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Fraser, Sir Kenneth Barron (1897–1969)

by Helen Gregory

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Sir Kenneth Barron Fraser (1897-1969), surgeon and soldier, was born on 28 March 1897 at Hughenden, Queensland, eldest child of Hugh Barron Fraser, a civil engineer from England, and his native-born wife Clara Emma, née Jones. Kenneth was educated at Brisbane Grammar School where he was dux, medallist (1915) and champion athlete (1914, 1915). He studied medicine for a year at the University of Queensland before transferring to St Andrew's College, University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1921). During his university years he won Blues for cricket, football and athletics, and represented Queensland and New South Wales as a hurdler and sprinter. A lifelong sportsman, he was to be a referee at Great Public Schools athletics meetings in Brisbane for decades. After a year as a resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, in 1923 Fraser returned to Brisbane and began general practice. On 17 July 1929 at St John's Anglican Cathedral he married 21-year-old Edith Mary Patricia Lloyd Hart.

Paediatrics was Fraser's greatest interest. He held a part-time appointment at the Brisbane Children's Hospital between 1923 and 1957. A tutor and lecturer (1938-57) in paediatric surgery at the University of Queensland, he became the medical school's first graduate when awarded a master of surgery degree (1940) for a thesis on the treatment of harelip and cleft palate. This subject retained his attention and was the source of most of his publications.

In 1923 Fraser had joined the Citizen Military Forces as captain, (Royal) Australian Army Medical Corps. He commanded the 7th Field Ambulance (1934-35, 1936-39) and rose to lieutenant colonel in 1935. Transferring to the Australian Imperial Force on 12 October 1939, he reached Britain in June 1940 with command of the 2nd/3rd Field Ambulance. That month he was promoted colonel and appointed assistant-director of medical services, A.I.F. in the United Kingdom. He commanded the 2nd/2nd Australian General Hospital in the Middle East between January 1941 and February 1942, and was mentioned in dispatches. Back home, he was deputy-director of medical services, Queensland Lines of Communication Area, from 1942. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 19 February 1946, but he continued to serve as D.D.M.S., Queensland Command, in the C.M.F. Retiring in 1954, he was promoted honorary brigadier next year and was honorary colonel, R.A.A.M.C., in 1957-62.

After World War II Fraser resumed his practice. He promoted paediatric education through his membership of the university's medical faculty board and its advisory board on paediatric studies, and as a board-member of the (Royal) Brisbane and South Coast hospitals. Having failed to secure funding for a chair in paediatrics in 1949, he invoked the emergency funding provisions of Sir Keith Murray's report on Australian universities (1957) to press for its establishment. Fraser was adamant that the new department be known as Child Health: he believed that 'emphasis on the nutrition and development of normal healthy children should be as great as on the treatment of sick children', and held that 'teaching was needed on cerebral palsy, intellectual impairment and on aspects of child health in obstetrics and gynaecology and social and preventive medicine'. Sitting (1956-66) on the university senate, he successfully promoted degree courses in pharmacy and physiotherapy. He remained involved in paediatric teaching until his death; the Brisbane Children's Hospital named a ward in his honour in 1965.

A founding member of the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, Fraser served (1958-66) on the State executive of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia; he helped to consolidate the St John Ambulance Brigade in Queensland and was appointed a knight of the Order of St John (1959). He was a foundation member and president (1958-59) of the Australian Paediatrics Association, a councillor (1936-37, 1947-53) and president (1952) of the British Medical Association (Queensland branch), a fellow (1940) of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and a member (1968) of the American College of Surgeons. In addition, he was a council-member (1960-63) of the Australian National University, a member of the Anti-Cancer Council, a trustee of the Gowrie Scholarship Trust Fund, an executive-member of the State branch of the English Speaking Union and a member of the Subnormal Children's Welfare Association. Appointed C.B.E. in 1953, he was knighted in 1958.

Sir Kenneth was known for his 'forceful, practical, outgoing personality which could move mountains' and for his cheerful, infectious laugh. Although sometimes irascible, he never harboured grudges. His young patients loved him: he made a great show of surreptitiously offering children jelly beans while parents and ward sisters pretended not to notice. Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, he died on 24 June 1969 at Clayfield and was cremated. A portrait by Graeme Inson is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Willey, The First Hundred Years (Melb, 1968)
  • R. L. Doherty (ed), A Medical School for Queensland (Brisb, 1986)
  • J. H. Pearn, Focus and Innovation (Brisb, 1986)
  • R. Patrick, A History of Health and Medicine in Queensland 1824-1960 (Brisb, 1987)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 1 Nov 1969
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 12 June 1958, 26 June 1969
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 25 June 1969
  • University of Queensland Archives.

Citation details

Helen Gregory, 'Fraser, Sir Kenneth Barron (1897–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fraser-sir-kenneth-barron-10245/text18115, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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