Louis Ariotti


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General surgeon
27 December 1915-30 October 2008

He was made a Member of the British Empire in 1977 for his tireless work in the Queensland town of Charleville.

The honour was for his "spirit of dedication and selfless service, and his outstanding and noble work has made him a legendary figure as one of the truly great men of the West".

Louis Charles Anthony Ariotti began life in poor and humble surroundings in north Queensland, and even as a child he had the conviction that he was the "guiding hand, with the Lord at the helm".

He provided a medical and surgical service to the people of western Queensland that has set the benchmark for future practices.

He was the older of two boys born to Francesco and Catarina Ariotti, 18 months after they arrived in Innisfail from Casale in Piedmont, Italy.

He spent his early years on the sugarcane farm his father cleared from the virgin forest.

During his school years in Innisfail and Charters Towers his amazing natural talent as a sportsman flourished. This talent reached its zenith during his university years when he established an Australian record for the hammer throw and shot-put and won the prestigious Albert Cup for athletic excellence.

He started his medical studies at Sydney University in 1934. During his first year, he met his future wife, Muriel Sallaway. They did not marry until he had finished his studies in 1941.

The morning after finishing his registrarship at St Vincent's he enlisted in the 2nd AIF on 24 May 1943. He served in Borneo and New Guinea, establishing casualty posts on the front line where his newly acquired surgical skills were honed in the heat of battle.

At the end of the war, he searched for a rural town where he could make best use of his love of surgery.

Following a short stint in Bathurst he arrived in Charleville in 1947 after buying an established medical practice.

To work in such an isolated location he needed courage as well as self-belief, both of which he had in abundance.

In the early years at Charleville he developed a reputation as an innovative and highly competent surgeon. He was the first to establish an operating theatre at his consulting rooms where he did major surgical procedures. What was particularly innovative was that he arranged for patients to be nursed and recover in their own homes.

He saw that this could be the way of the future and his approach was a forerunner of what has become known as day surgery.

In order to provide the best possible surgical service to the people of the southwest, in 1955 he took his family, Muriel and seven children (he returned with eight children), to the UK while he studied for his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh.

After obtaining his fellowship he was offered a position at the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary. He declined this prestigious position in order to return to his beloved Charleville.

Upon his return he expanded the number and scope of the staff in his consulting rooms. This allowed him to provide services equal to those found in large cities.

He established his own pathology and radiography services; he travelled to China to study acupuncture to complement surgical procedures; he enlisted local mechanics to build specific equipment such an orthopaedic operating tables for the safety and comfort of surgical patients; he attended the Radium Institute in Brisbane to learn how to administer radium treatment for cancer patients.

All these improvisations meant that people no longer had to travel to Brisbane or Toowoomba for complex and lengthy treatment.

His skill as a surgeon and physician and his total devotion to his patients was acknowledged and applauded in many ways. In addition to the MBE, The Courier-Mail in 1992 listed him as one of "Our Top 100".

The following year he was awarded the Order of Australia. He was one of the founders of the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland and was appointed the first patron.

The Toowoomba Hospital Foundation and the Cunningham Centre established the biennial Louis Ariotti Award presented to rural health practitioners for innovation in rural health.

His surgical career was but one facet of this extraordinary individual. He was devoted to Muriel, his wife for 43 years. They brought up eight children, four girls - Elizabeth, Anne, Kathleen, Fiona - and four boys - Michael, Louis, John, James - as well as coping with the death of two other children, Carmel and Peter.

He was devastated when Muriel died in 1984 following a long illness. A couple of years later he found great joy when he married Molly Collis (nee Gaven) with whom he shared 22 years of great love and affection.

As he states in his autobiography: "I have been blessed, still further, in my wife Molly and her family - Marina, John, Julanne and Michaela - who have accepted me with genuine affection." He retired in 1990 and moved to Toowoomba where he remained active in his much-loved St Thomas Moore's parish. He was often seen in the High Street mall selling tickets for Legacy using his great sense of humour to attract people to the selling table.

He played golf as many as four times a week up until he was 89 years of age. He also started writing his memoir. He self-published The Guiding Hand with the Lord at the Helm; memoirs of an outback GP and Surgeon about six months before his death. It gave him great joy ion the last months of his life to have his story in print.

In addition to his two families and their spouses, he is survived by 22 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

The Courier-Mail


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