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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Crawford, Arthur Pinkerton (1923–1995)

by Brian F. Stevenson

This article was published online in 2020

Arthur Pinkerton Crawford (1923–1995), surgeon, politician, and community worker, was born on 22 September 1923 at Caboolture, Queensland, son of Andrew Pinkerton Crawford, an Irish-born medical practitioner, and his wife Lilian Mary, née Donnelly, who had been born in New South Wales. Except while confined to bed with polio for a year at the age of ten, Arthur was educated in Brisbane at the Eagle Junction State School, Church of England Grammar School (1936–40), and University of Queensland (MB, BS, 1946). He completed residencies (1946–48) at the Brisbane and Gympie general hospitals. On 6 December 1947 in a Baptist ceremony at the City Tabernacle, Brisbane, he married Marion Amy Chalk, a bacteriologist.

After nearly a decade in general practice at Northgate, Crawford trained in London (1958–60) as a surgeon (fellow, Royal colleges of Surgeons of Edinburgh and England, both 1959, and Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, 1961). He began practising privately as a general surgeon on his return to Brisbane. On 21 August 1967 he was appointed as a captain in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps, Citizen Military Forces, and posted to the 1st Military Hospital, Yeronga. In the rank of temporary major (September 1967 to March 1968), he served in Vietnam with the 8th Field Ambulance. Back home, he relinquished his CMF appointment in December but continued at the Yeronga hospital as a part-time consultant. His surgical practice was reported in the late 1960s to be probably the third biggest in Queensland.

On 17 May 1969 Crawford was elected to the Legislative Assembly as member for Wavell, a safe Liberal seat in Brisbane’s northern suburbs. Hoping to achieve changes in the State’s health system, in August he devoted a speech to the subject, beginning with the declaration that he did not believe in ‘platitudinous conversation’ (Qld Parliament 1969, 30) or in wasting time; he then proceeded to argue that ‘our system as implemented is wrong,’ a situation created by ‘bad health legislation [which gave] the impression, at best, of being framed in ignorance, and, at worst, of being the result of a persecuted paranoid mentality’ (Qld Parliament 1969, 32). While the minister for health and a fellow Liberal, (Sir) Douglas Tooth, ‘sat poker-faced’ (Canberra Times 1969, 2), Crawford advocated replacing public servants on hospital boards with doctors, nurses, and leading citizens; appointing persons with qualifications in business as hospital administrators; improving financial management; seeking new sources of funds; and improving the training of nurses.

When Crawford continued the attack outside parliament, Tooth rebuked him inside it, rejecting the need for drastic reform, and accusing the new member of being misinformed, and of denigrating twelve years of work by the government without offering realistic suggestions on where the necessary funds could be obtained. A fellow coalition government member, the Country Party’s Russ Hinze, praised him, however, for being ‘prepared to say what he thinks’ (Qld Parliament 1969, 142).

In his early days as a politician, Crawford maintained a hectic schedule, attending health and committee meetings, and continuing to see patients for two days a week and in his lunch breaks when parliament was sitting. A Liberal Party official referred to his ‘almost frightening dedication’ (Sunday Mail 1969, 13). Described as one of a number of ‘able, articulate Parliamentarians,’ Crawford was identified early as a member of the ‘ginger group’ of Liberal members who were unafraid to criticise government policy and even, at times, to vote with the Opposition (Canberra Times 1970, 16).

Health and medicine were the primary focuses of Crawford’s parliamentary speeches. When the reformist Federal Labor government of Gough Whitlam was in power (1972–75), he deplored the introduction of ‘socialised medicine’ (Qld Parliament 1973, 175). Meanwhile, he continued his attack on the State Department of Health. Remaining a maverick within the Liberals, he was a surprise contender for the vacant parliamentary leadership in August 1976, challenging on the morning of the party-room meeting; as expected, (Sir) William Knox won easily. Crawford justified his standing by saying he wanted to put his colleagues and Knox on their mettle, as the party had become complacent.

Disappointed by the failure of Liberal politicians to implement the party’s health and education policies because of their closeness to their coalition partners, the National Party, and frustrated by his own inability to influence change through his presence in the Legislative Assembly, Crawford precipitately announced, in September 1977, his retirement from parliament (effective 12 November). His dissatisfaction notwithstanding, he reaffirmed his loyalty to the Liberal Party, stating his belief ‘that Liberal policies are second to none’ (Qld Parliament 1995, 23). The early retirement cost him considerably in terms of superannuation.

Interested in the welfare of his professional colleagues, Crawford was a member (from 1947) and councillor (1955–57) of the Queensland branch of the British (Australian) Medical Association and a trustee (from 1957) of the Medical and Associated Professions Superannuation Plan (later MAP Superannuation Fund). His extensive service to the broader community included membership of the committees of the Autistic Children’s Association of Queensland (1970–79) and the sheltered-workshop provider Help Industries Ltd (from 1981). In addition, he sat on the boards of several public companies. Having been divorced in 1983, on 16 March 1984 at his house at The Gap, he married in a Uniting Church ceremony Gabrielle Louise Smith, a registered nurse. Derek Meyers described him as ‘a tall, energetic, gregarious man [who was] always conspicuous’ (1996, 54). Crawford’s recreations were golf and swimming. He died on 17 June 1995 in Brisbane; following an Anglican funeral, he was cremated. His wife survived him, as did the two daughters and one son of his first marriage. 

Crawford’s achievements as a surgeon and community worker outweighed his political significance. The constraints of party and parliament, combined with his outspokenness, ensured that his hopes of reforming the health system through political means were never realised. His comparatively brief political career was an early symptom of the disunity that would result in the coalition’s collapse in 1983.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times. ‘Liberal Rebels Flare Again.’ 29 April 1970, 16
  • Canberra Times. ‘Saving a Few Dollars but Risking Lives.’ 25 August 1969, 2
  • Meyers, Derek. ‘Arthur Pinkerton Crawford: MB BS, FRCS Lond, FRCS Edin, FRACS.’ Medical Journal of Australia 165 (1 July 1996): 54
  • Parker, Bill. ‘Prophetic Words on Health Care Live Years Later: Obituary: Arthur Crawford.’ Australian Surgeon 19, no. 3 (August 1995): 18
  • Queensland. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates, 7 August 1969, 30–36
  • Queensland. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates, 21 August 1969, 142
  • Queensland. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates, 16 September 1969, 544–50
  • Queensland. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates, 9 August 1973, 174–80
  • Queensland. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates, 9 August 1977, 106–10
  • Queensland. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates, 7 September 1995, 21–25
  • Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Archives. Curriculum Vitae, Arthur Pinkerton Crawford. Copy held on ADB file
  • Royal College of Surgeons of England. Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows. ‘Crawford, Arthur Pinkerton (1932–1995).’ Accessed 2 May 2018. http://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/biogs/E007875b.htm. Copy held on ADB file
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane). ‘Doctor Who Never Gives Up the Fight … That’s Wavell’s Arthur Crawford.’ 21 September 1969, 13
  • Trundle, Peter. ‘Liberal to Quit … Party “Fails.”’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 2 September 1977, 1.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Brian F. Stevenson, 'Crawford, Arthur Pinkerton (1923–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/crawford-arthur-pinkerton-27845/text35591, published online 2020, accessed online 28 September 2020.

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