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
He provided a medical and surgical service to the people of
western Queensland that has set the benchmark for future
He was the older of two boys born to Francesco and Catarina
Ariotti, 18 months after they arrived in Innisfail from Casale in
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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