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Hunt, Bruce Atlee (1899–1964)

by G. C. Bolton and Alex Cohen

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

Bruce Atlee Hunt (1899-1964), medical practitioner, was born on 23 February 1899 at Glebe, Sydney, eldest of three children of native-born parents Atlee Arthur Hunt, barrister, and his wife Lilian, née Hunt. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School where he was head of school, Bruce enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 24 February 1917. He served on the Western Front in 1918 with the 8th Field Artillery Brigade. In 1919 he studied medicine for a year at King's College, London, before entering the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1925; M.D., 1928). On 18 August 1926 in the chapel of his old school he married Theodora Maedhail Harper, grand-daughter of Robert Harper. Following a series of appointments in Melbourne hospitals, he qualified in 1928 as a member (fellow 1951) of the Royal College of Physicians. Accompanied by his wife, he furthered his studies in London and Vienna.

In 1930 Hunt set up practice in Perth. That year he helped to found a diabetes clinic at (Royal) Perth Hospital; partly because of his wife's susceptibility to the disease, diabetes was his major specialist interest. Contrary to orthodox opinion, he approved a liberal diet for diabetics, provided their weight was kept under control. He was an active honorary (1931-58) on the staff of the R.P.H. and attained the status of senior physician in 1953. A prime mover in the formation of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (foundation fellow 1938), he enlivened many advisory committees on public health by vigorous arguments with some of his professional colleagues.

World War II interrupted Hunt's career. Commissioned in October 1939 as honorary squadron leader, Royal Australian Air Force, he transferred to the A.I.F. on 19 August 1941. Next month he sailed to Singapore as a major with the 2nd/13th Australian General Hospital. He was captured when the island fell in February 1942. Sent with 'F' Force to the Burma-Thailand Railway, he proved a devoted physician and worked with impossibly small resources. He was beaten several times by the Japanese for standing up for the rights of sick prisoners of war. Repatriated in 1945, he was appointed M.B.E. (1947) and testified before war crimes tribunals.

After the war Hunt became a powerful if sometimes controversial figure in the Perth medical establishment. He was president (1949-50) of the Western Australian branch of the British Medical Association and vice-president (1956-58) of the R.A.C.P., but was disappointed of the presidency although he sat on the council for sixteen years. He was largely responsible for setting up a clinical research unit at R.P.H. in 1952 and served on the interim faculty when a school of medicine was established at the University of Western Australia in 1957. His teaching was 'intensely practical, utilitarian and egocentric'.

Hunt was a man of proconsular presence, broad shouldered, balding early, with aquiline features; 'portly as he aged', he walked 'in a curious short-stepped impatient shamble'. A classical education when young and a lifetime friendship with the historian (Sir) Keith Hancock left him with a keen appreciation of the humanities. He loved music, especially Bach, and followed the horses, knowledgeably, enthusiastically, but not always profitably. Hunt exercised great charm on men and women, and was an encouraging mentor to the young. His last years were clouded with illness, but his personality remained undiminished. Survived by his wife, daughter and son, he died of hypertensive coronary vascular disease on 29 October 1964 at Applecross and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1938-45 (Syd, 1988)
  • Royal Perth Hospital Journal, Dec 1958, p 456, Dec 1964, p 723
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 1 May 1965, p 662, 20 Jan 1973, p 134
  • West Australian, 30 Oct 1964, 20 Sept 1969
  • E. G. Saint, Bruce Atlee Hunt—A Homage (memorial oration, 1978, typescript copy in ADB file)
  • private information.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton and Alex Cohen, 'Hunt, Bruce Atlee (1899–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hunt-bruce-atlee-10573/text18779, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 November 2018.

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

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