WORDS BY ROSS PEDDLESDEN
If you’ve driven down Dr May’s Road or over Dr May’s Crossing at Coonarr, have you ever wondered who Dr May was?
Perhaps you walked or swam across to Dr May’s Island in the mouth of the Elliott River?
Dr Thomas May came to Bundaberg in 1879 after medical training in the UK and Germany, and set up his first medical practice in his home on the corner of Barolin and Woongarra streets.
Bundaberg was less than 20 years old, and home to no more than a few hundred people at the time.
This was an era when medical practitioners did the lot – up to and including simple surgery on occasion.
Coincidentally, Dr May’s arrival in Bundaberg coincided with a movement to establish a new public hospital, which succeeded with permission granted to use an old immigration barracks as a temporary hospital.
By 1880, Dr May had been appointed as Medical Superintendent of the hospital and his career as the town’s pre-eminent medical practitioner had begun.
He moved with his family (pictured) at about this time to a new house in Millbank, which he named Namboor, while also maintaining a second house at Elliott Heads.
Still not content with all he had achieved for the Region, by 1881 Dr May was busy with a new hospital under construction.
This four-room timber building with a separate kitchen was on the banks of the Burnett River, on a small part of the present hospital site.
Dr May was also instrumental in the creation of the Lady Chelmsford Lying In (Maternity) Hospital, which was built on the corner of Maryborough and Walker streets in 1909.
The town continued growing and the community, especially through the mutual aid lodges and Friendly Society, agitated and lobbied the then government for a modern new hospital.
The Bundaberg community raised much of the funds themselves and by 1914 the new brick building, costing £13,222, was opened.
You can still see the handsome red brick building at the current hospital site if you look.
Sadly, Dr May didn’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his work, passing away unexpectedly in 1916 at the age of 73.
The suddenness of his passing apparently led to rumours of foul play, though nothing was ever proven.
Interestingly, some colourful ghost stories about his house at Elliott Heads still circulate today, but again it looks likely that they are a triumph of childhood imagination over fact.
Thomas May was more than just a doctor – he was an avid naturalist, skilled in botany and zoology, who became a world authority on shells, among other things.
He was involved in a wide range of community activities, including the Loyal Mutual Aid Lodge, the Bundaberg Camera Club and the Technical College and School of Arts committees.
Equally important to some people – he owned one of the first motor cars in Bundaberg.
His legacy lives on today – the May family still endow a scholarship for nurses at Bundaberg Hospital through the Bundaberg Health Services Foundation. You can see a bust of the good doctor when you visit the hospital.
Next time you drive down his road, remember that Dr May was a real, and extraordinary, person.