Doctor Michael Gracey AO MBBS(Syd), MD, PhD '80 (UWA), FRACP began his long association with Western Australia in 1971 when he, and his wife Dr Valerie Burke came to Perth to establish the Gastroenterology Research Unit linked through The University of Western Australia Department of Child Health to the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children.
Michael had earlier studied medicine at Sydney University, graduating in 1962. After working at RPAH in Sydney and in Papua New Guinea, he then undertook training in paediatrics and gastroenterology at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital with Charlotte Anderson. He had a lifelong commitment to children's health, and in particular the effects of social disadvantage. His research focused initially upon the effects of intestinal infection and nutrition in early childhood, with a particular emphasis upon growth and the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal children. He subsequently broadened his interests to include all aspects of social disadvantage and health.
Michael was a prolific author and clear communicator, with almost 300 peer-reviewed papers to his name (many written in conjunction with wife Valerie Burke), multiple monographs and book chapters and in 1993 with Valerie a text-book of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Michael’s work with the socially disadvantaged saw him take on the role of Principal Medical Adviser at the Health Department of Western Australia's Office of Aboriginal Health, and then in 1997, while continuing his policy role in the Department of Health, he was appointed the first Professor of Aboriginal Health in Australia, within the School of Public Health at Curtin University.
Through his leadership and advocacy, and through his involvement over more than 20 years, with the International Paediatric Association (IPA), Michael became arguably the best-known Australian paediatrician world-wide. He was nominated by them as the most outstanding paediatrician in Asia in 1997, and became President of the IPA in 1998. During and after this association he worked with disadvantaged populations in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Azerbajan, Kyrgyztan, Kazakhstan and Tibet., as well as with indigenous Australians. In 2001, he received the Medal of Honour of the IPA, and was awarded the Order of Australia.
After his “retirement” Michael and Valerie returned to Sydney, from where Michael continued his advocacy work on behalf of Aboriginal Australians via publications and through the Aboriginal-controlled organisation the Unity of First People of Australia.
Michael passed away on Thursday 22 April 2021. He is survived by his wife Valerie Burke and sons Dr David Gracey MBBS '96 and Mr Mark Gracey BEc '92, MEc '94, BE '99.
With thanks to Clinical Professor David Forbes AM for preparing this obituary