Review: The Weaver's Son

Odyssey of an Australian surgeon by Donald W. Hossack

The Weaver’s Son is a very personal memoir that tells the story of Dr Hossack’s struggle to overcome dyslexia to become an eminent surgeon with the encouragement and support of the University of Melbourne.

Dr Hossack (OBE PSM, MBBS 1954) was an inaugural member of the Victorian-based Road Trauma Committee, founded in 1970 and credited with leading the world in successfully campaigning for compulsory seat belts, random breath testing and other reforms.

Subsequent reforms targeting drink driving, based on research led by Dr Hossack as consultant surgeon to the Melbourne City Coroner, were at least as important as the introduction of seat-belt laws. In November 1970, when seat belts became compulsory in Victoria, Dr Hossack released his alcohol analysis of 171 driver fatalities: 103 had alcohol in their bloodstream and, of those, 86 had levels between two and ten times the legal limit of .05 percent.

The findings prompted a series of campaigns and reforms over several years, including the introduction of police breath tests (August 1971), compulsory hospital blood alcohol content (BAC) testing of all road accident victims over the age of 15 (1974), and random breath testing (1976).

In an excerpt from the memoir, Dr Hossack tells of his decision to pursue a medical career while working as a lab assistant in the Department of Zoology under Professor Wilfred Agar:

“Well Laddie,” he said, “what is it you want to do with your life?”

“I’d like to be a doctor."

A look of exasperation spread over his kind face. “Look Laddie, there are some things in life that are not possible. We just have to accept that reality! Please, think over what I said, and let me know what you decide.” He looked irritated
by my absurd reply.

My answer about wanting to be a doctor surprised me as much as it did Professor Agar. Although I had been wondering vaguely about the possibility of studying at university, I had not formed any definite idea of which course to pursue, let alone consciously considered becoming a doctor. I can only think that my close association with medical students during their dissection classes, and drawing charts for Dr Tiegs, had somehow planted a seed. Also, after I had dissected the cranial nerves of a discarded shark’s head, it pleased me that my effort compared favourably with dissections done by the students. My spontaneous reply to the professor suggested a subconscious identification with the medical students.

Besides, no-one had ever before asked me what I really wanted! My revelation, once brought into the light of day, overwhelmed me with joy and relief beyond anything in my experience. I was committed. Thereafter, without any doubt, whatever it might take to overcome my learning defect, or however long the process of study, I would do it. I would become a doctor.

Dr Hossack tells his remarkable story in a warm and honest style. The Weaver’s Son is an inspiring testament to the power of education and perseverance to transform lives.

Copies of The Weaver’s Son are available from Readings in Carlton for $30.