History of West Australia/George Frederick McWilliams

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THE driving force of a strong physique is coveted in the profession by many a clever dyspeptic, who lacks the staying power that is necessary to enable him to apply his talents and erudition to the best advantage. His academic honours are like gold in a spent swimmer's pocket, in exhausting him not only in their acquirement but in their application to the practical tasks, for which they were only the preparation. In these days of high pressure it is necessary to cultivate brawn as well as brain, and no time should be accounted wasted that is devoted to the building up of that robustness of constitution which enabled Lord Brougham to outlast all his opponents. As a rule, medical men set those who are unlearned in the laws of physiology a personal example of the value of regular exercise and some attention to athletic training; for many physicians and surgeons are to be found among the cyclists, the cricketers, and the huntsmen of the century. In the bright inspiring air of Australia, too, there have been some remarkable instances of great athletic records being made by the ministers of health, as witness the walk of Dr. Morrison to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and his subsequent tramp through China and Japan. Dr. G. F. McWilliams, of Perth, can tell of some similar experiences.

George Frederick McWilliams HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

George Frederick McWilliams, son of Wilson McWilliams, of Geelong, Victoria, was born at that place in 1865, and was sent to England to receive his education, it being one of the axioms of the lad's parents that learning is better than a legacy. He was placed in the hands of an accomplished tutor, and under these favourable auspices he made rapid progress in his studies. 0n going up to Cambridge he passed the junior examination, whereupon he returned to Victoria, and matriculated at the Melbourne University, preparatory to entering upon a five years' course of medical study, which resulted in his taking his degree in 1888. Western Australia attracted the young practitioner, and coming here immediately after he had qualified himself in his profession, he practised for nine months at York. But realising that he was young enough to obtain a thorough knowledge of the climatic conditions of all parts of this immense colony, which would give him vantage-ground in his future work, he went on a voyage to the north, visiting all parts as far as Wyndham. At his ardent and impressionable time of life, for he was not twenty-four years of age, once he got outside the bounds of civilisation a spirit of adventure seized him, and instead of returning to the metropolis he went into the pearling trade, obtained an interest in several of the schooners engaged in the enterprise, and made voyages to the islands in the Straits and to Java. 0n returning to the north-west, instead of regaining the capital by travelling luxuriously as a saloon passenger aboard one of the well-appointed boats running between Fremantle and the ports of the south, Dr. McWilliams resolved to more profitably employ his time by making the journey across country, in order the better to fulfil the self-appointed task which had induced him to start upon his travels, of obtaining a thorough acquaintanceship with the different latitudes of Western Australia. In pursuance of this resolve he chose as the best means of accomplishing his object to join a party of overlanders, and in the capacity of a stockman enjoyed a wild adventurous life, to which he now locks back with amused complacency as the school in which be learned a good deal of the practical side of life, and which gave him a firm seat in the saddle and well-strung nerves to bear the strain of the large practice which he enjoys to-day. He took cattle all over the Gascoyne and Ashburton districts, spreading twelve months in accumulating a fund of colonial experience, such as perhaps no other member of his profession, with the exception of his townsman, Dr. Morrison, has the advantage of possessing.

The roving fit over, Dr. McWilliams returned to Perth, and started practice in Beaufort Street, where he has established himself as one of the most popular and successful medical men of the metropolis. His professional skill has been recognised in a wider sphere than that of the confidence and regard of those who have been under his treatment, by his appointment as out-patient physician of the Perth Hospital, and as surgeon-captain of the Western Australian Volunteer Force. In many other channels Dr. McWilliams has been indefatigable in working for the relief of suffering humanity without fee or reward. In association with Mr. M. H. Jacoby he took the lead in introducing to the colony the system and the tuition of that beneficent guild which has gained world-wide and grateful recognition under the title of St John's Ambulance Society, the object of whose members is to give first aid to the wounded, and who, under the instruction of philanthropic medical men like Dr. McWilliams, undergo a careful course of training in the elementary principles of surgery. The society, of which Dr. McWilliams has been president from the day on which the association was founded, has had a strong and much-appreciated career in this community. The members' roll is a large one, and it is considered a valuable privilege to be enabled to listen to the lectures of the president, which he has the happy art of making not only clear but entertaining to a lay audience. The good work done by members of the society in cases of accident and emergency has on many occasions brought them under the commendatory notice of the public and the press. The sympathetic nature of Dr. McWilliams is further evidenced by the interest which he has manifested in the little sufferers of the city and suburbs; the children of parents who are not able to afford them change and the best treatment, food, and healthful surroundings during the period of convalescence. On their behalf he was largely instrumental in organising a board of guardians, whose duty it is to provide for the well-being of children who are recovering from serious illness. The board, which has zealously performed its humane office, has won the heartfelt gratitude of a large number of parents whose homes have been darkened by the sickness of their offspring.

In the world of sport it is not surprising, after learning so much of the ardent nature and fondness for fresh air of Dr. McWilliams, to find him in the post of honorary surgeon to the Western Australian Turf Club, president of the Perth Cycling Club, and vice-president of the League of Western Australian Wheelmen. He is an enthusiastic cyclist, and it is a strong rider who can leave him behind on a country run. In commercial interests Dr. McWilliams is favourably known, and he is one of the directors of the Western Australian Brick and Tile Company.

Dr. McWilliams' record of professional and practical work is, it will be admitted, a very full one for a young man of thirty-two years of age. A man of liberal views, and able to perform a prodigious amount of work in various spheres, he has achieved almost at a bound what many men find it necessary to strive during many years of patient labour to accomplish—that is to say, professional standing, and its agreeable accompaniment of a large income. Like Charles Dickens, he puts his whole strength into the task in hand, and when it is done he is able to leave it with a fresh and unclouded mind to take his part in social life. His urbanity, not less than his intellectual powers, and openness of hand towards deserving cases of distress, are matters that his friends would like us to largely descant upon, but we have said enough to show that in its meridian his career, which is now so full of promise, is likely to make for him a more than an Australian reputation.