Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clark, Frederick John (1898–1970)

by Jillian Mizzi

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Frederick John Clark (1898-1970), medical practitioner, was born on 6 August 1898 in Melbourne, elder of twins born to George Clark and his wife Mary Alice, née Gray, both schoolteachers. In 1918 Frederick enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was medical officer (1925-28) with the 10th Light Horse Regiment. Graduating from the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1922), he was appointed resident medical officer at Fremantle Public Hospital, Western Australia. On 30 July 1925 he married a nurse Hilda Lois McDougall in the Anglican archbishop's chapel, Perth; they were to be divorced in 1945.

In 1925 Clark became honorary surgeon to (Royal) Perth Hospital and the Children's Hospital (later Princess Margaret Hospital for Children). He was a skilful general surgeon who pioneered thoracic surgery and neurosurgery in Western Australia. Ambidextrous, he was able to operate quickly, an advantage at a time when relatively unsophisticated equipment and anaesthetic techniques made speed helpful. In 1938 Clark was a member of the committee which investigated conditions at (Royal) Perth Hospital and recommended that new premises be built. Construction was delayed by World War II, but in 1948 a nine-storeyed block was opened. Having established a thoracic surgery unit at R.P.H. in 1947, Clark was appointed next year to the hospital's board of management; his appointment marked a decline in public service control over hospital management.

An attractive man, with blue eyes and a muscular frame, Clark was 5 ft 10½ ins (179 cm) tall, though he pretended to be taller. He joined the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve and transferred to the A.I.F. on 8 July 1940. Promoted lieutenant colonel, he was posted as senior surgeon to the 2nd/7th Australian General Hospital in the Middle East where he designed special, stainless-steel equipment for a mobile surgical unit which operated close to the front line. Following his return to Western Australia in February 1943, he commanded the 118th A.G.H. at Northam and held the rank of temporary colonel. His appointment terminated on 31 July 1944. Resuming private practice, he quickly re-established himself as the State's leading chest surgeon. He was to hold posts at R.P.H., Princess Margaret Hospital and the Perth Chest Clinic, and to be closely associated with the Department of Repatriation. On 10 March 1945 he married another nurse Louise Olive Shenton in the Ross Memorial Presbyterian Church, West Perth.

In response to the Commonwealth Department of Health's call for medical teams to go to the Territory of Papua and New Guinea to treat tuberculosis sufferers, Clark served there for six weeks each year from 1955 until 1957. When the development of antibiotics reduced the need for surgery in tuberculosis cases, he turned his attention to the increasing incidence of bronchial carcinoma. He also experimented with a heart-lung machine and in 1958 performed the first open-heart surgery in Western Australia.

Beyond the medical profession, Clark gave the same meticulous care to everything he did. He was a crack duck-shooter, a scratch golfer at Lake Karrinyup club, an excellent carpenter and, in his later years, a keen gardener. Generous and sociable, he had a great sense of fun and a zest for the best things in life. He was, as well, brilliant and controversial, sensitive and reserved, proud, arrogant, determined, selfish—and lovable.

Survived by his wife, and by the two sons of his first marriage, Clark died on 9 August 1970 at Dalkeith and was cremated with Anglican rites. In 1975 a lecture theatre was named after him in the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands, and in 1981 Clark's name was inscribed on a bronze tile in St George's Terrace, Perth.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Bolton and P. Joske, History of Royal Perth Hospital (Perth, 1982)
  • Way '79 Commerce Committee, A Walk Through the History of Western Australia 1829-1979 (Perth, 1980)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 12 Dec 1970
  • West Australian, 12 Aug 1970
  • H. R. Elphick and J. A. Simpson, unpublished speech notes for the opening of the F. J. Clark Lecture Theatre, Perth Medical Centre, 13 May 1975, (privately held).

Citation details

Jillian Mizzi, 'Clark, Frederick John (1898–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clark-frederick-john-9754/text17231, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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