in Hawke’s Bay and had found themselves subject to somebody who’d been in a job longer but had no particular training in paediatrics. And they were very angry and usually left. So I made sure that wouldn’t happen. My junior as it were, was Dr Tony Reeve who was a charming man, and had been keeping the services going for a year or two before a full-time appointment such as mine had taken place. He was a marvellous person, lovely to get on with and there were no problems at all.

I must say there, our arrival was not propitious in some ways. We arrived, we found out we couldn’t get entry to the house – I mean, it was holiday time – we thought ‘for heaven’s sake!’ You know, ‘this is …’ I arrived as a Senior Registrar and in Hamilton I was treated like royalty. I arrived here – I was driving a little light truck with all our gear, and Joycie was driving the car with little Emma propped up in the seat there, sitting there. And … eventually managed to get into the house and we find about one cup and saucer – oh, it was just … not a very hospitable welcome really, and I thought ‘I’ll always make sure if I get the opportunity when anybody comes here, gets a bit more of a deal than this’.

So it didn’t start off in a very good way. And then – because I’d never worked at Hastings Hospital but I’d actually been appointed to the Board and not to any hospital at all – I’d negotiated with John Grimoldby and he had said “well, your brief is to develop a Child Health Services in Hawke’s Bay”. Nothing to do with Napier, Hastings, Wairoa, anything. It was with Board’s responsibility to have good child health services. I came to Hastings because a neonatal unit was just starting – they’d just started to build a newborn unit here, so that’s why I came here. I’d heard before coming here because I went to a paediatric conference in Hamilton. They all said “look, when you get down to Hawke’s Bay …” All the paediatricians said “you’ve got to sort out the perinatal mortality rate – it’s higher in Hawke’s Bay. The death rate of babies – infants and particularly babies round the first month of life is much higher than other parts of New Zealand – got to do something about it”. So I knew from my paediatrics colleagues that this was a bit of a black mark on Hawke’s Bay, the perinatal deaths around the newborn area were really not good – out of line with the rest of New Zealand. So that – I thought that was going to be my first responsibility, and so I thought ‘well I’ve got to get to the newborn unit because that’s where those sick babies should be’. And that turned out to be the case really. We needed to develop those services, but also the resuscitation methods for newborn babies who were in a bit of trouble, were archaic and quite out of fashion. I mean, there were very few people around the place who could put a tube down a baby’s lungs and do the proper procedure for resuscitation of a newborn. So that had to be managed too – we had to get the right equipment. We had to get people … and there were people with skills like that. I mean there weren’t as many as you’d want, and things were worse in Napier than in Hastings from that point of view. There were more births in Hastings of course – always had been. But the other thing was there were more younger practitioners coming into Hastings who’d often done the Diploma of Obstetrics at National Women’s as part of GP training, and many of those could intubate, so there were lots of skills here … not so many in Napier. So that was interesting … interesting time to get the newborn services on … knew what you had to do.

Having said that, all of the Paediatricians from around the country thought the rate of newborn deaths and so on that perhaps the Obstetrics applied … the resuscitation as I’ve said, wasn’t being done properly.  [Clarification:  … and so on was due to poor Obstetric care and resuscitation of sick babies, as I’ve said …]  But over the next few months after coming here I realised that there was a much more important problem than that, and that is that babies were – all the Maori babies were receiving iron injections to prevent edema. [Anaemia] And we were able to prove over the next couple of years that in fact iron injections did promote infections in newborn babies. This was a hugely important … nobody had known about this. The man who had introduced them, Ron Cantwell, wonderful man. He had introduced iron injections to Maori babies because he had done a study, a very good study, that had shown when you compared iron injected with non-iron injected babies – they did this over a year – he could absolutely abolish iron-deficiency anaemia by just giving a few injections at birth. And this was a marvellous study. Anaemia in Maori babies … they often needed blood transfusions they were so bad. And also nearly all of these anaemic babies arrived in the hospital with quite serious infections, so it looked as though all the clinical evidence was that if you got seriously anaemic with iron deficiency you also got infections, and you might die of those. And of course the injections had been out for ten years. They’d been used all over the world – all sorts of situations, newborn babies, old people, anybody. And what they did they injected a load of iron which stayed in the muscle of the buttock, and it was absorbed into the body over a month or so. So instead of having to rely on people to take iron by mouth every day for about three, four, nine, six months – which they never did – I mean iron tasted foul and babies weren’t stupid, they’d spit the thing out as much as they could. So this circumvented all that – you injected the iron, there was a depot, and it was a wonderful study. And in Ron’s study he’d done a hundred of each – a hundred treated and a hundred non-treated – and there was no doubt about it – the hundred treated babies did so much better. And also they seemed to do much better in cognitive tests when you followed them up for a couple of years.

Also, this had been done in other places as well. Nobody had even noted this association between infection and iron until we had noticed it. When we looked at all of the literature, we found out that most of the trials that had been done were quite small … fifty babies here, fifty babies … you know, that sort of thing. We found that in fact the iron injections associated with the infection was only about two per cent of the babies, but it definitely was two per cent. It didn’t look like much but in fact it put the rate up of infections in newborn babies when you compared it with other New Zealand figures and worldwide figures – it put it up to twenty to forty times. ‘Course when you looked at it that way you realised this was something.

Well, when we revealed our findings at the Paediatric Society meeting, a lot of people were very angry, ‘cause they were doing iron injections – they said “it’s a load of nonsense – you’re doing things stupid down there”. Oh – “you’re giving too many iron injections”, they said. Well, then you decided ‘hang on’ – Ron had ruled out that the amount of iron you needed over a particular period of time, and he’d done all the studies behind it – his study … there was nothing wrong with it. The whole thing was that nobody knew about this association until we had studied it. That was the thing. And what’s more it wasn’t about Maoris either … Maori babies … it was about any babies. But it wasn’t a perfect study, because in the end I thought ‘I’m going to stop these and just see what happens over the next year’. That’s what we did. We found out the infection rate went down to the same as everybody else’s. While we felt that was very, very good, all the scientists around the place, here and overseas, said “look …” and they were quite right. This is out of time. Once you start, if you don’t do contemporaneous studies all the time you’re never going to know whether there are other factors, and of course that’s true. And one of the scientists from Wellington had come up and said “look – why don’t you carry on with the experiment that Ron did?” I said “oh, we are not going to do that because we think now that even though we can’t have a plausible biological explanation and it won’t satisfy science everywhere, because it’s not going to be a completely controlled trial of all of those things. And we’ve got responsibility for the babies here, not to the greater world of science to make it absolutely sure. We’re going to stop now and do it this way. It might not be scientifically the most wonderful way to do it, but it’s going to be done ethically. I think that’s what we’ll do”, so we did that.

Now the interesting thing is round about this time too … a little bit after … the people in National Women’s looked at their iron prevention programme which was a bit similar to ours and found exactly the same – a lesser incidence of E. Coli sepsis, but very much the same, so that sort of made us look a bit more respectable ‘cause you know, a little hick town like Napier and Hastings saying that this is what’s happening against all the institutions overseas. We got some pretty fierce criticism from United Kingdom and other places for the next ten years about all this being rubbish, but I don’t think there was any doubt about it.

So once we stopped the iron injections and we improved the resuscitation skills and the like, our perinatal mortality rate dropped right down to the national level. But I still think probably more the iron than anything else, which hadn’t been detected before. And also of course it was internationally important. But it was a very, very interesting time.

But of course the general public didn’t realise what it was and we got criticised a few years later for not coming clean about it and telling everybody what had happened. But the trouble was that we had to have at least a year and perhaps two years after to say well, there really was an association between iron and infections. And then of course, there was babies who didn’t have iron injections who also got sepsis by the same bug. So we tried to look at every individual baby, and say “now is this definitely the iron?” And you’d say “well, what about that European baby over there who didn’t get the iron? That died of E.Coli sepsis too”. But we know it was that, and I think over the years the follow up studies we did, I think proved it pretty well, but it still wasn’t sometimes accepted for a long time. We don’t give iron now in newborn periods unless there’s some major emergency – not iron injections anyway.

How many years did you run the Paediatric department?

I would have run the department I would think probably for about … I started in ‘72 … I would think about – could have been about ten years. I immediately – I mean it was just Tony and I to start with, and then David Easton came from the UK – he was a marvellous guy – he stayed for five years. Fiery sort of man in many ways, had red hair and used to flair up a bit, but a wonderful asset. He made a big mistake – he decided he’d live in Napier. I said “for God’s sake! We’re trying to rationalise services here. Babies sometimes … David, you’re up all night with babies because the Registrars can’t do what you’ve got to do, and put in an umbilical arterial line and all these things. Live in Napier – no, no”. I think some Napier people had got to him and said Hastings have got their own Paediatrician. I was never a Hastings Paediatrician – I was a Hawke’s Bay District Board Paediatrician. But the baby unit was in Hastings – you couldn’t get up there in five minutes to put a tube down a baby when it had come out. The baby was dead – that’s why you had to be here. So of course – no, David was going to have his – I think he wanted his own little fiefdom in a way … not in a nasty way. But there was a bit of a comeback on that too, because he lived in Napier, lived on the hill, and he had the sort of Napier – sort of … it was lovely. But of course whenever he got a sick baby and he was on call, he had to sleep over in Hastings.

And the other thing was he got called to Napier Hospital one night for a obstetric unit emergency there. I don’t blame him, but he got up there to the [maternity] door of the hospital and the door was locked. And of course if you had to enter through the Casualty at Napier Hospital – God, you had a bloody half-mile run nearly. So he grabbed hold of the door, he was quite a strong guy … pulled the whole bloody door out! [Chuckle]   He got in, did the emergency – and the next thing you read in the paper about somebody breaking in to Napier Hospital. [Laughter]  He said “what’ll I do?” I said “keep your mouth shut, for God’s sake! [Laughter]  They should’ve opened the door when they called you”. [Laughter]  But I mean there was a baby there he needed to intubate. He said “I’m not going to run around there’, so … dragged on the door, and I mean they were big doors … [Laughter]

And then Oliver Smales came before David had gone, and Oliver was – he died unfortunately, but he came from a very academic background. He was very, very good, and he was able to carry on the ball. And then of course now I think we’ve got about five – yeah, about five full-time equivalents, but more than that in individuals. But it’s done very well.

So did you retire from Hastings? Or was there life after the Hospital Board?

I retired in 2006, and after that I did a few locums around New Zealand. They were very enjoyable, but I mean I must say that they were a bit … they came as a bit of a shock sometimes, because by the time I’d retired from Napier Hospital we had Registrars. They were very clever – most of them were registrars – a lot of them came from the UK, often they’d have post-graduate degrees, they were very clever, wonderful people. And you had all of these clever people who kept you stimulated and what-have-you – and also you had to do very little in the way of … or not so many procedures, put it that way. And the only procedures I tended to do after a while were difficult intubations or sometimes umbilical arterial catheter fed up into the aorta and you got blood samples – things like that. Towards the end of my career I sort of – only used to do the fairly high technical procedures like umbilical arterial catheterisations, and long lines too – that’s putting a long line into … feeding into the upper vein and getting it just above the right side of the heart, [Clarification:  … that’s putting a catheter into the large vein just aobve the right side of the heart …] so you can do a alimentation through it. Well, that’s fine – did a few of those. But doing ordinary lumbar punctures and bloods and ordinary drips – you get out of the way of doing them.

Going out to locums – I remember going to a locum in Blenheim – lovely hospital, wonderful nurses there. They’d suffered a bit with not having paediatric control all the time, because paediatricians weren’t so able to be employed. I’d see a baby, I’d say “oh, it needs a lumbar puncture, it needs IV, it needs antibiotic, blah, blah, blah”. And I’d look around and I’d say “have you got a house surgeon?” “Every Tuesday morning”. “Have you got a Registrar?” “Oh – no Registrars. Me? I’m doing the IV’s, I’m doing the LPs, I’m doing the …” [Chuckle] Yes. So that was an aspect of it I hadn’t really expected, but it was interesting and fun really. I had to get my high-powered glasses to do the …

Yes. But you’d trained and done those things.

But you train, you knew you were going to do it, but very often you were running an outpatients clinic at the same time, so you know, this was a bit … But anyway, it was great fun for a while. When you got to a bigger hospital like Southland it wasn’t so bad because you had Registrars and house surgeons there, and they could do it. But sometimes they couldn’t do it, and then you had to do it, so – that’s the breaks.

And then I was on the Hospital Board for two terms. The first term we got fired, of course.

So obviously you found paediatrics very satisfying?

Oh, it was fun. I mean there were clinics that I did too – I did asthma. I had a particular interest in … apart from the newborns – that was a really intense part when I first got here. But then I used to run asthma clinics and also cystic fibrosis clinics. And that was a devastating disease that affected children, and also their families of course, had a huge burden to bear in those areas. But they were such a wonderful people, over the years. So courageous – both the children and young people who had cystic fibrosis, and their families – were just marvellous. It was just a lesson to be learned, just to see how they coped with things.

During all this time in paediatrics you haven’t mentioned what you did in your spare time. I know you said a lot of the time you didn’t have any spare time, but did you play golf?

No. What I did … I used to do…. I’d cycle quite a bit trying to keep fit. And of course I did have a health problem – I got kidney failure and had to have a kidney transplant in 1998 in the end. But I was very, very fortunate because Doctor Bruce Morrison who saw me I think in the … might have been the mid-eighties – he said “Dave, I think you’re going to end up in kidney failure and needing dialysis in about five years, the way you’re going”. And anyway, that gave me a bit of a shock so in fact I actually got pretty fit by riding the bike, running at nights and that sort of thing. Running at night’s not to be recommended – I can remember tripping over a chain in Cornwall Park, and I was running along there thinking ‘oh, I’m really enjoying this’, but I had forgotten the chain that comes across – nearly knocked myself out. It wasn’t a good idea to run at night. I used to ride my bike fairly early in the morning too, round Havelock there and back again, usually about an hour or so. So I made myself pretty fit for what I was doing, but in the end it caught up with me.  And Joyce, in her usual fantastic way, did all the tests and she was compatible to have [donate] a kidney. So we ended up going down to Wellington to have a kidney transplant in 1998, so it’s coming up twenty years soon.

But the thing was I worked right up to the date. And I can remember putting in a long line one night, a few days before we were due to go to Wellington and thinking I bet nobody in the world with my creatinine is putting in a long line. [Chuckle] So I was still was really pretty fit although I was anaemic, and getting tired and itchy all over the place, and oh … all these funny things were happening. So we went down there and the transplant went extremely well. But I remember when I got back and I got back to work – [chuckle] I ran into Michael Shields who was a surgeon. He said “are you sure you should be back here?” I must’ve looked … I mean, I felt good [chuckle] … went to the mirror and had a look … I mean, I thought ‘oh, I don’t look that bad’.  [Laughter] 

No – you were seeing yourself with your eyes.

Exactly. Yeah.

So what other interests have you had?

Well I must say that yes, we used to try and get … every year we’d try and get the children and get a week or two at Waikaremoana or somewhere like that fishing, and camping and tramping. We’ve done a bit of tramping over the years too – we managed to get the kids over the Routeburn Track, and the Hollyford, and we did the Heaphy track with them too. The Heaphy Ttrack was the first one we did with them – that was before I had all these kidney problems. But even though you worked hard you could usually get a slot of a couple of weeks off, and I really liked to have a family holiday, and usually camping somewhere, or tramping, and that was a marvellous way and the kids loved it too – I mean they loved the tramps. The youngest was only – Chookie was only about five when we did the Heaphy track, and they loved the excitement. There was all these international people in the huts at night.

So your children now are adults, they’re married?



Yeah – we’ve got eight grandchildren. The grandchildren – now last Christmas we had Christmas on the Routeburn at the Routeburn Flats hut – that’s with the Australian ones – there’s two of them. So we went up there but I can tell you – [chuckle] I used to do that track up to the Flats in about oh, an hour and a half I think. Well with a couple of bottles of champagne and a smoked chicken, I can tell you it took me nearly three hours. I was exhausted – took me half a bottle of champagne to feel better.

These are Sydney girls – now they’re very lovely little kids, but we sort of wondered whether they would do it. But they went up to the Falls – we all went up to the Falls the next day they did it – there was no problem.

Isn’t it beautiful though, some of those places? The Routeburn on a good day, you know, with all the daisies and all the colours …

Oh, yes.


That’s what our kids loved – the grandchildren haven’t got the same opportunities, but all of our kids just so loved that sort of interaction. I must say, I was probably an embarrassment as a father in some ways – ‘cause I mean one night … I think it might have been the Routeburn … I hear all this chatter and talk going on, and I [put] my [torch] light on and said “shut up and go to sleep”. I thought it was the kids – and it wasn’t!  I suddenly realised in the light that these two adults, probably trying to be as inconspicuous and as quiet as they could be, trying to get into a bunk. I thought ‘well it’s no use apologising … [laughter] it’s too late’. I thought they were over there where the kids were.

So how many grandchildren?

Yeah – eight.

You also have an interest in the Knowledge Bank.

Oh, yes.

You’re the President …


and obviously you have an interest in the direction that organisation goes in.

Oh – absolutely. I think it’s a … the whole idea of preserving history is amazing. I’ve always had an interest in history. At school even, I was really interested. Historical novels I used to be very keen on, and I used to read a lot when I was in early teens. I mean – Walter Scott, I used to read his … I look at them now and think they are pretty pompous – Ivanhoe and all the rest of them but I used to think they were wonderful. But they took a bit of reading.

That’s great, and I know there’s a lot of us support that organisation for the same reasons you do, David. Now is there anything else you can think of?

Well the other thing I still take an interest in is the Hawke’s Bay Medical Research Foundation. I wasn’t really trained to be a researcher – even when I got into medicine I didn’t fancy being very much an academic. But the iron thing that I told you about actually forced me into knowing you can’t get away without some research, nearly all the time. I mean we all do research. You’ve always got to research things. And it got me into the way of thinking about research, and very often things are obvious – we should be studying it – we should be doing things. Things pop up in our particular areas of interest or expertise and you know you should do it – you shouldn’t say “oh, somebody else will have done this” – very often they haven’t. The iron thing really made me do that, and since then I’ve had the opportunity to do quite a lot of research … involved in cot deaths research – NZ Cot death is an amazing thing to be part of. And I will be continuing my role with the Research Foundation for a year or two yet I hope. But there we are – who knows?

Thank you, David, for allowing us to interview you.

Original digital file



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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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