Dr Kenneth Stewart Brearley MB, BS, FRCS(ENG), FRACS, FRCS(EDIN)
General Surgeon
3 December 1928 - 16 July 2020
Ken Brearley started life in Hampton (Melbourne) where he attended both Hampton Primary and Hampton High schools before winning a scholarship for Years 9-12 at Scotch College, which was quite some distance away in Hawthorn. In 1948, having won a place into Medicine at the University of Melbourne in the highly competitive years immediately after WWII, Ken was sent to Mildura, in regional Victoria. In 1947 the University of Melbourne had established a campus outside of Melbourne to accommodate the huge influx of students enrolling as servicemen returned. The whole first year of Medical studies took place in the former RAAF station, the so-called ‘Mildura experiment’.
Ken graduated in 1952 and was awarded the Proxime Accessit Jamieson Prize in Surgery. His residency years were spent at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and then, typical of the era, a year was spent in the University of Melbourne School of Anatomy in preparation for the Fellowship exams which were duly successfully negotiated.
In 1955 he set sail overseas to gain surgical experience in the UK. By this time he had married a RMH nurse. His first appointment was at the Hammersmith Post-Graduate Hospital in London, where his first child was born, and then north to the Leeds General Infirmary, Yorkshire, where his second child was born. At Leeds he spent a rewarding time working with both Prof John Goligher, a pioneer colo-rectal surgeon, and Mr Henry Shucksmith, a General Surgeon who became prominent in the newly-emerging specialty of vascular surgery. These experiences in Leeds held Ken in good stead for his return to Melbourne, where his third daughter and son were born.
As was the standard practice of the day, Ken Brearley sought honorary surgical appointments across town with the hope that one of the positions would lead to a formal appointment. Thus, he was duly appointed an Honorary Assistant Surgeon to Outpatients at both the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Prince Henry’s Hospital, The Royal Children’ and Footscray Hospitals. These were temporary, unpaid positions to get one’s ’foot in the door’. Some years later he was appointed as Consultant General Surgeon to both the Royal Women’s Hospital and one of only two surgeons at the newly-built Sandringham Hospital.
In late 1959, Preston and Northcote Community Hospital (PANCH), which was a brand new hospital in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, began recruiting its first medical staff. Opportunity knocked and Ken was one of the three foundation Honorary Consultant Surgeons appointed, the others being Mr John Fethers and Mr Ken Cox. This appointment became the centre of his professional career in the public hospital sector with Ken being Head of Surgical Unit 1 from 1960 until his retirement in 1994. In the early years, General Surgeons were required to cover all areas, thus, Ken would find himself caring for limb fractures, general surgery and for some 20 years undertook vascular surgery, dealing with elective and ruptured aortic aneurysms as well as femoro-popliteal bypass surgery.
Ken was highly regarded by his surgical colleagues and recognised as always being friendly and approachable to all staff and patients alike. This meant that his patients thought highly of him and surgical trainees and medical students were pleased to be on his Unit. He was also remembered by all for his urbane attire and eclectic and ever present range of bow-ties. In the surgical sphere he was innovative, having published an article on his “Dr Blue Bag” which contained all the simple equipment that every doctor should have in the boot of the car for those unplanned medical emergencies we all encounter. This idea sprang from the major road trauma load arriving at PANCH and the knowledge that early resuscitation at the roadside saves lives. Ken was also pivotal in the introduction of laparoscopic cholecystectomy to the hospital, having taken himself to France for training.
Ken was active in the structure of the hospital. He helped establish a Division of Surgery at PANCH, becoming its inaugural Chair and also served as chair of the Honorary Medical Staff Association and membership of the Joint Consultative Committee.
Ken’s surgical career mirrored the lifespan of PANCH (1960-1998) and with the encouragement of senior executive staff, he embarked on a major exercise to record the history of the hospital in time for its closure by the Victorian Government of the day. The richly illustrated history that he wrote, “Images of PANCH – The Life of a Hospital” , is a wonderful record of the institution and its community. The high regard that so many in the PANCH community held Ken Brearley was reflected in their ready response to his invitation to contribute information and photographs to help in the production of this terrific book.
As well as his commitment to PANCH, the young surgeon, Ken Brearley boldly established himself in rooms at the ‘top-end’ of Collins Street in 1960. He continued to practice there until his retirement. This achievement being recognised by the City of Melbourne in 2010 with a Platinum Award for his “Fifty Years of Continuous Small Business Proprietorship”. It was here too that Ken pursued a career in Medico-Legal work from the time of his retirement from PANCH until just shy of his 91st birthday.
Ken organised a good work-life balance and enjoyed a rich life outside of Medicine. He was a beloved father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend to many. As he wrote in ‘Images of PANCH’: “My chief interest has always been tennis and I continue to represent Victoria in interstate Veteran Championships”. Ken was a longstanding member of both the Royal South Yarra Tennis Club and The Victoria Golf Club.
He died peacefully on July 16, 2020, having had a dedicated surgical career and living life to the full throughout.
This tribute was written by his surgical colleagues: Hamish Ewing, David Butterfield, Boon Hong with assistance from his daughter, Amanda Woodard.