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Biographical entry Page, Sir Earle Christmas Grafto (1880 - 1961)

PC 1921; GCMG 1938; CH 1942; Hon FRCS 11 December 1941; MB ChM Sydney 1902; Hon DSc Sydney and New England; FRACS foundation 1927.

8 August 1880
Grafton, New South Wales, Australia
20 December 1961
General surgeon and Politician


Born at Grafton, New South Wales on 8 August 1880, son of Charles Page, coach-builder, and his wife Mary Cox, both his parents being Australian born and inheriting from their parents a tradition of public service, he qualified from the University of Sydney in 1902, was a resident at the Prince Alfred Hospital under Scott Skirving and Alexander MacCormick, and thereafter practised at Grafton, half-way between Sydney and Brisbane. He became Mayor of Grafton in 1918 as his father had been in 1908. By 1914 he had become the leading consultant in the Northern Rivers district of New South Wales, and was a pioneer of abdominal surgery with a very good record. During the first world war he served in France and Egypt with the 3rd Australian General Hospital and the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station.

Page entered Federal politics as MP for Cowper in 1919, helped to found the Country Party, and soon received office. He was acting Prime Minister on several occasions before appointment as Prime Minister in 1939, but his Government was brief. His best contributions to Australia were made as Treasurer in the 1920s, when he set the financial relations of the Commonwealth and State governments on a sound basis with an independent Central Bank, as Minister of Commerce in the thirties and early forties, and as Minister of Health in the fifties when he established the National Health Service. He travelled widely to study differing Health Services, and achieved a compromise between governmental and independent insurance schemes which suited the temper of Australian politics and allowed for variations between the States. An account of the Service which he pioneered appeared in the British Medical Journal for 10 February 1962, shortly after his death.

Page was a dynamic character who split his own Country Party in 1939. After his important special mission to London, where he represented Australia in the Imperial War Cabinet in the darkest days of the second world war (1941-42), he was co-opted to the Australian War Cabinet by John Curtin, the Labour premier. Page was always an advocate of Federal action, and was interested to promote development of national resources and national education, as well as national health. He hoped to see a better integrated Australian Commonwealth of more and smaller States. He was the first Chancellor of the University of New England at Armidale. He was himself a successful pastoralist, developing large tracts of virgin land in New South Wales and Queensland. He travelled widely, "rushing around to make time to be lazy".

Page married first in 1906 Ethel Blunt, who died in 1958 leaving three sons and a daughter; the eldest son was Ivon Page FRCS, FRACS; one son had died earlier. He married secondly in 1958 Jean Thomas, who survived him. He died on 20 December 1961 aged 81.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 21 December 1961; Med J Aust 1962, 1, 28 and pp 731-734 by George Bell, Sir Henry Newland, W F Simmons, and D A Cameron, with portrait; Brit med J 1961, 2, 1787 with portrait, and 1962, 1, Supp pp 35-39 "Australia's National Health Service" by George Swinburne FRCS; Lancet 1961, 2, 1461 with portrait; Ann Roy Coll Surg Engl 1962, 30, 128 with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England