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Haszler, Charles (1907–1973)

by Albert Speer

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

Charles Haszler (1907-1973), medical practitioner, was born on 9 March 1907 at Levocă (Slovakia), then known as Löcse and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, son of Károly Haszler, schoolteacher, and his wife Margit, née Toth. Charles (baptized Károly) was educated at the Humanistic Gymnasium, Budapest, and the University of Budapest (M.D., 1931). He was a member of staff at the university from 1928, first in the Institute of Pathological Anatomy and then in the No.2 Surgical Teaching Hospital. During this period he undertook research in Vienna (1932) and at Heidelberg, Germany (1936-37). Awarded a master's degree in surgery from Budapest in 1935, three years later he won a state commission for research. From 1942 he was chief surgeon at a large country hospital. On 22 October 1935 in Budapest he had married Maria Ilona von Wahlmann-Lüders in a civil ceremony, which was followed by a Catholic service on 2 November 1936.

In mid-1944 Haszler joined the Hungarian Army and served as a divisional surgeon on the Eastern Front. His unit surrendered on 2 May 1945 to American forces in Austria. He was a prisoner of war for two months. After his release he was employed as a surgeon in Bavaria by the American military government; he later worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and for the International Refugee Organization. In 1949 he was accepted as an immigrant to Australia. En route he practised as a surgeon for three months in a displaced persons' hospital at Trani, Italy.

Arriving in Melbourne, Haszler took a job as a factory hand with General Motors-Holden's Ltd at Fishermens Bend. On 15 January 1950 he was appointed to the Department of Public Health, Territory of Papua and New Guinea. At the end of World War II only eight doctors remained in the Territory which was suffering the effects of the war and the consequent neglect of medical work. Haszler was one of thirty-five doctors selected at the request of (Sir) John Gunther, director of public health, to re-estabish health services in Papua and New Guinea.

Haszler served as district medical officer in charge of Mount Hagen hospital until November when he was transferred to Port Moresby as assistant surgeon specialist. In 1953-55 he was assistant district medical officer at Madang. Naturalized in 1955, in the following year he was posted to Port Moresby as surgeon specialist. In 1958 he was transferred to Rabaul as regional medical officer for the New Guinea islands region, a position which entailed work in the areas of policy and administration. He obtained a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene from the University of Sydney in 1959.

Appointed assistant-director (medical services) in Port Moresby in 1964, Haszler pioneered many initiatives: a local government health service, radio health education programmes, and, most importantly, the first rural health centres staffed and operated by Papuans and New Guineans. He was also responsible for establishing a tuberculosis hospital and for commencing an intensive malaria eradication programme with support schools to train technicians. His direct visits to aid-posts and subsequent conferences with local government officials led to improved facilities at the outstations. The fulfilment of his medical ambitions came in the late 1960s with the opening of the Rabaul Community Health Centre.

A big man both physically and mentally, Haszler enjoyed the trust and respect of all who knew him. He and his wife had a deep appreciation of music and the arts, and encouraged Papua New Guinean efforts in these fields. Intolerant of political opportunists, he argued that the introduction of liberal licensing laws had not resulted in alcoholism among the indigenous people. He became the first president of the Papua and New Guinea Medical Society. His research into the disease pig bel proved helpful to public health officials.

In 1967 Haszler retired to Wahroonga, Sydney. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of chronic renal failure on 8 September 1973 at Camperdown and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. F. Kunz, The Intruders (Canb, 1975)
  • E. F. Kunz, The Hungarians in Australia (Melb, 1985)
  • E. F. Kunz, Displaced Persons (Syd, 1988)
  • Papua New Guinea Medical Journal, 10, no 2, June 1967
  • South Pacific Post, 10 Nov 1950, 1 June 1966, 24 Sept 1973
  • Haszler photographic collection (National Library of Australia)
  • family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Albert Speer, 'Haszler, Charles (1907–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/haszler-charles-10452/text18537, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 November 2018.

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

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