Long-serving Warrnambool and district doctor dies, 83

LONG-SERVING Warrnambool medico Les Hemingway, who has died aged 83, has been remembered as a self-made man who became a champion of many causes.

Dr Les Hemingway, a keen swimmer, pictured taking part in the 1995 Hopkins River Mile Swim.

Dr Les Hemingway, a keen swimmer, pictured taking part in the 1995 Hopkins River Mile Swim.

The outspoken anti-contraception advocate rose from humble beginnings to serve as a well-regarded general practitioner, a tax reform exponent and active community worker.

Dr Hemingway left school aged 14 to work as a fitter and turner but changed direction in his formative years, re-enrolling at school and later graduating from Melbourne University Medical School in 1955.

Converting to Catholicism shortly after university, he and wife Verna moved to Warrnambool in the late 1950s and worked as a general practitioner in the city for 37 years. He later served as chief medical officer for the south-west.

Former Warrnambool mayor Frank McCarthy was friends with Dr Hemingway and remarked on his intelligence and uncompromising attitude.

“The thing about Les was that he stuck to his beliefs, even if they weren’t popular,” Mr McCarthy said. “He lived life by the Good Book and treated everyone in a Christian way but he wasn’t a soft touch. When it came to his bedside manner, if he thought someone only had the common cold or something, he’d be quite brusque and say ‘you’ll live’ and send them on their way.

“Les was pretty steadfast in not prescribing the contraceptive pill when every other doctor was doing it and that really ruffled a few feathers.”

Dr Hemingway stood as an independent candidate for Wannon at the 1993 general election. He secured less than two per cent of the vote, with incumbent Liberal MP David Hawker easily winning on primary votes alone.

The Warrnambool doctor was a strong advocate for tax reform, writing two books on the subject in the early 1990s which focused on redressing what he believed to be a financial imbalance between rural and urban taxpayers.

Dr Hemingway told The Standard in 1996 that the leading cause for small-town decline and doctor shortages in rural areas was largely financial. “There is no tax advantage to living in the bush unless you’re in the deep bush,” he said.

Following his retirement in 1996, Dr Hemingway served as a locum in some of the most remote parts of Australia, claiming he didn’t want to be a retired doctor who spent all day playing golf. 

The Hemingways relocated to Geelong about a decade ago.

Mr McCarthy said his friend was also fascinated by engineering, woodturning and was a noted swimmer.

“I remember one time we were off to a meeting in Colac and while he had many good qualities, Les was an awful driver,” he said.

“Suddenly, we came to a screeching halt, Les gets out of the car and pulls out a telescope because there was some astronomical event that evening.

“That’s the type of bloke Les was, he had many interests and his mind was constantly ticking over.”

Dr Hemingway is survived by his wife Verna and children Tricia, Mary, Annette, Barbara, Pauline, Michael, Marita, Julia, Jacinta and Kevin. His daughter Monica died in a road accident more than three decades ago.

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