DOCTOR RONALD BARRINGTON KNIGHT

OF YARLOOP




Ronald Barrington Knight was born in Port Pirie, South Australia in June 1906. He qualified in Adelaide as a doctor in 1933 after which he served for three years at Fremantle Hospital, Western Australia, some of that time as superintendent. He then worked as a locum for five months.

In December 1936, taking his sister with him as housekeeper, Dr Knight took over the Yarloop medical practice from Dr McColl. It was a 'fund' town where that system of medical cover had operated since 1896. Millers Timber, owners of the town's mill was the major contributor to the 'fund', with their workers also contributing.

Although it continued for a time after the introduction of Medibank and Hospital Benefits, the Fund at Yarloop eventually gave way. During that time of change, in the mid 1940s, Dr Knight was involved in ongoing discussions with the Federal Minister for Health, Sir Earl Page and other West Australian doctors, including Gordon Hislop and Hector Stewart.

The Yarloop practice also held surgeries at Harvey, Nanga Brook, Hoffman, Mornington and Treesville although there were two other doctors at Harvey, Dr Stimson and Dr Jacobs. Service to Nanga Brook and Hoffman's Mill ended in 1961, after the Dwellingup fires wiped those towns out.

Millers built the Yarloop hospital which originally catered only for men. Women and children needing attention were sent to Bunbury or to Perth. When Dr Knight took up the practice there, he found the hospital in a very primitive condition, small and inconvenient. Equipment, such as the Xray machine and steriliser, was inefficient, even dangerous. Later a board took over management of the hospital and Secretaries included Lionel Dyer and Mr Broadbent. Bob McCallam was one Chairman.

Over the years, 'busy-bees' were frequent to improve hospital conditions and, to plant a garden and lawns, the Doctor used one of his hobbies to make a machine, to mow and slash or dig and plough, driven by a five horse power Villiers engine. Local residents co-operated willingly, including the policeman Freddie Potts, Stowe Marshall, Mr Bradshaw from Miller's workshop and Jim and Bill Evans.

Social events were organised and run by staff and residents, like the Hospital Ball, a barn dance 'out at Jenkin's' and wood chops. They were all ways to finance more and better hospital equipment,

Eventually, years later, the hospital was handed over to the Medical Department and the Fund was widened to include the general public. In the 1940s the Government re-conditioned the hospital, built a new maternity block, kitchen and offices and rebuilt the nurses' quarters. That enabled the hospital to accommodate up to 40 patients.

Immunisation against diphtheria was available in 1936 but in Dr Knight's first year at Yarloop there was an epidemic and records showed him that it had happened annually. He swabbed all the local children and having found carriers in a local family began immunisation. Antibiotics became available as the war years came to an end and changed the treatment of many feared illnesses.

There was no chemist at hand in many towns, so the doctor mixed his own medicines from a supply of drugs held at the hospital.

Dr Knight owned a station wagon which he used as an ambulance when specialist treatment in Perth was needed quickly. On occasion he called ahead for a police escort through built up areas, sometimes while the hospital's matron carried out medical treatment on a patient lying on a mattress in the back of the vehicle. He treated numerous back injuries among the men who worked on the Harvey Irrigation Scheme during the Depression years.

Electric light was a problem during any crisis at the hospital. The town supply was limited to the hours between 5.30 a.m. and 11p.m. Once, having performed emergency surgery on a patient, Dr Knight asked for continued electricity over 3 days as he kept a vigil at his patient's bedside. When, satisfied the man was out of danger, the doctor had the engine closed down early one morning, the townspeople thought the worst and lowered the town flag to half mast out of respect, a situation that caused the patient some amusement.

Doctor Ronald Barrington Knight held hopes of spending time in England to study orthopaedics but WWII intervened. He tried to enlist, but was manpowered as there was no one to take over his practice. When the call for Service Personnel rose, 50 or 60 able bodied men lined up at a time, stripped for medical examinations in Bunbury at the enrolment centre. They came from Pinjarra, Waroona, Yarloop, Harvey and Brunswick to be checked over by Dr Knight with the help of military personnel. For this purpose he was declared a reserve officer of the Royal Australian Medical Corps, with the honorary title of Captain.

Dr Ronald Barrington Knight gave 46 years of service to Yarloop and surrounding districts. He was a man of many abilities, a family doctor, physician, surgeon, dentist, chemist, engineer, electrician, mechanic, mathematician, musician and inventor, happy to put his talents to use for the community benefit. In 1977 he was awarded the M.B.E. for community service as town doctor and Children's Court magistrate. He won the Harvey Shire Council's Meritorious Award of 1990.

He married for a second time many years after the death of his first wife and retired in 1981 after suffering a heart attack. He died in 1993.




Notes taken from -

      an article in Yarloop Yarning, Volume 1, Issue 8 by Geoff Fortune and

      an oral history interview with Dr Ronald Barrington Knight, 6th November 1982, conducted       by Mrs Penny Watson


 

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