Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Steigrad (1902–1971)

by G. T. Franki

This article was published:

Joseph Steigrad (1902-1971), surgeon and soldier, was born on 28 January 1902 at Jaffa, Palestine (Israel), ninth and youngest child of Palestinian-born parents Samuel Steigrad, carter, and his wife Perl, née Grünstein, both of whom were Jewish. The family reached Melbourne in the Bremen on 20 February 1905. Five years later they settled at Summer Hill, Sydney. With strong familial support, Joe gained a bursary to Sydney Boys' High School where he won an exhibition to study medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1926). He was naturalized in 1926.

After working as a resident medical officer at Sydney Hospital, Steigrad—who had an affinity with children—was accepted in 1927 as a resident medical officer at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Camperdown. He was to serve the hospital as chief resident medical officer (1929-33), honorary surgeon (1933-61), consultant surgeon (1961-70) and a member of its board of management. He was also honorary surgeon at Royal South Sydney Hospital. From 1933 he practised in Macquarie Street. Highly skilled, he was noted for his gentle treatment of tissues. He became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1933, lectured (from 1937) in paediatric surgery at the university and published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

At the district registrar's office, Paddington, on 19 May 1938 Steigrad married Isabel Heather Wilson (d.1982), a bank clerk. His engagement and marriage to a Gentile caused a rift between Steigrad and orthodox Jews of the Great Synagogue; he chose to worship at the Temple Emanuel, Woollahra, of which he was a founder. Heather was later converted to Judaism, and the couple remarried at the Temple Emanuel.

A lieutenant colonel in the Militia, Steigrad was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force on 13 October 1939, given command of the 2nd/1st Australian General Hospital and promoted colonel. Showing remarkable energy, he rapidly organized staff, equipment and stores, and sailed with the 6th Division for the Middle East in January 1940. The 600-bed tent hospital was established on the Gaza Ridge in Palestine. A firm, efficient, but kindly commanding officer, Steigrad was made assistant-director (1941-42) and deputy director (1942-43) of medical services. He was appointed C.B.E. (1942) and mentioned in dispatches. After returning to Australia in February 1943, he became D.D.M.S., III Corps, Western Australia (1943), and New Guinea Force (1944), and deputy director general, medical services, Land Headquarters (1944-45). He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 18 December 1945 with the rank of honorary brigadier. Before returning to the Royal Alexandra, he drew up rehabilitation programmes for returning medical officers.

The war years were stressful ones for the family. Steigrad saw his elder son Stephen for the first time when the boy was 3 years old. Following his return, the family lived at Double Bay and later at Rose Bay. He said little about his war experiences, and rarely attended Anzac Day marches or unit reunions. As Australian Jewry's senior army officer of World War II, however, he was much in demand as a speaker on ceremonial occasions.

Steigrad led an extremely busy professional and social life. He was a member of Legacy, a Freemason, chairman of the board of governors of the New South Wales Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women's rehabilitation fund, a mentor of the Young Men's Hebrew Association, a member (1962-64) of the State council of the Australian Medical Association, deputy honorary director of the Children's Medical Research Foundation, chairman (from 1963) of the Advisory Committee for Training Speech Therapists, and a founder (1950) and president (1961-62) of the Australian Paediatric Association. A fine squash player and surf lifesaver in his youth, he remained lithe well into middle age. His pastimes included golf, orchid growing, and fishing holidays at Sussex Inlet. He was an honorary life member of the Imperial Service Club, and also belonged to Killara Golf, Monash Country and Tattersall's clubs.

In his later years Steigrad suffered from emphysema, a legacy of heavy smoking. He was appointed honorary director of the Postgraduate Committee in Medical Education of the University of New South Wales in 1964 and, later, warden of clinical studies at the Prince of Wales and Prince Henry hospitals.

Joe Steigrad was a calm, logical man, with a reputation as a superb chairman of committees. He died of myocardial infarction on 25 March 1971 at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, and was cremated. His wife and their two sons survived him. The first Steigrad memorial lecture, established by the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences, was delivered by Dr Edgar Thomson in 1973.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Brasch, Australian Jews of Today (Syd, 1977)
  • D. G. Hamilton, Hand in Hand (Syd, 1979)
  • S. Simpson, Medical Pathfinders (Syd, 1990)
  • Australian Paediatric Journal, 7, 1971, p 119
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 26 Feb 1972, p 440
  • Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 5, Mar-June 1973, p 95
  • Australian Jewish Times, 1 Apr 1971
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Jan 1940, 26 Mar 1971
  • naturalisation file, A1, item 1925/14495 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Archives, Melbourne
  • private information.

Citation details

G. T. Franki, 'Steigrad, Joseph (1902–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 10 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


28 January, 1902
Jaffa, Israel


25 March, 1971 (aged 69)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.