Dr Joseph Arratta
by Margie Webb
Dr Joseph Andrew Arratta was born in 1899 in Mount Morgan. He was the sixth child in a family of ten, the son of a San Francisco born father and Tambo born mother. He attended school in Rockhampton at the Christian Brothers College and was Dux in 1916. He received one of only twenty university scholarships awarded to Queenslanders that year and in 1917 he began his medical studies at Sydney University. He graduated in 1922 and was a resident at Sydney Hospital until 1924. The following year, Dr Arratta applied for a position as the Government Medical Officer at Muttaburra in central-west Queensland. His starting salary was £500 per year with a free (unfurnished) house and the right of private practice.
At this time Muttaburra comprised around five hundred people and boasted five hotels, a bank, picture theatre, three storekeepers, a tobacconist, a butcher, a baker and two undertakers! Dr Arrata rapidly adopted the town and district, and despite initial disappointment at his expectations of a larger town, became a selfless worker for the community. In 1935, he married the Matron of the Hospital; Mabel Watkins. She resigned as Matron, but was on many occasions her husband’s anesthetist and off-sider.
Each year Dr Arrata returned part of his government salary to the Hospital, to help with running costs and in 1957 obtained the funds for the new hospital building. His interests extended to sport and most local organisations, and he was devoted to the children in the area, having no children of his own. His reputation was legendary in the central-west and while many patients travelled hundreds of kilometres to see him, there were also numerous times he travelled to his patients. In 1959, Dr Arrata was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in recognition of his outstanding devotion and service to the community. He resigned from the Muttaburra Hospital in 1960, having spent almost all his working life in the town, and moved to the Gold Coast where he set up a private practice at Labrador.
Dr. Arratta wrote his memoirs in the early 1970s and was still adding to his hand written manuscript a few months before his death in 1973. These memoirs Doctor on the Landsborough were published in 1997 with a medical commentary by Dr. R.A. Douglas, and edited by Dr. Anne Smith and the late Professor Brian Dalton. They are a delight to read, and an unpretentious account of the hardshipsof rural practice; with stories of flood, drought, plagues of vermin, serious accidents and illnesses and no specialist professional help near at hand. These memoirs also reflect the man himself. Irrespective of the difficulties previously mentioned, Dr. Arratta always carried out the highest ideals of his profession. He was one of the most colourful, resourceful and dedicated residents the Muttaburra District has ever seen.
This was a time when one well trained and skilful doctor could adequately meet the medical and surgical needs of an isolated community. The Museum that bears Dr. Arratta’s name is a fitting memorial to those times, as well as to the man himself.
Edited with permission from: Smith, A & Dalton B (Eds) (1997). Doctor on the Landsborough. Records of North Queensland History No 7, James Cook University: Townsville, QLD.
Relationship to Muttaburra
Dr Arratta was the Government Medical Officer in Muttaburra for 35 years.