Ernest Edward "Weary" Dunlop
- 280Wallaby Number
‘Weary’ Dunlop is arguably Australia's most renowned World War II veteran. Acclaimed for his medical work with Australian POWs and his subsequent welfare work on their behalf after the war, Dunlop was the first Victorian- born rugby player to be selected for Australia in a Test match.
Fellow prisoner of war L.O.S. Poidevin wrote in Dunlop’s obituary, ‘nowhere in the medical history of warfare has there been a medical warrior such as ‘Weary’ Dunlop. The strict discipline during his boyhood on the family farm at Sheep Wash Creek, his schooling at Benalla High School and later at the Melbourne University, his activity in Rugby Union football to the international level, his participation in heavyweight boxing and his widespread community involvement during these formative years were all pieces of the whole fabric of Ernest Edward Dunlop’.
He matriculated aged 16, worked part-time for a local chemist and after three years moved to Melbourne to study at the Victorian College of Pharmacy. In 1930 he won a scholarship to Ormond College, Melbourne University to study Medicine. Dunlop initially played Australian Rules football but broke an ankle. He also boxed and was beaten in the final of the 1931 Australian Universities' heavyweight championships. It was fourth-year medical student and Wallaby Gordon Sturtridge who eventually persuaded Dunlop to try his hand at rugby.
He quickly established himself as a back-row / second-row forward, and line-out specialist, with an exceptionally tough constitution who always made his presence felt in tight forward exchanges. Dunlop progressed from fourth grade to first grade within twelve months and in 1931 represented Victoria. A year later, and after just 16 first grade matches, he made his Test debut against New Zealand in Sydney.
In 1934 Dunlop played in the first Test win over New Zealand where his performance saw The Truth describe him as an ‘All Black in physique, All Black in mode of play!’ Many years later New Zealand captain and half-back, Frank Kilby confessed to Dunlop how he had arranged for Australia’s dangerous line-out forward to be nullified. Two All Black forwards were involved - Don Max pinned him and ‘Bubbs’ Knight let fly with an elbow that smashed Dunlop’s nose. In spite of the obvious pain he refused to leave the ground. After the game Dunlop drank two bottles of beer as an anaesthetic and then proceeded to insert a toothbrush up each nostril in order to set the nose.
In 1937 Dunlop was said to have “strong claims” for a Test recall for the home series against South Africa before New South Wales upset the tourists 17-6 and subsequently dominated the final selections.
Dunlop became a Master of Surgery in 1937, his last year of rugby for Victoria, and went to London to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was undertaking post-graduate work at St. Bartholomew's Hospital when war was declared. Dunlop resigned and immediately enlisted with the Royal Australian Military Corps where he was appointed specialist surgeon with the Emergency Medical Services at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington. He rose through the ranks to become Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services on the staff of the Australian Corps Headquarters and AIF Headquarters in Gaza and Alexandria. Dunlop later served in Tobruk, Java, Singapore and was among thousands of POWs shipped to Thailand for work on the Burma-Siam railway.
Poidevin’s obituary continued: ‘Dunlop's unit was captured, and he spent more than three years in prison camps. Dunlop was sent to Burma and Malaya by the Japanese where he saved the lives of hundreds of fellow prisoners, operating day and night by lamplight with crude instruments while often he suffered from malaria and dysentery. There were many doctors in camps up and down that infamous railway project, many of them more senior and more experienced clinically than Weary, yet he became outstanding among his fellows. He had the exact qualities to be a leader - and he became one: the Nelson, or if you wish, the Wellington of the medical services. There was one overriding quality which Weary displayed - without end, it seemed. His care and compassion for every soldier never faltered. He was not without his own illnesses and his own extreme cares and worries, which all the more emphasises this extraordinary quality of endless caring. He never faltered, or failed his own exceptional standards of responsibility as a doctor and as a man’.
During the course of his life Dunlop received a plethora of honours and awards in recognition of his civic, sporting, educational, military and medical achievements. These included the Order of the British Empire (1947), Knight Bachelor (1969), Companion of the Order of Australia (1987), Knight Grand Cross, Order of St John of Jerusalem (1992), Knight Grand Cross (1st Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Royal Crown of Thailand (1993). He was an Honorary Fellow of the Imperial College of London, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Honorary Life Member of the RSL and Life Governor of the Royal Women's Hospital and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. In 1977 he was named Australian of the Year and in 1988 one of the 200 Great Australians.
Dunlop won his first Test cap at No.8, flanked by Owen Bridle and Len Palfreyman, in the 3rd Test, 13-21 loss to New Zealand at the S.C.G.
He started at lock alongside ‘Bimbo’ White in the 1st Test 25-11 victory over New Zealand at the S.C.G. Dunlop was selected for the second Test but contracted influenza and withdrew from the side that drew 3-3 to claim Australia’s first Bledisloe Cup series win.