Weldon, Tony OAM

  • Tony Weldon OAM, FRACPTonyWeldonPortrait

    Early Life

    I was born in Sydney in 1942, the only child of refugees from Vienna Austria after that country had been amalgamated into the German Reich with the Anschluss of March 1938. My mother had her university studies cut short and so never had the opportunity to fulfil her true potential. My father was an industrial chemist. All my grandparents perished as a result of the Nazi philosophy of the extermination of Jews and other minority groups.

    I was educated through the Public (State) school system in NSW and finished High School in 1958 obtaining a Commonwealth Scholarship at that time. For family reasons I moved to Melbourne at that time. Being so young I had no idea as to what direction to take in further studies and so joined the workforce as clerk in the MLC Life Insurance Company. Having always dismissed the notion of a medical career, after reading a book I had an epiphany and had a complete change of heart. This influential book was The Cry & the Covenant by Morton Thompson, the fictionalised story of Ignaz Semmelweiss, the Hungarian doctor who recognised the cause of puerperal fever and dared to suggest that hand washing between patients was effective in reducing the incidence of that often-fatal condition. However, my NSW matriculation results were not considered adequate to gain entry to the medical course at Melbourne University and I was advised to study a number of Victorian matriculation subjects. I continued to work at MLC and undertook these additional studies at Taylor’s College.

    Medical Career

    I commenced Medicine at Melbourne University in 1961 and graduated in 1966, then taking a position as a JRMO at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. I did not enjoy this year particularly and joined a cohort of peers for residencies at RCH where I commenced in 1968. My first job was in 3 East with Tom Maddison as my consultant – I believe it was his approach to his patients that motivated me to continue down the paediatric path. And so began a long and, overall, satisfying journey. I was fortunate to be able to gain my (then) MRACP at my first attempt with good memories of the study groups I was part of and the colleagues whom I worked with through those years. In contrast to now, the ethos at that time for the majority of young physicians was to spend time overseas, either furthering their experience within a sub-specialty or simply to broaden their knowledge. I knew that I wanted to function as a general paediatrician and that knowledge of child behaviour and development would become an important part of such practice. Again, unlike now, exposure to that aspect of paediatric practice was essentially unavailable here.

    An American child psychiatrist, Marshall Schechter, was spending a sabbatical year here at RCH in the Department of Child Psychiatry. He seemed better able to relate to simple paediatricians than many of his colleagues in that Department and I approached him to suggest places in the U.S. where I could develop basic skills in these areas. After returning to the U.S., he suggested that I should come and work in his Department in Oklahoma City Oklahoma! And so, with wife, Vivian and two young children, we took off for that city of musical comedy fame. While the year there provided me with the opportunity to read and learn about child psychiatric fundamentals, unfortunately this Department was not integrated into the Childrens Hospital of that city and overall had a totally psycho-analytic approach to its work. In retrospect I am sure there would have been better opportunities elsewhere in the U.S. for my particular needs and clinicians such as Frank Oberklaid and Rick Jarman obviously found them.

    Our second year overseas was a richer experience at McMaster University as a Community Paediatric Fellow in Hamilton Ontario. This was an exciting place to work and exposed me to the sense of the importance of being able to work with other agencies in the community in a cooperative manner.

    We returned to Melbourne in 1974 and I had for some time observed the working life of consultants just a little older than myself who spent their lives rushing between maternity units scattered around the broad metropolitan area. This held no appeal! At that time few paediatricians were working outside the immediate metropolitan area – two were in Geelong, one in Ballarat and one in Shepparton; none were based in the outer metro. area. A colleague (Gary Zentner), who had trained through QVH, was commencing practice in Dandenong and I learnt of a possible opportunity in Frankston and followed this up. Thus commenced a career of 33 years based there, as a solo consultant for the first 4 – 5 years! Subsequently other paediatricians commenced working in the area and, by the time of my leaving my practice, there were at least 6 or 7 in practice there!

    During these years the Health Department established the Early Childhood Development Programme with one established in Frankston. This provided a muti-disciplinary team including a coordinator, psychologist, speech pathologist, physiotherapist, dietitian and three child health nurses. I was one of the two local paediatricians involved in consulting with that team. This provided a comprehensive service to the community and, at least in this region, was highly successful. However, it fell victim to Government budgetary cutbacks and this model of multidisciplinary, community-based health and social welfare teams has unfortunately not yet been revisited.

    I was honoured to be asked to serve on two Committees representing the RACP – the Infant & Child Mortality Committee of the Consultative Council on Obstetric & Paediatric Mortality & Morbidity chaired by Norman Beischer AO, who was a far gentler soul in that capacity than as a teacher and examiner when I was a medical student! The Victorian Child Death Review Committee was established by DHS in 1996 under the chairmanship of Prof. Glenn Bowes and was responsible for reviewing the deaths of children under the care of that Department. The latter provided interesting and important work exposing many of the difficulties and deficiencies of the child protection system and no doubt continue to this day!

    After 33 years in practice in Frankston I decided to retire from it and for the next 10 years or so undertook short term locum paediatric positions across the country. This provided me with the opportunity to work in hospitals in every state except for South Australia and the Northern Territory. Initially it took me back to my first days in practice when I was unsupported by any junior staff, but it proved to be an interesting way to gradually wind down my commitment to medicine.

    My wife and I have always enjoyed travel and apart from overseas conferences I attended, there are two professional visits that stand out in my memory. The first was to China in 1985 when I was able to visit Victoria’s sister province, Jiangsu, as a representative of the Victorian Health Department. This was at a relatively early stage of that country opening up to the West and so it was very rewarding to feel that one was contributing to the knowledge of practitioners there. The other professional journey was to join a small group learning about Child Health in Cuba – another fascinating experience resulting in the publication of a description of that experience together with a New Zealand colleague (Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health 49 (2013) E373 – E376)

    Preparation for full retirement had started long before that day came – an important, fundamental message for younger practitioners! I was already involved as a volunteer in the organisation Courage to Care (Vic.) and took on the role of Chairman in 2005. This is a volunteer-based organisation whose program is directed principally to students in Years 5 – 12 in two separate Programs. Its goal is to challenge students to consider issues such as prejudice and discrimination, particularly as it is seen in racism and bullying. It encourages participants to become “upstanders” rather than bystanders in the face of actions they know to be wrong. It uses the example of the experience of Jews during the Holocaust and the heroic actions taken by some in those extreme circumstances to show how the actions of even one person can make an enormous difference to the life of others. Henry Ekert AM has become one of our regular speakers and inspires students who learn of the hardships and threats he faced as a young child in Poland, the way in which as a result of luck and the actions of some very brave individuals, he was able to survive and go on to contribute so much to our knowledge in haematology. After serving as Chair for 17 years I stood down from that position but remain actively involved in the delivery of the Program to students.

    In 2018 I was awarded the OAM both for my services to paediatrics and for my community involvement.


    None of the achievements of my life would have been possible without the ongoing support and encouragement of my wife, Vivian. We married at the end of 1965 so she was there as a bread winner for my final year of medicine. She has been the mother of our two children and, probably like most partners of those in our profession certainly in previous years, shouldered the bulk of the role of parenting. Our children have forged their own successful careers in veterinary medicine and as a freelance cartoonist and each has given us two grandchildren. We take great pride in all of their achievements.