Federal Politics

Sydney emergency doctor Gordian Fulde named Senior Australian of the Year

Professor Gordian Fulde, the longest-serving head of an emergency department in Australia, is the Senior Australian of the Year.

His three decades in charge at St Vincent's and Sydney Hospital count for more than that, considering the inner-city hospital is on the front line of Sydney's sometimes infamous nightlife and treats more than its fair share of bashing victims, drug addicts and homeless.

Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital Director of Emergency, Professor Gordian Fulde, is Senior Australian of the Year for 2016.
Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital Director of Emergency, Professor Gordian Fulde, is Senior Australian of the Year for 2016. Photo: Jessica Hromas

"As a young person would say, 'OMG'," Professor Fulde said, accepting the award. 

"But ... it's really not about me. What it is about is us as a community." 

Professor Fulde said Australia did not want drugs and alcohol "causing so much damage and devastation". 

"We really do not need to be drunk and ugly or out of it to enjoy this fantastic country." 

Advertisement

The indefatigable Dr Fulde has spoken out for years about alcohol-fuelled violence on the city's party strips, including Kings Cross, just a short walk from his emergency room's front door.

He was a central figure in the push for lock-out laws in the Cross after the one-punch death of teenager Thomas Kelly in 2012 and is a board member of the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation.

Dr Fulde has been named Senior Australian of the Year at a time when, after years of campaigning to alter the culture of drunken violence, he is seeing signs of change.

"It would appear the message is finally getting through," he told Fairfax Media on January 1 after a quieter than normal New Year's Eve.

"We have realised as a society you don't have to be totally drunk and ugly to enjoy some of the most fabulous fireworks in the world."

Dr Fulde described his department before the lockout laws as a "war zone" and the decrease in severe head injuries since then as "spectacular and terrific".

While the injuries from so-called coward punches have reduced, St Vincent's remains busy and the National Australia Day Council said the 67-year-old presides over the ER from midnight to dawn, describing him as "the doctor on call when disaster strikes".

In a recent interview, Dr Fulde explained a trick of the trade learned over 30 years of high pressure and late nights. "I can sleep anywhere, any time, for any length of time and I can wake up and be fully functional," he said.

He also spoke of the worst part of his job. "When a critically ill patient comes in while conscious, so that you are able to talk to them, make human contact with them, and in spite of whatever you do for them, they die. That's as tough as it gets. When children die, it's just beyond description," he said.

The Council said Dr Fulde also "supports schools and community organisations, sharing his stories of working in an urban warzone, and warning of the dangers of a binge-drinking culture".

Follow us on Twitter