This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012
Hazel Claire Weekes (1903-1990), zoologist and physician, was born on 11 April 1903 at Paddington, Sydney, eldest of four children of Sydney-born parents Ralph Weekes, musician, and his wife Fanny Florence, née Newland. Following her education at Sydney Girls’ High School, Claire enrolled in science at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1926; D.Sc., 1930). In 1922-23 she was resident at the Women’s College. A brilliant student, she graduated with first-class honours and the university medal in zoology and became a science research scholar of the university. Her doctoral thesis was on ‘Placentation Amongst Reptiles and Its Possible Bearing upon the Evolutionary History of Mammals’. Her work on viviparous reptiles was the first systematic study of their placentation and was well regarded in Australia and the United States of America. The first woman to receive a doctorate of science from the University of Sydney, she was a Macleay fellow of the Linnean Society of New South Wales in 1927-29 and 1932-34.
In 1929-31 Weekes worked at University College, London, on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship but after her return to Australia her scientific interests dwindled, possibly because academic opportunities in zoology in Sydney were sparse. Like her father, she was musical, with a fine voice and a particular interest in German lieder. In 1933-35 she took singing lessons at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. She then travelled extensively in Europe studying music. A trip with her friend Elizabeth (Bessie) Coleman, a teacher at the conservatorium, was undertaken with the intention of studying ‘the physiology and physics of singing to equip her later to ‘‘make singers”’. On her return in 1937 she opened ‘a European Travel Advice Bureau’ in Sydney, ‘planning whole tours economically’, and in 1938-39 wrote about travel in a column in the Sunday Sun and Guardian.
Abandoning her zoological, musical and travel-advice ambitions, Weekes entered second-year medicine at the University of Sydney (MB, 1945; BS, 1974). She became a general practitioner in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and in 1955, at the age of 52, successfully took the examination for membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (fellow 1973) and practised in Macquarie Street as a physician. At the Rachel Forster Hospital in Sydney she was an assistant physician (1947-55), physician (1955-61) and consulting physician (from 1962). Her major contributions, however, were in the field of psychiatry, in which she had no formal postgraduate qualifications. Applying kindness, understanding and common sense to the treatment of neuroses, she was always available to her patients. She wrote several books, including Self-Help for Your Nerves (1962), Peace from Nervous Suffering (1972), Agoraphobia: Simple, Effective Treatment (1977) and More Help for Your Nerves (1984). The first of these had sold more than four hundred thousand copies by 1978 and was translated into fourteen languages, including Japanese. Her methods, which involved accepting symptoms and ‘floating’, were more highly regarded by her patients than by her colleagues, but many of them are now incorporated into the management of neuroses.
Weekes lived abroad for a number of years and was well known in Britain, the United States and Canada. In demand as a public speaker on anxiety, she broadcast on radio and appeared on television while in England. Her work was recorded on audio cassettes and videotape. She was appointed MBE in December 1978. Never married, she was close to her siblings and three nieces. She died on 2 June 1990 at Warriewood, Sydney, and was cremated.
Robert A. B. Holland, 'Weekes, Hazel Claire (1903–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/weekes-hazel-claire-15905/text27106, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 29 March 2017.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012