Dr Norman Wettenhall, AM
The Sydney Morning Herald of 12 December 2000 carried an obituary by Anne Latreille for Dr Norman Wettenhall, whose interests during his 85 years ranged over the study and practice of medicine, gardening, ornithology and book collecting. The following biographical details are for the most part based on those aspects of Ms Latreille’s obituary that are likely to be of particular interest to our readers as book collectors.
Norman Wettenhall was born in England in 1915, the son of a doctor serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps, but spent almost all his life in Toorak, Victoria. As a very young man he contemplated entering the diplomatic service but was put off that idea by experience of Hitler’s Germany during a sojourn there in 1934. Instead he took up the study of medicine at the University of Melbourne, from where he graduated with honours in 1940, and went on to serve as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy during World War II. After the War he became a registrar at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, specialising ultimately as a pædiatric endocrinologist in hormonal disorders in children.
At the end of the War, in 1945, Dr Wettenhall followed up a longstanding interest in the flora and fauna, especially birds, of Australia by joining the Royal Australian Ornithologists’ Union.
Norman Wettenhall was a member of our Society and readers may recall a letter from him to me published in the December 1995 issue of Biblionews in response to a section headed “Book world bullish on $3m Wettenhall library sale” in my article “Book collecting and the dailies” in the previous September issue. The section heading was in fact a headline from a newspaper article about his having sold a part of his library. He told me that he was afraid that I had interpreted the sale as indicating that “the sole purpose of collecting the books was for financial gain” and that “nothing could be further from the truth”. Ms Latreille’s opening paragraphs refer to this sale and its true motive: “Three hundred fine volumes of natural history, Australian and Antarctica went en bloc to another private collector, perhaps the most significant such sale in Australia. The proceeds established the Norman Wettenhall Foundation to support “the protection, maintenance and under-standing of Australian living nature and the environment and habi-tat within which it exists, with particular emphasis on bird life.”
It is particularly appropriate that the 7-volume Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, to which he contributed by helping to initiate it and raise funds for it, will be completed in his memory.
With Dr Norman Wettenhall‟s death Australian society has lost one of its finest members, and our Society has lost a book collector of unusual passion and altruism – and one who told us, I might add: “I appreciate receiving Biblionews“.