Alan George Nicholls AM
Alan was born in Sydney within sight of sea, surf and sand and was educated locally attending Sydney Boys High. He gained entry to Sydney University to read Medicine qualifying in 1961 and marrying his wife, Jan, in the same year. He had already decided on a surgical career and after registrar posts at Royal North Shore Hospital Sydney he gained his FRACS in 1967. He toyed with the idea of being a country surgeon/GP but a locum post in West Wyalong disabused him of the concept that he could be all things to all men in the rapidly developing medical world. He then decided to follow an Orthopaedic training but in Australia in the late 1960s that meant three or four years working in the United Kingdom. He accepted a training post in Glasgow and then in Edinburgh working with orthopaedic greats such as Roland Barnes and "Jip" James.
On returning to Australia in 1971 Alan and family had to make the big decision about where to settle and work. The answer was to be in a NSW country town rather than Sydney but this proved difficult because at that time sub-specialty surgeons were not particularly welcomed in country areas by General Surgeons and General Practitioners. They were seen as a threat to their incomes. Alan sought my advice, as at that time I was the only Orthopaedic surgeon in a rural practice, on how to commence a country Orthopaedic practice and as a result of our discussions he began working in Wagga Wagga with me. Within a short time we entered into a partnership that lasted for 35 years until we both retired and settled in Bowral NSW where our friendship continued.
In Wagga Wagga Alan and family lived on a small property with Alan insisting he could manage all agricultural pursuits himself without advice and a ... "it can't be that hard, can it?"...attitude, only to find that it was and at times with some physical risk - bee keeping comes to mind. He learnt that one cannot grow grapes in Wagga Wagga without considerable expertise and water. Nevertheless it provided a wonderful environment for the family to grow and mature.
The orthopaedic work load in Wagga was heavy with a high trauma component but this load was slowly shared with more surgeons settling in the town and in 1986 surgical life was stimulated and expanded by the appointment of registrars from the Accredited Training Scheme.
Alan always had an urgent need to see what was on the other side of the fence and this led to several trips to Indonesia and Fiji, either on behalf of the Provincial Surgeons Association or Orthopaedic Outreach programmes for teaching in these countries. In 1989 this became a serious occupation when Alan joined the International Committee of the Red Cross to work for long periods of 3 to 6 months in war zone hospitals. These include 1990 in Eastern Thailand at the time of the Khymer Rouge insurgency, 1992 in Northern Kenya for the Southern Sudan civil war, 1997 in Kandahar, Afghanistan at the height of the Taliban control of the region and in 2000 in East Timor after the Independence Referendum.
In 1995 Alan enlisted into the Australian Defence Force to serve in Rwanda at the time of the bloody massacre as part of the UN Peace Keeping Force provided by Australia.
In 2003 Alan developed some early Parkinsonian symptoms and decide to cease operating but remained on the staff of the Base Hospital at Wagga until 2008 being involved in Registrar teaching and assisting and that was a period he found particularly satisfying.
Alan, although he had no instrumental skills, had a passion for classical music. He listened regularly to his huge collection of discs and regularly attended recitals and concerts. His other interest was travel which he incorporated with work in his many overseas surgical activities and on retirement to Bowral he continued to travel overseas and within Australia.
In 2004 Alan was made a Member of the Order of Australia chiefly in recognition of his Red Cross work. In 2001 he received the Merit Award of the NSW State Committee of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons and in 2008 the Australian Orthopaedic Association award for Humanitarian Services
He is survived by Jan, their children Michael and Lindy and seven grandchildren.
Peter Dewey OAM FRACS