Home' Capricornus Quarterly : March 2013 Contents 15
Cadets camps were especially
memorable. Hilary and his mates
would shoot ‘303’ rifles, which had
been necked down to fit 22- calibre
ammunition, on the School’s
rifle range. As good as that was,
he admits firing machine guns at
Keppel Sands was even better.
“ Sporting things drew us
together and those were the
things that I enjoyed most.”
A strong athlete, the star runner
is well known in the annals of RGS
for winning the Cross Country three
years in a row. The competitions
took place along Nine Mile Road,
finishing near Ridgelands Road.
In 1962 he had collected no fewer
than five prizes for his athletic prowess.
The Capricornus reported that the senior
student had “established a new record
for the mile in running” and praised his
“conscientious training” and “excellent
condition.” He clocked 04:46:20, 10
seconds faster than the previous record.
That triumph, according to Hilary,
came down to the support he received
from his English teacher, Pat Ryan.
“He was, I guess, my athletics
coach or as close as you could get
to one in those days, which means
he’d tell me to run around the
block after School a few times.”
Mr Ryan was among a number of
teachers fondly remembered along
with Mr Gillam who tried to interest
Hilary in Physics, and language
teacher Jack Lanham who, Hilary
recollects, had a terrible stutter.
“He was very good... As for French
pronunciation [the practical], though,
we all could have done better.”
As rugby hooker (First Thirteen)
he wa s commended in 1962 for
“doing all that was asked of him”
and he was described in the School’s
magazine as a “light forward but
always there in tough going.”
Away from sport, Hilary’s interests
centred on the Arts. Recipient of a
Kellow Memorial prize for English
Literature, he’d worn a path to the
Girls Grammar School to take art
history lessons one- on - one with
Head Mistress Millicent Jackson.
He loved books, almost
to his detriment.
Despite school advice that he was best
suited to banking or architecture, Hilary
was drawn to biology and wanted to be a
zoologist for a while. After Grammar he
went to the University of Queensland on
a Forestry scholarship: “It was the closest
I could get to medicine” at the time.
He would shake himself of Forestry
within a few weeks of starting the course,
though, and pursue his passion.
“It was hard to get [my] bearings. It
was hard work that first year. It seemed
endless and I thought I would never
graduate. Six years is a damn long time.”
He failed fourth year of medical school.
“All I did was read novels.”
His mother, he says, would
have nothing of it.
“She rang up the Director of General
of Health and got an appointment
and took me down by the ear – I’ll
never forget it. She told him what a
lazy rascal I was and that I could have
passed had I wanted to. She roused
on me, then he roused on me. And
they let me do it again the next year.”
Those were different times.
After completing his medical degree
at UQ, Hilary studied at the Royal
College of Physicians in London and
returned to Rockhampton as the city
hospital’s first full-time Physician.
There were only 12 doctors at
the Base Hospital then. His early
responsibilities were intensive care and
paediatrics. He would later continue
his studies in a paediatric sub specialty,
neonatology, in Sydney, and returned
to undertake research in Rockhampton
on newborns and their survival rates.
“Neonatology was a new thing
and it was my main thing, so I felt
quite comfortable doing it.”
There were no networks
established in Queensland for the
transferring of premature or sick
babies to other hospitals in the
late 80s early 90s; almost all of the
care was done in Rockhampton.
“It is a wonderful life being a doctor
here in regional Queensland. [As
a student and young doctor] we
had the best of it – an enormous
variety of work. An awful lot of
stuff you just don’t do today.”
He was thrown, for example,
into his first appendicectomy.
“I was on duty and Ross Smith, the
acting superintendent was on too. I
had not [completed] my anaesthetises
studies so he said ‘Right, you’ll have
to do the operation.’ And I said
that I’d never opened an abdomen
before or put a scalpel to skin.”
Dr Smith then took the young
medico aside into the next room
and showed him what to do.
“So Ross did the anaesthetic
and I did the appendicectomy
and that was it. You just did it.”
The next appendicectomy Hilary
did, seven months later as a weekend
locum out in Clermont, wa s done w ith
the aid of another doctor who flew
in on a little plane from Emerald.
“ We did everything then,” says Hilary
about the times he worked a s medical
superintendent in western Q ueensland
before going overseas to study.
“ From fixing the prolapsed uter us of a
cow at the local dairy to poisoned dogs
to constipated cats,” Dr Mercer explains,
adding that he’d even fill in for the
dentist occasionally, mostly pulling teeth.
“I’d sit there and the matron...
would put a tool in my hand. And
if that wouldn’t work she’d give me
something else to extract the tooth.”
It was a different kind of medicine
altogether in the 70s. In fact as a
Queensland medical student Hilary
worked alongside Rockhampton’s Dr
TB Lynch, one of Australia’s leading
pat hologist s, and performed autopsies.
“He employed me in my fourth and
fifth years. One day he said ‘do you
want to see a post mortem’? [After
that] he told me ‘you can do the
next one.’ I did six or seven...”
At Rockhampton Grammar, though,
things were a lot less spontaneous. But
it was the routine of dance classes at
Girls Grammar, swimming carnivals,
camps and bike-rides to and from
School, that causes Hilary Mercer to
move forward to the edge of his couch,
lean in and engage me in another
one of his favourite memories.
“Scrape was a big thing,” he states.
“Do you know what scrape
is?” he queries me.
“Ever y afternoon at 4 o’clock they’d
take the day old bread and place it in
water, put it in the oven, cut it up and
spread butter and vegemite all over it.
And they’d bring it out for afternoon
tea, a big tray. And the whole School
(246 of us) would come out and line
up – the day boys could have it too. And
we’d fight like animals to get the scrape.”
I move to the back of my seat, close my
eyes and I can see it, almost smell it.
And I think, keep fighting Hilary.
Hilary Mercer in a 1962 photo
of the School’s First XIII.
It is a wonderful life
being a doctor here in
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