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Published October 10th 2011
Inscribed on four large brass plates on the walkway towards the memorial is the story of Edward 'Weary' Dunlop. He got his first medical training – a degree in pharmacy – here in Melbourne. Although he learned to be a surgeon in London, when World War Two broke out, Dunlop joined the Australian Army Medical Corps. Beginning as a senior medic in the Middle East, he practiced his surgical skills in combat before being transferred to Java, where he became famous. Japanese troops captured his entire company in 1942, locking them up as prisoners of war in Singapore then moving them to Changhi in Thailand. There they were made to work on the Burma-Thailand railway, building its Thai segment: for all intents and purposes, slave labour.
Born in the mid-forties, Peter Corlett learnt to sculpt at RMIT and has taken on several commissions for commemorative sculptures – most famously, Simpson and His Donkey at the Australian War Memorial. His sculpture of Edward 'Weary' Dunlop sits in the Kings Domain Gardens.
The entire statue, complete with bunch of flowers.
Dunlop led the first group of prisoners of war to work on the line, taking charge and organising to protect the welfare of his men. He provided medical care and strategic guidance, working in squalid prison camps and jungle hospitals, healing when he could and easing suffering when he could not. His example gave hope to his company and inspired them to bear up underneath their captivity. In the words of one of his men, he was "a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering".
A close-up of the wreath at the base of the monument.
After 1945, Dunlop advocated for benefits and compassionate treatment of former prisoners of war. He was too large a man to bear needless grudges; he worked towards rebuilding relationships between Asia and Australia. In 1993 he died. Just two years later, the then premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, unveiled a memorial to 'Weary' Dunlop, sculpted by Peter Corlett. Touch the metal of the statue – it's partially made of melted-down spikes from the Burma-Thailand railway itself.