Australian of the Year 1996

Dr John Yu realised his life’s great passion when the New Children’s Hospital at Westmead, NSW officially opened as a world best practice facility which marries art, design and the best in medical care for young people. It is widely acknowledged that the New Children’s Hospital and the high standards of paediatric care and research in Australia would not have been possible without Dr Yu’s perseverance and commitment over 40 years in medicine.

Dr Yu, who was Chief Executive of the hospital previously known as the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, was smuggled out of Nanking in China as a three year old shortly before it fell to the Japanese forces in World War II. He travelled to Australia with his mother and sister to join relatives who had been living here since the Victorian gold rush in the 1860s.

As an Australian born overseas, Dr Yu has spent almost all of his adult life making a contribution to his country.

I am proud of my Chinese heritage but even prouder to be an Australian.” says Dr Yu.

Paediatrics and South East Asian decorative arts have been the key threads which John Yu has woven through the fabric of his life. He is an acknowledged expert on the decorative arts of South East Asia and has written and lectured extensively on the subject.

With his keen interest in art and in making it more accessible to Australians, he saw the opportunity to use art and the best medical care at the New Children’s Hospital to create a nurturing and gentle environment for young patients and their families. This facility, where art, colour and open space are more common than white hospital coats, is a culmination of Dr Yu’s patience, drive and personal effort which has set new world standards in paediatric care. As well as his Asian heritage and his interest in Asian art, Dr Yu also sees a strong future role for Australian medicine in assisting Asian-Pacific nations to develop health education programs.

His concern for children also extends beyond medicine. Dr Yu believes strongly that the needs of Australian children must be considered when governments develop policy and draft legislation. He says that too often the impact on children of major decisions, which affect their capacity to learn, achieve and experience life, is an afterthought instead of a priority.

He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Medicine by the University of Sydney and an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Western Sydney. He is a Companion of the Order of Australia.

In January 2000 Dr Yu was appointed Chancellor of the University of New South Wales.

Dr Yu has made a valuable contribution to Australian medicine, education, art and the quality of life of thousands of Australian children during his journey through life. He has profoundly enriched Australia and Australians, and for this he was honoured as 1996 Australian of the Year.

Source: National Australia Day Council © Copyright NADC

Theme: Culture, language and identity – Migration and refugees