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Smith, Donald Ian Robertson (1892–1947)

by Mary Anne Jebb

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Donald Ian Robertson Smith (1892-1947), radiologist, was born on 1 March 1892 in North Sydney, son of Scottish-born parents Donald Smith, a civil service clerk who became a dentist, and his wife Jessie, née Fell. Young Donald was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) and at the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1914) where his mentor was (Sir) Thomas Anderson Stuart. After working as registrar at Sydney Hospital, he was appointed captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, on 1 March 1916. He served on the Western Front with the 2nd Australian General Hospital and 4th Field Ambulance, and as regimental medical officer of the 4th Machine Gun Battalion. At the parish church, Harefield, London, on 25 July 1918 he married Frances Margery Chennell, Australian Army Nursing Service, whom he had met at Sydney Hospital. While in England, he trained in the use of X-rays before returning to Sydney. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 14 November 1919.

Shortly afterwards, Smith moved to Perth and set up a private radiology practice in St Georges Terrace. He was the first medically qualified radiologist in Western Australia. In 1920 he was appointed to the Perth Public Hospital; W. J. Hancock was its honorary consulting radiologist. Smith guided the development of radiology and extended facilities at the public hospital, and also at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco. In 1933 he relocated his practice to Chennell House, St Georges Terrace. Described as innovative, meticulous and full of boundless energy, he was said to have pioneered the application of valve rectification techniques. Smith's colleagues were impressed by his 'intellectual grand tours' and by rigorous debates over radiology reports at the hospital. He was president (1932-33) and treasurer (1934-43) of the Western Australian branch of the British Medical Association.

Beyond the medical profession, Smith contributed to amateur theatre, and was a competent and enthusiastic pianist, organist and concert performer. A council-member of the West Australian Society of Concert Artists, he played in a number of musicals, including The Arcadians (1922). He suffered from Buerger's disease and had one of his legs amputated in 1932, which curtailed his musical-comedy appearances and added a frustrating element of pain to his life. Despite this, he continued to work and to hold posts in theatre companies: he produced The Girl in the Taxi (1940) and Our Miss Gibbs (1941).

Smith was renowned for his wit. A friend from A.I.F. days related how he had rounded the corner of a recently captured and badly damaged château in France to find Smith playing a tune on a piano as it sank in the mud. Another recalled B.M.A. meetings held at Smith's home, when members moved quickly through the agenda in order to finish the night singing Gilbert and Sullivan songs around the Bechstein piano. Survived by his wife, and their daughter and two sons, Smith died of complications arising from malignant hypertension on 3 January 1947 in Perth and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Bolton and P. M. Joske, History of Royal Perth Hospital (Perth, 1982)
  • G. E. Bennett, A History of Medical X-Rays in Western Australia 1896-1970 (Perth, 1983)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 3 May 1947, p 574
  • Royal Perth Hospital Journal, Dec 1958, p 489.

Citation details

Mary Anne Jebb, 'Smith, Donald Ian Robertson (1892–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-donald-ian-robertson-11721/text20953, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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