onald hilip leary
Member of the Order of Australia
1926 - 2000
Ronald Philip Cleary was born in Mildura on the first of June 1926, to Bert and Sara Cleary of "Mallee View" Carwarp. The second of three sons, Ron was raised on a Mallee property in the days when droughts and low wheat prices predominated.
Higher education in that remote area was difficult to obtain. Ron attended the Carwarp school for primary education and and later won a scholarship to Mildura Secondary College. He rode a bicycle to and from his parents property at Carwarp, 23 miles every Monday and Friday to receive his secondary education, and graduated as Dux, with top honours and a reputation as a fast bowler. Ron joined the Education Department, teaching special needs pupils at Redcliffs before enlisting in the RAAF as a trainee Pilot and serving in the South East Pacific.
Discharged at war's end, Ron studied Medicine at Melbourne University under the Commonwealth Scheme for Returned Servicemen. He earned a half blue playing his beloved cricket at University for 6 years. He played with Colin McDonald, George Thoms, Denis and John Cordner and once bowled two maiden overs to Neil Harvey. He later made a significant contribution to district cricket as a "demon" fast bowler, captaining the local team at the Country Cricket Week in Melbourne. In later years, he was surprised and gratified to be mentioned by commentators broadcasting the Test from London, as one of the best fast bowlers they had seen and a loss to international cricket because of career commitments.
On the 22nd April 1950, Ron married Valmai Jay of Melbourne at Christ Church, South Yarra. After his graduation, Ron served his internship at the Mildura Base Hospital, eventually practicing in Redcliffs.
In 1954, at the request of the R.S.L. and town organizations, Ron with his wife and two children relocated to the isolated, newly established, Soldier Settlement town of Robinvale. In a caravan, 100k away from support services, Ron and Val set up a solo practice, and stayed 46 years until Ron's death. On moving in day - 140 degrees and a dust storm - Ron's father commented to Val, "If you, a city girl, can stick it, you will never see it worse."
Ron had seen his first patient, a child that day, and was committed, this began his lifelong love and devotion to the people of this area. It was a time when rural doctors were very much alone and isolated. With limited transport and little backup from their peers, they had to rely on their own surgical, obstetrical and diagnostic skills. In 1960, Dr Neil Oates joined the practice in Robinvale. During this complimentary partnership, it is estimated that over 17,000 operations were carried out, including elective, road, gun and farm accidents, over 3000 fractures, 4000 babies, countless x-rays and OOH calls were attended to. Ron said that Neil's skill and calmness as an anaesthetist enabled him to confidently concentrate on the surgey he was undertaking. Because of the acute shortage of doctors in rural remote areas, Ron continued in full time practice until his collapse in September 1999. His legacy to Robinvale left two young, skilled Doctors to carry on his beloved practice, ensuring medical services to the people he had served so faithfully.
Ron acknowledged with pride and gratitude, the enormous part played by his life partner Valmai. She became practice and clinical manager, scrubbing for theater and often having to act as anaesthetist, pathology, x-ray technician and midwife.
For 45 years, she conducted monthly immunization sessions at the health centre and schools and was a base for community help and counseling. Val's vigorous help assisted the building of hospitals, schools and sporting facilities. Both were life governors of the Robinvale Hospital and the newly erected Dr R Cleary and V Cleary Accident and Emergency wing is named as a tribute to their work as a medical team.
Ron's career spanned 51 years encompassing an exceptionally wide range of medical experiences in general and emergency surgery, midwifery, tropical medicine and general practice in an isolated area of extreme need. He served as MO Shire of Swan Hill, MO Veteran Affairs, Examiner for the Education and Aviation Depts. VMO of the Robinvale Hospital for 46 years, the hospital manager at a Testimonial Dinner in 1999, described his diagnostic skills as legendary. As well as his busy surgery, with its x-ray and minor theater facilities, Ron was occasionally called upon for dental and veterinary needs.
Dr Ron loved cricket, playing and encouraging it locally, golf, water skiing and racing, reading and writing poetry, and last but not least, the Carlton Football team. He had an enormous thirst for knowledge and enjoyed teaching medical students in his practice, he and Val financially and personally helped hundreds of the young people they believed in. A retiring man his intelligence shone, he believed that everyone was entitled to the best he could give in knowledge and time, nothing in work or sport was tackled half heartedly. Ron was a dedicated professional, his life and work touched many. Ron Cleary died in Melbourne on the 1st December 2000. Following a quiet family funeral in Melbourne, the community of Robinvale and district honoured his life and work with a Memorial service. They loved him as he loved them. Robinvale was his center of the universe.
Shortly before his death Ron was told of his nomination for the Order of Australia by the RSL, Shire and community. He was as proud of that nomination as the actual award but unsure that doing the job he loved warranted such honour. Ron became a member of the Order of Australia as part of the Queen's Birthday Honours 2001, for service to medicine as a general practitioner, and to the community of Robinvale. Valmai was also awarded an OAM for 'service to the community of Robinvale, particularly through the provision of medical care services' in the Queen's Birthday Honours 2010. Ron leaves his wife Valmai, children Anni, Grant, Gail, Graham and Jannette, grandchildren Scott, Philip, Andrew, Eliza and brothers Doug and Colin.