Dr. Louis Joel grew up on a dairy farm in Altona adjacent to the current location of the Toyota Plant. He rode his horse, Dolly, to attend school in Williamstown every day. Prior to entering his teens, his family moved to Carlton. The young Louis attended Wesley College, followed by Melbourne High School. In 1926, after graduating from Melbourne University with a medical degree, he worked as a ship’s surgeon and arrived in England. He moved to Edinburgh where he furthered his studies in surgery at the University.
On his return to Australia, he married his sweetheart and settled in Williamstown, an industrial suburb where he felt people needed his skills whether he received payment or not. He was heavily involved with the Williamstown Hospital for many years.
Altona, an idyllic small fishing village with many little fibro houses owned by the local Maltese fishermen, was always close to his heart. Realizing that medical services were absent in Altona, he set up the first Altona District Hospital in an old house in Pier Street North where the petrol station is now located. To staff the hospital, he appointed a Williamstown Nursing Sister, Irene Webber to the position of Matron. This little hospital soon became overwhelmed with patients.
Dr. Joel raised the funds to purchase this property by borrowing from one of Melbourne’s leading families who were in the confectionary industry. When he repaid the debt and interest within the agreed time frame, the financiers returned the interest as a gift to the hospital. He was very touched by this generous gesture.
To meet the needs of the growing population within Altona, he, together with a committee, set about funding the construction of a new larger, modern hospital at Sargood Street. Shortly after opening the hospital, Dr. Joel realized the need of consulting rooms for seeing the patients 2-3 times a week. As the practice grew, he brought in another doctor, John Lewin, who became the Resident Doctor.
Dr. Joel was known for his dedication to his patients who looked upon him not only as their physician but also as their confidant and mentor. He would drive from Williamstown to Altona at any time of the day or night to attend to emergencies such as acute operations, delivery of babies or any other need. He was admired for his dedication and the numerous babies he brought into the world, which helped to increase the population of Altona.
Driving to Altona was no easy task, particularly during the winter months when the old Blackshaws Road flooded and he had to detour through Seaholme. He, like others, was an expert at getting bogged and carried hessians bags in the boot of his car to help in these conditions.
There are many more stories about Dr. Louis Joel, his 50 years of service to the City of Williamston, his decoration by her Majesty the Queen and his involvement in the community affairs of Williamstown and Altona, where both the area and the people were close to his heart.
Acknowledgement – I wish to thank Louis Joel Arts & Community Centre for providing the materials and photographs.