Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Grieve Woods (1900–1980)

by G. T. Franki

This article was published:

John Grieve Woods (1900-1980), medical practitioner, was born on 17 January 1900 at Albury, New South Wales, eighth child of William Cleaver Woods, a physician from Liverpool, England, and his native-born wife Margaret, née Grieve. John was educated at Albury, then at Scotch College, Melbourne. Having completed first-year medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1923), he enlisted on 27 March 1918 in the Australian Imperial Force. Arriving in England on 14 November as a reinforcement for the 14th Battalion, he returned to Melbourne where he was discharged from the A.I.F. on 24 March 1919.

Woods resumed his studies at the university and was a resident medical officer at the Alfred Hospital. On 24 March 1925 he married Lucie Edith Munro (d.1985) at Scots Church. He practised at Corowa, New South Wales (1925-27) and, from 1928, at Urana. Seeking 'a varied and adventurous life', on 15 June 1939 he entered the Australian Aerial Medical Services (Flying Doctor Service of Australia from 1942), started by Rev. John Flynn. The authorities refused to permit Woods to join the Australian Army Medical Corps in World War II.

Based at Broken Hill, he originally flew in Fox Moth aeroplanes on charter from Australian National Airways Pty Ltd. Later the F.D.S. bought a Dragon Moth. From 1939 to 1942 his pilot was Hugh Bond, a colourful character. Woods never interfered in flying matters, accepting his pilot's dictum: 'render unto Bond, the things that are Bond's'. As no nursing sisters were available, the pilot became his clinical assistant on calls. They communicated by passing notes through a trapdoor; the noise made even shouted conversation impossible. In his first year he made 45 medical flights and flew 17,129 miles (27,566 km). In the year ending 30 June 1943 he made 72 flights and covered 32,549 miles (52,382 km).

During his service, Woods survived a crash and a number of forced landings. As well as carrying out mercy flights, and directing surgery by radio, he paid regular monthly visits to such isolated centres as Tibooburra, Pooncarie and Menindee where he introduced the immunization of children and was often called on to act as a dentist and veterinary surgeon. The 'tall, rather lean, sunburnt doctor, with his surprisingly youthful appearance and reticent manner', entered into the lives of his patients. He wrote of his experiences in the magazine, the Flying Doctor.

In 1948 Woods visited Britain and the United States of America to study medical developments and to investigate the possible prevention and cure of airsickness. On resigning from the F.D.S. in 1949, he entered general practice: first at Malvern, Melbourne, in 1949-63, and then at Newcastle, New South Wales, from 1963 until he retired in 1975. John Woods was a kindly, compassionate and humorous man who understood country people. Music-making was 'something of a passion with him': he played the piano well, built himself an electronic organ and provided music for country dances on his piano accordion. Carrying the necessary equipment with him on his flights, he tuned many a piano on isolated stations. A keen cricketer in his youth, he played tennis and later golf. Survived by his wife, and their son and daughter, he died on 27 April 1980 at Royal Newcastle Hospital and was cremated. Three of his brothers and his son became medical practitioners.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Bilton, The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (Syd, 1961)
  • M. Page, The Flying Doctor Story, 1928-78 (Adel, 1977)
  • Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia (Syd, 1990)
  • Flying Doctor, 1 Oct 1941, 1 July 1942, 1 Apr 1948
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Aug 1940, 12 Aug 1943, 12 Feb 1949
  • New York Times, 20 June 1946
  • private information.

Citation details

G. T. Franki, 'Woods, John Grieve (1900–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 May 2024.

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, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 January, 1900
Albury, New South Wales, Australia


27 April, 1980 (aged 80)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

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