Johannesburg, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa on 1 January 1974
Sydney on 19 January 1974
Parsley Bay, Sydney
Medical practice in Blacktown
Practice at Bondi Junction and positions at Sydney University, Repatriation Hospital (Concord) and Royal North Shore Hospital.
I had a remarkable relationship with my father. He was night editor at the Rand Daily Mail, a radical liberal newspaper in Johannesburg, South Africa. Unlike most fathers, he was at home when school was over and we would go for long walks. He gave me an enormous insight into the world. He would quote Shakespeare and Milton in the course of our conversations. Because of his involvement at the Mail I became very knowledgeable about the [Second World] war and must have been the only child in South Africa who knew in the early hours of the morning of 6 June 1944 that D-Day had started. If he had been alive during the apartheid years, his enlightened and liberal thinking would have done him little good.
As an adult during the weekdays, I was so busy in my medical practice in Johannesburg that I never had the time to think about anything. But on the weekend, when there was time to read the newspapers properly, I became more and more unhappy about the political situation in South Africa. Jeanette, my wife, and I used to go for walks and we would talk about the gross injustice in the country. Eventually we decided that we did not want to bring our children up in South Africa. I felt that if we are going to leave, then we ought to leave before I reached the age of 40.
At the request of Dr Jassat, my long friend and colleague, I started to work at the Johannesburg Indian Social Welfare Association (JISWA). It was a unique institution. Amongst Indians, there was a good deal of intermarriage and as a result I saw a huge amount of complex degenerative neurological disease in children. I imagine it was similar to what happened in the ghettos of Europe with Tay Sachs Disease 1 in Jewish people.
I worked with severely disabled children, with little way of investigating their ailments. We had no idea about molecular biology and no money for research. Whatever money there was went for Europeans; there was always less for Indians and still less for black Africans. I saw these remarkable cases on a weekly basis. The good I ever achieved was some control of the epilepsy that a lot of them had and the alleviation of some symptoms.
There was a most remarkable Indian general practitioner by the name of Momoniat. He had a very big European practice. If not unique in South Africa at that time, it was certainly unusual. As the apartheid laws tightened he was forced to give up his European practice. His patients were devastated. I became very friendly with him and on one occasion, Jeanette and I were invited to his home in Lenasia, a large Indian township.
The Government was never happy with people who attended mixed race dinner parties and what was to be a lovely evening turned out to be a very sobering experience.
This highly intelligent man, with a beautiful home, had prepared a dinner party with superb Indian food. About halfway through the evening there was a knock on the door and in came an Afrikaans man, who may have been the Mayor of Lenasia – he and his wife had also been invited. Not only had they come late, but they brought with them some others who had not been invited. It was insulting to our hosts and extremely awkward. It was a showing of their perceived rights. It was an awful abuse of our host and encapsulated everything that I hated about the system in South Africa at that time. That evening we both knew that we did not want to continue living in South Africa.
I was always very “anti” the Nationalist Party. It was not the Afrikaans people as such; you can’t group all people into one. I also worked at another cerebral palsy school in Krugersdorp [near Johannesburg]. Here the people were mainly Afrikaans and politically conservative. I had to speak Afrikaans which was difficult for me, but I found I really liked the individuals. It was those who ruled us that I found so offensive.
We deliberated long and hard about where we should go and live. When I worked in London, I met Australians Bernie Gilligan and John Prineas. Bernie became my dearest friend, and was, in my opinion, the best clinical neurologist with whom I have worked. John lives here in Sydney and has retired from clinical practice but still does research at Prince Alfred Hospital. He is one of those lateral-thinking geniuses who will one day I expect win a Nobel Prize for his work in multiple sclerosis. I also had some family in Australia, which made it a logical migration choice. But I think Bernie was one of the main reasons I came to Australia.
When the community heard I was going to leave, we were invited to a farewell tea in Lenasia. We arrived to find a large group of families whom I had befriended over the many years and whose children I had tried to treat or diagnose. They had bought us a gift of this beautiful canteen of silver cutlery. It was so unexpected and very moving. I felt quite overcome by the gesture. I stammered through a thank you speech and didn’t quite know what to do. It was given with a great deal of love, and received with a great deal of love.
My mother was violently opposed to our leaving of South Africa. She had visited Australia and loved it, but she didn’t want us to leave her. We were her only family. She eventually joined us here in 1986.
Our children, Jacqui (12) and David (10), had eczema and couldn’t be vaccinated. They needed a quarantine period between countries and we therefore came on a ship, the Galileo. It was a beautiful trip, but by the time we got to Perth I thought I was going to go mad and was ready to get on a plane to Sydney. I’d had enough of the regimented lunches and dinners and those ridiculous games people play on board.
From the moment we arrived, we loved Australia and thought it was a marvellous place in which to live. When people asked me why I came to Australia I always answered, “it’s because they play cricket”. Although Australia is in many ways different from South Africa, there is also a great deal of similarity.
I was promised a job in Wollongong, near Sydney, but when I turned up for work just two days after arriving, I was shocked to find they had not reserved my position and there was no work for me. I really didn’t know what we would do. My wonderful wife, Jeanette, took the reins and decided to extend her training, specialise and become a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists. She worked extremely hard and had to take three buses to get to the university each day. At the time, we were staying in Parsley Bay (Sydney) in a little dungeon at the bottom of an old, old building; an awful place.
I had come from the top of the pile in Johannesburg, to a country where I knew nobody and nobody knew me or cared about me. I became depressed. I eventually opened practices in Blacktown and Bondi Junction. Both were very slow to start up. At one point I felt so low that I thought of going back to South Africa. This was much to my children’s horror and Jeanette’s despair. Jeanette suggested that I go back to Johannesburg and see how I felt. The family would reluctantly follow if I decided to stay. By this time I had already taken up a part-time position at the Repatriation Hospital, Concord. This was thanks to Professor Jim Mcleod, whom I had known in London. He had always been remarkably good to me.
I was in Johannesburg for only five days. I saw all my friends and it was marvellous. I was feted with invitations and many phone calls and tears and so on. I came back to Australia telling my family that I was ready for us all to go back. I thought I could only be happy again in that place. I decided to tell Jim of my decision. And then, for some extraordinary reason, and I have no idea why, at the last moment I changed my mind. I decided that Australia was the place where we should live. This was to be the best decision I ever made. My family was delighted and that night we decided to get out of the dungeon in which we lived and move to a nicer dwelling.
From then on, everything changed and improved. I was now teaching at Sydney University and, in addition to being on the staff at Concord, was appointed to Royal North Shore Hospital as a visiting neurologist. I have been there since 1979.
My mother came here in 1986 and she died in 1992. She was a remarkable woman. It was she who brought me up and gave me every opportunity to succeed. In 1993, Jeanette and I visited South Africa and my aunt (her sister) gave me a lot of memorabilia which I’d never had, including pictures of my father who died as a very young man. My respect and our special relationship was enhanced, if possible.
Jeanette and I resolved that whatever else we did, our priority was to create a great family unit. I think this is especially hard for migrants with the pressures of making a living in a new place. We do have very special relationships with both our children and with our grandchildren.
I’ve just turned 70 and am getting old. I always said that when I started making mistakes, someone should tap me on my shoulder and say, “it’s enough”. This hasn’t seemed to have happened.
My practice must of course, start decreasing. But while I still enjoy myself I will go on. At the same time, I think younger people should have the opportunity to do more, and I should, do less. I certainly will never do nothing, because I’d go mad if I did!