Spectrum 462 and Spectrum 463. The long locum

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Tono kōrero mai

A two-part Spectrum documentary in which Dr Harold Turbott talks to Alwyn Owen about his long career in medicine and broadcasting.

In the first programme, Dr Turbott talks about his education and medical training, including as a house surgeon in Waikato Hospital, and three years he spent as a medical missionary in South China in the 1920s under Chiang Kai-shek. He goes into detail about the poor living conditions and health of the peasants living in walled villages in the Canton area. He describes leaving China when the anti-British riots of 1925 began, and he had to be smuggled out on a boat via Shanghai to Hong Kong. He says the years he spent in China gave him confidence in his work.

Back in New Zealand, he tried working as a locum for a while, but he didn't like it. He applied for a job with the Health Department, which required him to study for a year and a half to receive a diploma. He was stationed in Auckland, with a brief stay in Samoa, then was appointed Medical Officer of Health for Gisborne in 1928. He worked closely with the local Maori population. He speaks about his experiences there, dealing with tuberculosis and typhoid fever.

In the second programme, Dr Turbott speaks further about working as a "health man" in the field of public health administration. After the success of his campaign against typhoid and tuberculosis in the Gisborne region, he was transferred to Waikato. He was the Medical Officer in charge of that district for four years, from 1936. There, he found the same health issues among the Maori population as in Gisborne, battling against typhoid and tuberculosis once again.

He speaks about working with Princess Te Puea, promoting the use of clean water sources, privies, and inoculations. He also speaks about working with Prime Minister Peter Fraser, whom he says didn't like hearing contrary opinions. He says Fraser didn't like him speaking publicly about Maori health needs, including about a hostel which was required to accommodate Maori who needed medical treatment. Neither of them were the type to give way. He also speaks about Sir Peter Buck.

In 1943, Prime Minister Peter Fraser asked Dr Turbott to take over the radio health talks previously given by Colin Scrimgeour, whom Fraser had dismissed. It was to be an interim measure - a sort of radio locum, but in fact it lasted for 41 years. He gave his first "Radio Doctor" broadcast in July 1943. John Watson, who recorded Dr Turbott's first radio show, is brought into the discussion, and together he and Dr Turbott recall the Radio Doctor broadcasts. Four shows were recorded at a time, initially on to disc.

In 1947, Dr Turbott was appointed Deputy Director General of Health. He recalls how, in around 1950, Peter Fraser blocked him from gaining the position of Director General of Health. John Carney[?] got the job instead, and Dr Turbott served as Deputy to him for around ten years. When Carney retired, Dr Turbott was appointed to the job, and he served as Director General of Health for five years.

He goes on to speak about his work with the World Health Organisation in the 1950s and 1960s. He says he enjoyed it for the first ten years or so, but he left in 1964 as the organisation had become more politicised after Russia joined.

He looks back over his career, and the people he came into contact with. He recalls the worst diseases he dealt with - polio and diphtheria, and also speaks about immunisation.

The interview concludes with Dr Turbott saying that looking back, there isn't anything he would change.

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Year 1984

Reference number 255317

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Documentary radio programs
Nonfiction radio programs
Radio programs
Sound recordings

Credits RNZ Collection
Turbott, H. B. (Harold Bertram), 1899-1988, Interviewee
Owen, Alwyn (b.1926), Interviewer
Radio New Zealand. National Programme (estab. 1964, closed 1986), Broadcaster

Duration 01:14:00

Date 12 Apr 1984

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