Thursday 23 November 2006



[11.09 a.m.]
Mr FINCH (Statement) - Sometimes, Mr President - all too rarely - history gives us an exceptional person, a person who profoundly changes things for the better. Sometimes changes are spectacular and well known and recognised, such as the work of Fred Hollows. Sometimes they are more subtle changes, hardly noticed by the general public but with a great influence on our society. The person who brought about the undoubted benefits to society is little known outside a specialist field, yet we all benefit. Such a person was Gavin Robert Dawson who quietly changed the way that surgical procedures requiring anaesthesia are performed not only at the Launceston General Hospital but also throughout Australia. With the leave of this House I would like to welcome his widow Kay and members of his family to the Chamber today. Gavin Dawson's life work as an anaesthetist benefits us all, although few of us realise it. It is a time for his accomplishments to become more widely recognised. Gavin Dawson started changing things when he was Deputy Director then Director of Anaesthetics at Melbourne's Prince Henry Hospital in the late 1960s. Before then anaesthetics was widely regarded as a technical skill carried out under the supervision of surgeons. He slowly started adding full-time anaesthetists to the department and introduced standardised procedures and quality control.
He recognised that half of the post-operative deaths occurred in the first hour after emergence from anaesthesia. At that time there were few recovery rooms. Patients often regained consciousness attended by a trainee ward nurse in the corridor or in the back of a ward. Gavin Dawson argued strongly for formal recovery rooms with dedicated nurses, the life-saving system which operates today at the LGH. His good humour eased the way for such changes often against traditional resistance. It is fitting that Gavin Dawson's early career and the few years before retiring in 2000 were in Launceston where Dr Pugh was the pioneer of anaesthesia in 1847.
But Gavin Dawson's quiet achievements were not only in anaesthesia. He helped to establish the first hospital-based hyperbaric chamber service in Victoria to treat divers' bends and gas gangrene when it was a matter of immediate amputation or death. He became one of Australia's first specialists in underwater medicine. He was a senior reserve anaesthetist with the RAAF with the rank of wing commander, which led him to his appointment by NASA as part of the cardiovascular monitoring team for the Apollo 12 moon landing in 1969. In the 1970s he was actively involved in training civil ambulance staff in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and against considerable resistance argued successfully for ambulance staff to administer morphine, put up drips and give first-line drugs for resuscitation.
As if this was not a lifetime of quiet accomplishment, Gavin Dawson was an inaugural member of the Australian Sports Medicine Federation and one of the first to recognise sports medicine as a speciality.
In his personal life he was a volunteer St John Ambulance officer who attended VFL football games. In fact, he even resuscitated a collapsed spectator in front of 100 000 people at the VFL on Grand Final day - quite a moment. His audience at City Park Radio, where he was a presenter, was perhaps not so big but he was always a welcome guest on my former breakfast program when he came as the President of the Australian Al Jolson Society. He appeared once a year on Al Jolson's birthday to play his music and talk about his idol.
When my son Adrian needed guidance on body building to develop his athletic career, Gavin Dawson offered his services free of charge to guide him, having been a writer of, I would say, three books on the subject. We shared a friendship with Eric Jupp of Sound of Music fame, who lived in my electorate, in Grindelwald, until he passed away a few years ago.
Mr President, Gavin Dawson died one year ago on 3 November and has not had nearly enough recognition outside his special areas. That is why I am raising the matter of his quiet accomplishments now so his family can see them acknowledged here in Tasmania. He may have come from Britain originally but he was a wonderful Tasmanian at heart.
Members - Hear, hear.