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Sir Harry Wyatt Wunderly (1892–1971)

by Anthony Proust

This article was published:

Sir Harry Wyatt Wunderly (1892-1971), medical practitioner and public-health administrator, was born on 30 May 1892 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, third son of Jacques Wunderly, an accountant born in Italy, and his wife Mary Jane, née Hawkeswood, who came from England. His father died of tuberculosis in 1897, leaving the family in straitened circumstances. Scholarships enabled Harry to attend Wesley College and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1915; M.D., 1927) where he lived at Queen's College. He was obliged to take a year off from his studies when he himself developed tuberculosis. After graduating, he joined a general practice in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia. At Christ Church, Mount Barker, on 18 February 1919 he married with Anglican rites Alice Jean Bowman Barker; having no children she was to become his enthusiastic partner in every phase of his professional life.

In 1924 Wunderly began practising in Adelaide as a consultant physician specializing in tuberculosis. Appointed by the South Australian government to inquire into methods of treating the disease, he visited England, Switzerland and Austria in 1924-25. He later advocated a policy of tuberculosis control that included strict supervision of milk supplies, coupled with early diagnosis and notification. During the 1930s he carried out a tuberculin survey of young women in Adelaide. Those who reacted positively to the Mantoux test were given chest X-rays. He promoted the design and manufacture of radiographic machines suitable for mass surveys.

At the outbreak of World War II Wunderly helped to secure the routine screening of troops for tuberculosis. On 1 June 1942 he was appointed captain, Australian Army Medical Corps. Next month he was promoted temporary major. He served at the 116th Australian General Hospital, Charters Towers, Queensland, and at the 106th A.G.H., a sanatorium at Bonegilla, Victoria. Rising to temporary lieutenant colonel in May 1945, he transferred to the 115th Military Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne, in August 1946. His appointment terminated on 7 May 1947.

That year Wunderly became the first director of tuberculosis in the Commonwealth Department of Health, Canberra. Owing to the housing shortage, he lived with his wife for some five years in one room of the Hotel Canberra before moving to Forrest. Within two years he had persuaded the Federal and State governments to adopt a national tuberculosis control programme, encompassing case-finding in a network of chest clinics supplemented by mass X-ray surveys. Free medical, hospital and follow-up care was provided for those with active tuberculosis, together with a generous living allowance for breadwinners undergoing treatment. Preventive measures, including Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccination, were also part of the programme. He was helped by the development of the first effective anti-tuberculosis drugs—streptomycin and isoniazid.

Wunderly was a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (1938), the Royal College of Physicians, London (1952), and the American College of Chest Physicians (1952). In 1947 he gave £18,000 to the R.A.C.P. to fund travelling scholarships in thoracic disease. Knighted in 1954, Sir Harry retired three years later, secure in the knowledge that the rate of tuberculosis in Australia was among the lowest in the world and still falling. He was president of the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in Australia in 1959-61. His latter years were spent as a consultant with the World Health Organization. Always gentle and unassuming, he enjoyed reading, gardening and travel. Six months after the death of his wife, he died on 14 April 1971 in Canberra and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Clinical Problems of War (Canb, 1952)
  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1938-1975 (Syd, 1988)
  • A. J. Proust (ed), History of Tuberculosis in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea (Canb, 1991)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 28 Aug 1971, p 496
  • private information.

Citation details

Anthony Proust, 'Wunderly, Sir Harry Wyatt (1892–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 July 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]


30 May, 1892
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


14 April, 1971 (aged 78)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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