Episode 1: Dr Walter Wood in conversation

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Episode 1: Dr Walter Wood in conversation

Chasing Knowledge and Finding Wonder.

You’ve got to have time to be part of the world around you and enjoy life and enjoy people.”

Dr Walter Wood

Bear with me here, this subject matter may not seem immediately positive.  However positive you wish to be, some in our community need to deal with matters that many would find negative and confronting, if not plain repulsive.  For some, the presentation of disturbing crime or violent death is a catalyst for research and study to better understand these situations for future generations.  Without these individuals forging forward to gain knowledge on these matters we would be unable to assist future victims and their families.

In considering the theme of positivity, one may not be immediately drawn to the topic of forensic science or the investigation and recovery of human remains.  But every negative has a positive, every Ying a Yang.  My conversation in this episode of the podcast highlights how this paradox can operate.  For Dr Walter Wood, over his long and distinguished career, these very polarising scenarios present opportunities for research and investigation rather than repulsion.  He has repeatedly seen the chance to answer the difficult questions to improve the wealth of the greater knowledge bank. 

Dr Walter Wood has been many things.  A medical doctor, father, lecturer, forensic anthropologist, fisherman, author and a champion of Christmas lights.  He has taught many within the medical community and countless more within the field of forensic science, myself included.  In 2015 he was awarded the honour of Member of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to medical education and the community.

It was a pleasure to speak with Wally about his humble upbringing and how sequential, unforeseeable events have shaped his life and career.   Breaking new ground has been a theme for Wally over his career.  When opportunities or deficiencies of knowledge opened up he naturally gravitated towards them.

To get some idea of the rare talent and knowledge Wally developed, he wrote a chapter in a book called “Forensic Approaches to Death, Disaster and Abuse” (Oxenham, 2008).  The title of the chapter was “Forensic Identification in Fatal Crocodile Attacks”!   Much like many aspects of Wally’s professional career, he developed this highly niche expertise “by accident”.

Another example stems from the accidental discovery of an aboriginal Burial ground in Broadbeach, on Queensland’s Gold Coast. Disturbance of the site prompted action and a sensitive archeological recovery was planned.  Funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS), this investigation provided valuable information about Aboriginal culture.  This type of investigation was, of course increasingly controversial as Australia’s culture of reconciliation matured. 

Wally continued to apply his knowledge at the service of the Aboriginal community and provided advice to authorities on discovery of potential burial sites.  Prompt and accurate identification of burial sites means that inappropriate disruption does not proceed and the site can be protected.  In typical fashion, he also redirected his skills and expertise in grave site recovery toward contemporary forensic applications.  Forensic osteology was beginning to grow as a subspecialty of its own.

As a consultant forensic specialist for the Police he assisted in the recovery and identification of human remains, giving evidence in high profile cases.  All of this while still tending to life as a teacher, researcher and father.

Even his own medical crises presented not a wall but a source of wonder and a trigger for investigation and study.  He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the early 2000’s and despite an initial poor prognosis, underwent treatment.  It was a rocky road but he “got through it” and moved on with life.

In 2011 he ruptured his mitral valve and had emergency open heart surgery.  This was on the background of bypass surgery in 1998.  He describes not even worrying about this grave situation and post-operative complications.  Perhaps it was the medications but he describes his positive and enjoyable stay in hospital. 

In almost the complete counterpoint to the heavy nature of his day to day work, he and his wife Beverley developed a fascination and indisputable talent for Christmas light installation at their suburban home. They went on to win the city-wide competition 21 years in a row.  He has even published a book about Christmas lights, with the fantastic title of : “As long as I can climb that tree”.  Up to 500 people a night visited their display in a normally quiet suburban street.  It was an event, complete with food vans and traffic control.

I am sure you will enjoy this conversation which builds the texture of a great man infused with the wonder of life.  If there is a problem, he will find a solution.  If there is a question, he will do the required research. 

I met with Wally at his house at the end of his annual light installation for 2017.  In the background you will hear the noises of an Australian summer including birds and lawnmowers.  Listen out for the grandfather clock on a couple of occasions.

This kind man was and is one of my greatest teachers.  His enthusiasm is infectious and his life story is one of seeking joy and chasing down the answers to the things that interest you.  He has travelled a life of balance and wonder from which we can all learn.

Summary of topics covered:

  • How Wally found his way into Medicine
  • Taking opportunities that interest you
  • Physical anthropology and grave site excavation
  • The importance and sensitivity of Aboriginal heritage
  • Human remains recovery and identification
  • Overcoming cancer
  • Overcoming open heart surgery and heart failure
  • Forensic analysis of child development
  • The art and science of Christmas lights
  • Always get it done
  • Teaching clinical anatomy
  • Body donation for teaching
  • Respecting and celebrating body donors
  • Balance in life and work
  • Living a full and interesting life

Question: Are you following a path that inspires a sense of wonder within your soul?

Please enjoy this conversation and leave a comment.

Remember to review and subscribe on iTunes while you are there.

Until next time.

Stay positive,


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Background, Context & Reference:

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